Special interest defense

March 21, 2000|By James L. Hecht

FOR A WHILE, it looked as if Congress might do the right thing: kill an unneeded weapons program, saving $60 billion and increasing security. But in the end, Congress gave a higher priority to the interests of Lockheed Martin, providing $1 billion in this year's budget to buy up to six F-22 fighters -- and keeping alive the possibility of buying more than 300 more at a cost of at least $187 million each.

The F-22 is an example of how the military budget is driven more by the desire of members of Congress to get re-elected than by security. The public interest is no match for lobbyists for the military-industrial complex who in 1996 contributed an average of $18,065 to every member of Congress, almost three times the level of tobacco-industry influence peddling.

Why is the F-22 an unneeded weapon? The American F-15 and F-16 fighters are the best in the world and, if more fighters are needed, these can be built for less than one-quarter the cost of an F-22. Moreover, the F-22 may be outdated soon by the Joint Strike Fighter, an even better plane on which the Pentagon is spending billions for development.

We spend more than $30 billion a year to maintain more than 10,000 nuclear warheads. A 1,000-warhead force with the destructive force of 40,000 Hiroshima explosions would be more than enough -- and save about $17 billion a year.

How political pork supersedes military needs is demonstrated by the appropriation in last year's budget of $435 million for seven C-130 cargo transport planes. The Pentagon requested only one. They got seven because manufacture of these planes provided jobs in Newt Gingrich's district.

Huge expenditures for unneeded weapons is one reason that U.S. military spending is more than twice as much as all potential adversaries combined, including Russia, China, Iraq, Iran and North Korea. While polls indicate that 72 percent of Americans believe it better to have too much defense than too little, 83 percent think that spending should be no greater than that of all potential adversaries combined.

America's unreasonable military spending also results from the policy that the United States be able to simultaneously fight and win two major regional wars without the help of allies. This two-war doctrine is rooted in the idea that the United States should be able to exercise unilaterally its "global responsibilities."

But having this capability and then using it to act alone or with little military support from allies -- as we did in Kosovo and continue to do in the skies over Iraq -- decreases our security. We make bitter enemies of people that are no threat to us militarily, but can be a serious threat if in anger and frustration they resort to terrorism.

Our security also is decreased because our huge military spending consumes money that otherwise could be spent on education. With the economic success of nations becoming increasingly more dependent on a well-educated work force, shortchanging educational needs is a threat to the economic security of Americans in the 21st century.

Security is the most important function of government. But we should not -- in the name of security -- needlessly spend tens of billions of dollars a year for the benefit of politically connected interests.

James L. Hecht is a senior fellow at the Center for Public Policy and Contemporary Issues at the University of Denver.

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