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TPM Cafe

Prevention as the Best Defense

By William Hartung
Talking Points Memo Cafe
7 July 2011

President Obama and key members of Congress have finally acknowledged that any deal on the deficit must include reductions in Pentagon spending. The figures being discussed are far too small, but the principle has been accepted.

But the underlying question is not just about dollars, it is about how best to defend the country. On that score, an important new resource has been produced that underscores the effectiveness of non-miiltary tools of security, from diplomacy to economic assistance to investments in alternative sources of energy. The report -- whose lead authors are Miriam Pemberton of the Institute for Policy Studies and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress -- calls for a "unified security budget" that allows budgetary tradeoffs between military and civilian programs that serve to make the country safer (disclosure: I served on the task force that produced the report).

The principal finding of the report is that there is a severe imbalance between offensive instruments -- weapons and troops -- and preventive measures -- diplomacy, economic assistance, and other measures that help to head off or diminish conflict short of war.

Leaving aside spending directly related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for every 12 dollars spent for military purposes only one dollar is spent for diplomacy and prevention. And recent proposals by the House of Representatives have called for deep cuts in diplomacy and other preventive programs that would widen this gap.

Why does this matter? Because many of the most urgent threats we face are not amenable to traditional military solutions. Large scale "boots on the ground" operations like Iraq and Afghanistan have done little to diminish the threat of terrorism; even the killing of Osama Bin Laden was carried out by a relatively small cadre of Special Forces empowered by extensive intelligence gathering. It did not require 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The pro-democracy "Arab spring" sweeping the Middle East and North Africa will ultimately benefit more from U.S. diplomatic and economic support than it will from the capacity to project militlary force into the region. Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear bomb-making materials to terrorists is best achieved by programs to secure and dismantle them; bombs and guns are useless in resolving this problem. Climate change, which could ultimately do as much to threaten human life as any armed conflict, is not a militlary problem.

Bearing these points in mind, the Unified Security Budget calls for $77 billion in reductions in unnecessary military spending, about one-third of which would go to preventive programs for objectives like training and hiring diplomats, meeting U.S. obligations for UN Peacekeeping and other cooperative international efforts, and leveraging tens of billions of dollars for addressing climate change. About two-thirds of the freed up funds would go to deficit reduction. Implementing these proposals would mark a modest but important step towards a more effective national security policy, even as they contribute to cutting the deficit. The question is how to get the Congress to move in this direction. It will be up to the president and the Senate to hold the line against proposed cuts in funding for diplomacy and foreign assistance while cutting unnecessary military programs. For that to happen, they need to hear from as many of their constituents as possible.

William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nation Books).

William Hartung is the director for the Arms & Security project at the Center for International Policy.

Copyright, TPM Cafe, 2011. Original article available here.

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