John B. Quigley
More spending on the military is not what this country needs.
A Republican-backed National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2016 is working its way through Congress. It would raise military spending over current levels.
President Obama is threatening to veto the legislation if it gets to his desk. He thinks we can do without additional military spending. He wants more domestic spending. If the president vetoes, there is a risk of a standoff and a government shutdown by Oct. 1.
Military spending is thought by many to be down in the Obama years, with troop withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In fact, the average annual defense budget has risen since George W. Bush left office. Obama has not been stingy with the Pentagon. It is receiving more than spare change.
The Republicans in the House want more. They have inserted into the bill they passed a provision for an $89 billion “emergency” war fund. They are calling it “emergency” to get around growth caps on military spending that Congress imposed in 2011.
The Republicans are caught between cutting government spending, one of their battle cries, and supporting our troops, another of their battle cries.
The battle over the defense budget calls for clear thinking. The focus should be less on dollars than on the kind of military we need, and how military spending can be balanced against very real needs we have domestically.
One issue is the huge armies we have based abroad. I’ve seen experts estimating $250 billion as the annual cost of keeping our troops overseas. You could fix quite a few dilapidated highway bridges and roads for that money. One in 10 bridges on highways in this country is rated in danger of collapse.
We still have 38,000 troops in Germany, and another 11,000 in Italy. What they find to do every day I’m not sure.
Of late, some of them have played cat and mouse with Russia in the Baltics. Whether flyovers there and other military demonstrations serve any real purpose one can only guess. If you ask if the money it takes to keep that large force in Europe could better be spent on something at home, I take the latter.
The House-passed military authorization bill includes money for arms to Ukraine, a move that Obama so far has refused to take. Arms shipments to Ukraine are as likely to make things worse in Ukraine as to making them better.
Ultimately, the protection of the United States depends on more than a bloated military. We should not be looking for new cold wars with Russia or China.
The United States is concerned about China’s claims to island territory in the South China Sea. If there is a resolution to that situation, it is not military. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has said as much recently. Yet in Asia we have even more troops at military bases than in Europe – 49,000 in Japan, 38,000 in South Korea.
Military aid to Israel stands at $3 billion a year and is slated to go up. Obama apparently wants to “compensate” Israel for angering it by our negotiations with Iran over Iran’s nuclear program.
We recently gave Israel money to buy “bunker buster” bombs that would let Israel bomb underground nuclear facilities, even though U.S. policy is that Israel should not attack Iran.
Israel used high-tech missiles last summer to target apartment buildings in the Gaza Strip. Those strikes nearly got Israel put on a list kept by the United Nations of states that target children. By aiding Israel’s military we fuel the anti-American sentiment that in turn requires more military spending.
To use a term Obama applies to domestic reforms, our military spending needs to be “smarter.”
John B. Quigley is a distinguished professor of law at Ohio State University. He is the author of 11 books on various aspects of international law.