Salon Writer: ‘National Security’ Means Less Money For Military, More For Education and Health Care

In the early 1990s, politicians floated the term “peace dividend” regarding a hoped-for post-Cold War reduction in the U.S. defense budget, and Pentagon spending indeed fell somewhat in the mid- and late ‘90s. Sean McElwee, a research associate at the lefty think tank Demos, argues that America now needs a post-9/11, post-Afghanistan, post-Iraq peace dividend which would allow greatly increased spending on certain domestic programs.

“As violent deaths from war and terrorism decline,” wrote McElwee in a Sunday piece for Salon, “the greater threat to Americans is their failing infrastructure, costly healthcare system and incoherent environmental policy…In addition, [America’s] ability to lead by example is threatened by poverty, homeless[ness] and rampant inequality.”

McElwee concluded that “Americans need to realize that today, the larger threat they face is their own fear leading them to underinvest in vital services. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously warned, ‘the only thing we have to fear is… fear itself.’”

From McElwee’s article, which was headlined “The U.S. Military Is a National Security Threat” (bolding added):

At $610 billion, [the U.S. military budget] dwarfs the combined military budgets of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, India and Germany…[O]ne third of all military spending [in] the world comes from the United States...

As the era of American hegemony winds down, it’s more important than ever for America to be able to demonstrate soft power. That means first, an American model that works, for other countries to emulate. But further, it means a highly educated population, long-term investment in infrastructure, adequate healthcare, [a] society based, above all else, on opportunity. However, it’s likely that the military budget precludes these important services…

Given that the U.S. is already a relatively low-spending country, the military only further diminishes our meager safety net.

…[N]ot only does the U.S. spend comparatively less of its GDP on government than other developed countries, military spending…takes up far more of it. That means America spends less on general public services, environmental protection and education than otherwise. But these services are key to America’s ability to remain a global leader…

…Surplus [military] goods are often sent to local police offices, who end up with grenade launchers, weaponized aircraft and “tank-like armoured vehicles.” Concomitantly, police killings have increased…and the police have begun to seem like an occupying force…

The current conception of national security is far too limited. As violent deaths from war and terrorism decline, the greater threat to Americans is their failing infrastructure, costly healthcare system and incoherent environmental policy. The Obama White House has warned on numerous occasions that climate change and shoddy infrastructure are a deep threat to American national security…The Pentagon has been worried that climate change is a national security threat since even earlier, releasing a report in 2003 discussing the implications of global warming. The Department of Homeland Security has consistently warned that aging infrastructure is a national security risk…

In addition, our ability to lead by example is threatened by poverty, homeless and rampant inequality...

The American model looks increasingly unappealing to emerging economies, who have seen the American middle class become less vibrant and more straddled with debt…

…[J]ust two years funding for the massive, $1.5 trillion F-35 fighter jet could fund free community college for all students for a decade. Americans need to realize that today, the larger threat they face is their own fear leading them to underinvest in vital services. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously warned, “the only thing we have to fear is… fear itself.”

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters