With the impending year-end withdrawal of our remaining troops from Iraq, it seems to be an appropriate time to discuss the excessive nature of the United States’s defense spending. As of now, the U.S. spends about 10 times more on its military than other leading countries in terms of raw dollars — about $664 billion last year — and is second only to the United Arab Emirates in per capita defense spending at $2,141 per citizen in 2009.

There are several reasons why such exorbitant spending is unnecessary. For starters, the U.S. — with a stockpile of 8,500 nuclear warheads as of 2010 — is well equipped to manage any conceivable global cataclysm. The principle of mutual assured destruction asserts that the incidence of a nuclear war is highly unlikely between countries with extensive nuclear proliferation, so it goes without saying that these countries are also unlikely to be severely provoked by countries without weapons of mass destruction caches.

Even in the absence of a nuclear attack, war on a smaller scale is still a prevalent threat, but recent wars have been anything but money well spent. Our country’s most expensive military efforts in the past 40 years — the Vietnam, Korean, Afghanistan and Iraq wars — have been wasteful, imperialistic attempts to force democracy on nations that the U.S. doesn’t depend heavily upon for economic stability. In addition to causing thousands of needless deaths, these wars have added to a national debt that will exceed a staggering $15 trillion by the year’s end.

The public’s disapproval of these recent U.S. military efforts necessitates a reevaluation of our defense budget. Currently, much of the budget is dedicated to “Overseas Contingency Operations” — a diversionary term for the War on Terror. In other words, it’s squandered to provide us with the illusion of safety against a nameless, faceless enemy while our government pursues long-term foreign policy objectives which we aren’t given adequate information about.

But there’s at least enough information to show us how damaging these “Contingency Operations” have been to our economy. According to the war budget clock on costofwar.com, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars alone have cost our nation more than $1.1 trillion since 2001, and that’s not even counting the interest we owe on debts from past wars.

We don’t reserve wasteful spending solely for wartime, either. Political theorists have been debating our national obsession with a “permanent war economy” since the end of World War II. Essentially, the U.S. has maintained a high level of military spending in war and peace because it benefits corporate interests and stimulates the economy. But couldn’t that money be used to fund jobs in government sectors that don’t promote death and destruction?

If the military budget is restructured to prevent additional waste, it will free up funds for plenty of other eligible initiatives. For example, the expenses of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are rapidly growing to manage increasing numbers of elderly and other welfare beneficiaries. Cutting the defense budget could be a solution to this problem. Not to mention, extra money might also be used for improvements to national infrastructure, environment friendly technologies and institutions of higher education.

And if military interests are still a compelling concern, why not emphasize domestic defense spending over the invasion and occupation of foreign countries? It’s much cheaper to protect our interests at home than it is to funnel money to a war effort on the other side of the globe.

Yes, it’s true that strategic imperialism and military competition are sometimes necessary as a preemptive defense measure, but not always. This month, a report by The Guardian indicated that the informant (code name “Curveball”), whose WMD tips provided much of the United States’s justification for the Iraq War, fabricated his claims. The interview confirmed the longstanding suspicion that the eight-year war was a needless waste of manpower and public funds.

But instead of crying over spilt milk, the politically active should force a debate to encourage a significant reduction in military spending. A frugal, prudent military budget should replace our monolithic military-industrial complex until a justifiable conflict mandates added funding — extra emphasis on “justifiable.”

Timothy Rabb is an LSA junior.

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