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$100 billion cut in military budget needed.

If it were discovered that the U.S. government was needlessly giving away $50 billion to $100 billion a year, the practice would stop with a dramatic bipartisan vote.

But that is exactly what the Pentagon is doing. Few military justifications exist for the $270 billion proposed by President Clinton - only $2 billion less than President Bush's plan.

The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office identified 54 specific ways the Defense Department budget for 1994 could be cut by $30 billion. The House Armed Services Committee points to expenditures of $65 billion, which "simply support a Cold War-sized management and acquisition bureaucracy."

History demonstrates that the Clinton White House is missing an opportunity to transfer at least $50 billion from the Pentagon to deficit reduction or to urgently needed social programs. After World War II, 22 million people left the civilian or military employment they had in the war.

Military spending dropped from 85 percent of the gross national product to 6 percent. After the Korean War, annual military spending dropped over $100 billion in about three years. After the war in Vietnam, defense spending dropped $130 billion in six years.

Candidate Clinton pledged he would lower military spending by $60 billion over four years. The White House now says the campaign figure has risen to $88 billion. But some of the increase comes from a projected pay freeze, assumptions about low inflation and accounting adjustments. These are not real cuts in the military expenditures.

Also, the budget for the Defense Department almost doubled in the Reagan years - from $150 billion to $300 billion.

The reluctance to propose cuts in the defense budget derives from the fear of added unemployment. But, again, the fears cannot be objectively verified. A 1993 study of the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress found that spending $3 billion on services for state and local governments creates 12,000 more jobs than spending $3 billion on the military.

Some substantial economies could be realized in the reduction of overseas troops. If the country were asked now to send troops to Europe or Japan, no one would urge their placement.

Why then keep even 100,000 U.S. troops in Europe? Or 80,000 in Japan and South Korea? Ambassador George Kennan in his recent autobiography stated that the "time for the stationing of American forces on European soil has passed."

It is also time to reconsider the total number of troops needed now that the threat of attack has virtually evaporated.

Clinton wants to move troops toward a goal of 1.4 million. But why not reduce it to 1 million, as recommended by the Center for Defense Information?

One great glory is that the nation has never been controlled by the military. At some periods during the Cold War, there was a threat of losing America's tradition of civil rule.

Now, one would think, the White House and Congress could override military interests and reduce the budget to what is essential.

That is hampered by the political consequences of offending the military. There are 28 million veterans, and the military industrial complex has areas of influence in almost every congressional district. Also, Clinton has never been in the military and must seek not to alienate the Pentagon.

New Secretary of Defense Les Aspin; a former aide in Robert McNamara's Defense Department, has not separated himself from the military thinking that prevailed during the Cold War.

The limited usefulness of the military has become clear as we contemplate Bosnia. The vast armada for which we now expend $5 billion a week has very limited usefulness in the world after the Cold War.

The religious community has always been critical of the fortress state we have created over the past 40 years. Now is the time to unite and demand that $100 billion be eliminated from the military budget. It is a winnable crusade, one that would attract Americans of every ideology.
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 7, 1993
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