By Finian Cunningham
The monstrous US military budget is a classic illustration of the proverb about not seeing the wood for the trees. It is such an overwhelming outgrowth, all too often it is misperceived.
In recent years, Washington’s military expenditure averages around $600 billion a year. That’s over half of the total discretionary spending by the US government, exceeding budgets for education, health and social security. It’s well over a third of the total world military annual spend of $1.7 trillion.
The incipient military-industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned of in his farewell speech in 1961 has indeed become a central, defining feature of American society and economy. To talk of «American free-market capitalism» is a staggering oxymoron when so much of the country’s economy is wholly dependent on government-funded militarism.
Or put it another way: if the US military budget were somehow drastically reduced in line with other nations, the all-powerful military-industrial complex and the American state as we know it would collapse. No doubt something better would evolve in time, but the impact on established power interests would be calamitous and therefore is trenchantly resisted.
This is the context for the escalation in Cold War tensions with Russia this week, with the deployment of the US missile system in Romania. The $800 million so-called missile shield is set to expand to Poland over the next two years and eventually will cover all of Europe from Greenland to southern Spain.
Washington and NATO officials maintain that the Aegis anti-missile network is not targeted at Russia. Unconvincingly, the US-led military alliance claims that the system is to defend against Iranian ballistic missiles or from other unspecified «rogue states». Given that Europe is well beyond the range of any Iranian ballistic capability and in light of the international nuclear accord signed last year between Tehran and the P5+1 powers, the rationale of «defense against Iranian rockets» beggars belief.
The Russian government is not buying American and NATO denials that the new missile system is not directed at Russia. The Kremlin reproached the latest deployment as a threat to its security, adding that it would be taking appropriate counter-measures to restore the strategic nuclear balance. That’s because the US Aegis system can be reasonably construed as giving NATO forces a «first-strike option» against Russia.
A couple of things need to be clarified before addressing the main point here. First, European states are chasing Iranian business investments and markets following the breakthrough P5+1 accord signed last July. Germany, France, Italy, Britain and Austria are among the Europeans who have been vying to tap Iran’s huge economic potential. The notion that Iran is harboring a military threat to such prospective partners is ludicrous, as Russian officials have pointed out.
Secondly, the US protestations of innocent intentions towards Russia are a contemptible insult to common sense. They contradict countless statements by Washington, including President Obama and his Pentagon top brass, which have nominated Russia as an aggressive threat to Europe. Washington is quadrupling its military spending in Europe, increasing its troops, tanks, fighter jets, warships and war exercises on Russia’s borders on the explicit basis of «deterring Russian aggression».
In other words, Russia is viewed as a top global enemy – an existential threat – according to Washington. So, the deployment of the US Aegis missile system this week in Eastern Europe is fully consistent with Washington’s bellicose policies towards Russia. It would thus be irrational and foolishly naive to somehow conclude otherwise, that the US and its NATO allies are not on an offensive march towards Russia.
The depiction of Russia as a global security threat is of course absurd. We can also include similar US claims against China, Iran and North Korea. All such US-designated «enemies» are wildly overblown.
Western claims – amplified relentlessly in the Western news media – of Russia «annexing» Crimea and «invading» eastern Ukraine can be easily contested with facts and indeed counterpoised more accurately as belying Washington’s covert regime change in Kiev.
Nevertheless, Western fear-mongering supported by unremitting media propaganda has to a degree succeeded in conflating these dubious claims into a bigger specter of Russia menacing all of Europe with hybrid warfare. It is, to be sure, a preposterous scare story of a Russian bogeyman which has racist undertones and antecedents in Nazi ideology of demonizing Slavic barbarians.
But this demonizing of Russia, as with other global enemies, is a necessary prop for the American military-industrial complex and its essential functioning for the US economy.
The $600 billion-a-year military spend by Washington is roughly tenfold what Russia spends. And yet, inverting reality, Russia is presented as the threat!
The US military budget is greater than the combined budgets of the world’s next nine big military spenders: China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, India, Japan and South Korea, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Arguably, the US economy as we know it – dominated by Pentagon, corporate, Wall Street and congressional interests – would cease to exist were it not for the gargantuan government-subsidized military budget.
Structurally, the US economy has ossified into a war economy and the only way for this to be maintained is for the US to be continually placed on a war footing, either in the form of a Cold or Hot conflict. Historians will note that out of its 240 years of existence as a modern state, the US has been in war or overseas conflict for more than 95 per cent of its history.
During the former Cold War with the Soviet Union, a recurring theme in Washington was the alleged «missile gap» which purported to portray the US as losing its military edge. This resulted in relentless military expenditure and an arms race that in part led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Washington’s self-ordained privilege to run up endless debt (currently nearly $20 trillion) because of its dollar dominance as the world’s reserve currency has permitted the US to escape a day of reckoning for its ruinous military profligacy.
This madcap situation continues to prevail. A quarter of a century after the official end of the old Cold War, US military spending continues at the same profligate, unsustainable pace.
What Washington needs in order to keep the fiasco going is to whip the rest of the world into a frenzy of fear and loathing. That’s why the Cold War with Russia and China has had to be rehabilitated in recent years. Swords cannot be turned into plowshares because the US power interests that command its economy have no use for plowshares.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has on several occasions invited global cooperation on security matters, and with the US in particular. Moscow has also recently said that it does not want to embark on a new arms race. The latter wariness is understandable given the deleterious experience for the Soviet Union from runaway military spending.
However, that is precisely what the US wants and needs to induce: a global arms race which it can then invoke as justification for its own monstrous military.
According to SIPRI, both China and Russia have significantly increased their military budgets, by about 7.5 per cent each in 2015.
Russia may not want to engage in an arms race, mindful of the warping pressure that can inflict on its national resources and development.
But when the US installs a new missile system on Russia’s doorstep, the impetus for Russia to likewise scale up military commitments is onerous.
And that is what Washington is driving at. It is not that Russia is an objective security threat to Washington or its allies. The real threat to Washington is peaceful international relations which would make its military-industrial complex redundant.
It is a disturbing reality that world peace is antithetical to the very foundation of America’s corporate capitalist power.
Shamefully, the world is subjected to the risk of war and even annihilation all for the purpose of maintaining elite American power privileges. And among those who suffer this diabolical injustice are none other than the majority of American citizens, who have to endure poverty and misery while their corporate elite siphon off $600 billion a-year in military obscenity.
Finian Cunningham is former editor and writer for major news media organizations. He has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages