Budget Busters

The Pentagon gets its biggest raise in two decades.

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George Bush, whose presidency has been defined by war, yesterday signed a record-breaking defense budget for the fiscal year of 2004. The National Defense Authorization Act budgets $7 billion more than last year’s defense appropriation, the biggest increase since the Cold War.

Signing the bill, Bush said: “Right now America’s armed forces are the best- trained, best-equipped and best-prepared in the world, and this administration will keep it that way. The bill I sign today authorizes $400 billion over the next fiscal year to prepare our military for all that lies ahead.” The U.S. military is — hands down — the best funded in the world. (Second-placed Russia spends one sixth as much as the U.S. on its military.)

The Cold War is over, but its legacy lives on in this bill, in the designation of about $450 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which secures and destroys weapons of mass destruction throughout the former Soviet Union. At the same time, the new defense bill ratifies the Bush administration’s break with a 1993 congressional law prohibiting the research and development of “low yield” nuclear weapons, and sets aside $15 million for studies into the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, commonly better known as “bunker-busting mini-nukes”.

The National Security Strategy of the United States, the ‘Bush Doctrine,’ from September 2002 outlines the administration’s plans for unchallenged global dominance based on overwhelming military superiority and the controversial principle of pre-emptive strikes. All of which carries a price tag — and now we know for how much.

The Bush administration has been criticized for neglecting servicemen and women, and, perhaps to defuse that issue heading into an election year, the president included an across-the-board pay increase of 3.7 percent for military personnel and extends increases in combat and family separation pay.

Several billion dollars are provided to purchase new, or upgrade existing, aircraft, including $4.4 billion for developing the Joint Strike Fighter. Six and a half billion dollars are designated for the construction of seven new warships and half-a-billion dollars will be spent to give the military new equipment to detect chemical or biological weapons.

Some critics think the bill doesn’t go far enough in transforming the U.S. military, as the Boston Globe reports:

“‘We are still buying virtually everything that was in the Clinton administration budget,’ said Loren B. Thompson, a defense specialist at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. ‘We just added a handful of new initiatives. We are still buying three [different] fighter planes, destroyers and cruisers, and armored vehicles.’

But Steve Kosiak, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, said there are some areas of the defense budget that can be considered ‘transformational.’ He cited greater investments in pilotless aircraft that can gather intelligence, more money for communications and information technologies, and increased funding for smart weapons. “On the other hand, the vast majority of the funding is going to traditional programs, rather than transformational ones,” Kosiak said.

One Democratic congressional aide who asked not to be identified said the fact that the Pentagon’s research and development funding has not met the stated goal of 3 percent of total defense spending demonstrated how reform remains hostage to special interests. ‘They are not pushing the future,’ the aide said. ‘They are buying the same kind of things.'”

The most controversial provision in the 1,200 page legislation includes just over $9 billion for the ballistic missile defense shield (which has yet to be proven to actually work). Referring to its inclusion, Bush said: “We must have the tools and the technologies to properly protect our people.”

Another controversy centers around a measure easing environmental restrictions on the military. (Mother Jones covered the Pentagon’s efforts to exempt itself from environmental laws in the magazine’s November/December issue.)

The North County Times writes:

“One of the most contentious measures in the act signed Monday was what lawmakers coined the ‘freedom to train’ provision, which will keep environmental agencies from designating additional lands on military installations as critical habitat for endangered or threatened species.
It also opens the door for the Pentagon to negotiate with the Department of Interior to relax restrictions that military officials say hinder training.
Camp Pendleton was the poster child of the Pentagon’s campaign to amend the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act in the military’s favor.

Environmentalists have said they believed the bill was a Trojan horse intended to break down the system of laws that have protected the environment from military and industrial pollution for decades.”


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