Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Budgets and The Economics of Killing

Several members of our local peace community met with a representative from Sen. Carl Levin's office last Friday to urge restraint on military spending in light of the budget deliberations now facing Washington. Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee had announced just the night before his intention to retire after this term so that he could be unencumbered by political fundraising. These seasoned peace veterans I sat amongst offered numerous and compelling reasons and evidence that our military spending has been driving us into the debt we face as a nation. You know the facts:  how we spend more on military than the other top 14 nations combined.(Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). We arm the world (30% of world arm sales are from the US), etc. I spent a little time in advance of that meeting trying to update my knowledge of the subject matter without getting lost in the details of specific military hardware questions. Some interesting reading in all.

But a few days later I do my usual walk by the new book shelf (new books are added every weekday and left for a week) and what do I find? A title with praises from an international who's who of international relations and peace work. The following final paragraph of the first chapter offers a clue to its emphasis.

"The military-industrial complex does not need to be a monolithic conspiracy in order to wield political power, or to possess a clear goal other than its survival, or for its effects to be catastrophic. The complex is parasitic on the productive economy not only of the US but of other countries where such defense matrices thrive. It is this cancerous quality, in which the complex spreads under its own critical mass, purely for the sake of its own perpetuation and enlargement, which makes the military-industrial structure a dead weight around the necks of productive and progressive economic forces. It is not China that presents the greatest threat to the US. A much bigger risk to American peace and prosperity is presented by a failure to restructure the US economy and to reduce massively the economic weight of the military-industrial complex."
                                   Vijay Mehta, The Economics of Killing: How the West Fuels War and Poverty  in the Developing World. London: Pluto Press, 2012 (p.27)

Such thoughts are not part of the arguments around Washington as shared with us by the major media. The entire framing of the discussion is narrowed to responses of fear... most recently it's the cyber attack lurking. No one is suggesting that some preparedness isn't needed but as Mehta suggests above,military spending is "parasitic."

I haven't taken the time to peruse the Ryan Budget or the Senate Democratic version. We'll hear lots about them in the coming days and weeks. What we won't hear is the Progressive Caucus's own budget proposal released today "Back to Work Budget" where it proposes to reduce the Pentagon's budget to 2006 levels. See more details on page 7 of the report.

But as one of the members tried to argue at the meeting last week with Sen. Levin's assistant, we have failed to have a real discussion of what is the military spending for and is it addressing our greatest risks or is it as Mehta suggests, simply a parasite feeding on its host. Mehta offers way more than that in the opening pages and I'm sure many more insights are to come, which may find their way into this blog over the next couple of weeks. But we should at least be discussing this issue openly. Bringing the "Back to Work Budget" into the corridors of power would be a great start. As would the consideration that if we are such a 'peaceful' nation, why is it we have Armed Services Committees, but no Congressional committees of Peace?  As I noted in the blog Monday about attitudes,  [Mihaly] Czikzsentmihalyi once said: ‘Where attention goes, energy flows. I believe we could easily substitute 'money' for 'energy' in that line. Thus changing the attention during this budget debate seems like a good investment. Let us begin...