Are We Permanently At War?

Are We Permanently At War?

The military of the United States is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world, with more than 205,118 of its 1,425,113 active duty personnel serving outside the United States.  The United States maintains a significant presence in countries like Germany – 54,000 troops, South Korea – 28,500 troops, and the United Kingdom – 9,400 troops.  As we all know, the United States is currently operating without a budget but the Department of Defense proposed budget in the 2010 document was $683.7 billion dollars.  As I had pointed out in a prior article, the Department of Defense budget is a rather lengthy document of several hundred pages.  The GAO of the United States Government found that there were “serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense that made its financial statements un-auditable.”  As of April 2011, there were more than $22 billion dollars in unmatched disbursements and collections affecting more than 10,000 line items of accounting.

Our military organization today bears little relation to that of any prior military in the past.  We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.  The U. S. Department of Defense spending amounts to 4.7% of GDP.  The 2009 U.S. military budget accounted for approximately 40% of global arms spending and it was over six times larger than the military budget of China. Thus, it would appear that we are “permanently at war.”

Many people today question whether the defense budget and military spending is out of control.  The United States has positioned itself to be in “harm’s way.”  Should a confrontation occur between the Republic of North Korea and South Korea, it would definitely involve the 28,500 troops stationed along the demilitarized zone dividing the two countries.  Many question today why these troops in South Korea are necessary given that the Korean War itself ended 59 years ago.

Within the United States alone, there are over 6,000 military bases and warehouses.  There is absolutely no doubt that these bases and military facilities contribute to the economic welfare of the areas that they are located in.  As part of the 2005 community impact study analysis developed when Congress looked at closing military bases within the United States, there was a multiplier effect established that stated that for every direct base job lost 2.5 to 3.0 indirect jobs would be lost in that geographical area.

There is no doubt that the Department of Defense spending cannot keep escalating at the current rate.  As part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the U.S. defense spending was targeted with a reduction of $489 billion dollars over the next 10 years.  Since the failure of the super committee, these reductions will start to take effect in 2013.  The question keeps coming up as to whether we are managing our military well.  Do we still need all the military bases that we have globally?

The Battle for Okinawa was a turning point for the U.S. near the end of World War II.  The island housed  a number of airstrips that the U.S. needed to facilitate attacks on greater Japan.  After the war, the United States established a number of bases and has had a military presence in Okinawa since the end of World War II.  But is the military presence relative in 2012 – 67 years after the surrender of Japan?

A similar argument could be made for Germany where the United States maintains 20 military bases along with two NATO bases and 54,000 troops.  Maybe some justification could have been made during the Cold War forty years ago but today, I doubt it.

Given our debt-loaded government in Washington today, we have to be more efficient with our scarce tax dollars.  The war in Iraq has ended and the war in Afghanistan needs to end.  Washington has to be better on managing its defense spending.  Officially, the number of American military bases overseas is listed at 737.  Unofficially, the number comes closer to a 1,000.  The Pentagon continues to omit from its accounts most of the $5 billion dollars worth of military and espionage installations in Britain, which have been conveniently disguised as Royal Air Force bases.  Add the Stateside bases with the overseas bases and we are at roughly 7,000 military establishments.

The “policeman of the world” concept has to be re-addressed.  I had suggested last year in an article that we establish a “war tax.”  This tax would be paid by the taxpayers in the U.S. as well as by the countries where we maintain our foreign bases.  Failure to pay the tax should result in the removal of our troops and the closing of the bases in that country.  This proposal might appear radical but in reality it is the taxpayers in the United States that are absorbing the entire cost of this “global protection.”  The stark realization is that the United States cannot afford to continue this expense.  We have to determine if we want to be permanently at war.

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Written by
Donald Wittmer