THE OFFENSE BUDGET
Just about the time George Orwell published his novel 1984, shortly after the end of World War II, the U.S. "War Department" was renamed the "Defense Department." This name change also coincided with the fact that the United States was then the sole possessor of nuclear weapons and had an overwhelming military superiority. In effect, therefore, the United States had no "defense" problem at all. Its military establishment could be and was designed to make war and to participate with the CIA in aggression and subversion in distant places like Iran, Indochina, and Indonesia, in the interest of enlarging the U.S. global domain, certainly not to protect the United States against any military threat to its own territory.
Its principal rival, the Soviet Union, had suffered devastating losses in World War II, and while the Soviets had a large army they were in no position to engage in military adventures abroad. The Soviets had to worry about defending themselves against a U.S. attack, which was a far more serious threat in the early post World War II years than any Soviet invasion of Western Europe. A preemptive strike against the Soviet Union with atomic weapons was debated intensively within the U.S. military establishment, and the secret 1950 National Security Council Report 68 was clearly premised on the belief that the United States was well positioned to destabilize the Soviet Union (which it was already engaged in doing and pursued for many years). Nevertheless, the propaganda system of the West successfully conveyed the notion that the Soviet Union posed an imminent invasion threat to Western Europe as part of an alleged plan of world conquest. This propaganda was known by informed officials to be false, but they welcomed and cultivated it as a means of mobilizing the population to accept Cold War militarization and associated policies, such as the reimposition of a rightwing police state in Greece and support of the French recolonization of Indochina in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Subsequently, as the Soviet Union acquired nuclear arms, and then even obtained a missile capability, the preemptive strike option was made more problematic, but the United States always maintained a huge superiority in quality and strategic location of its weaponry, and in many key sectors it had a quantitative edge as well. Despite this, the members of the world's finest propaganda system reported and failed to criticize the military-industrial complex (MIC) claim that Soviet equality or superiority in nuclear arms justified a major arms buildup. One of the sick-comic features of the years 1958 well into the 1980s was the serial "gaps" alleged in U.S. weapons capability relative to the menacing Soviets-- missile gaps, throw-weight gaps, windows of vulnerability, etc.-- every one of them disinformation, but every one of them effectively propagandized with the help of the mainstream media. Tom Gervasi's The Myth of Soviet Military Superiority, published in 1986, is still worth reading for its demonstration of both the fraud of the gap allegations and the mainstream media's service in allowing these lies to be used to justify the Reagan arms buildup of the 1980s. (Gervasi's book was never reviewed or mentioned in the New York Times and was hysterically trashed in the Washington Post.)
Another closely related feature of U.S. "defense" policy from early in the post World War II era was its aggressive pushing of the arms race. The United States was ahead from the beginning and its leaders intended to keep it ahead by constant innovation, at the expense of civilian welfare (resources diverted from the civilian sector to arms), and even at the expense of national security as an arms race featuring ever more capable nuclear armaments was dangerous. Herbert York, selected by President Eisenhower to be the first director of Pentagon research in the 1950s, declared in his classic Road To Oblivion (1970), that U.S. military power had advanced steadily since 1945, "while at the same time our national security has been rapidly and inexorably decreasing." He also stated that the nuclear arms race had been fueled by U.S. initiatives at every critical point (pp. 226, 231- 2).
This arms race was also obviously costly to the rest of the world, forced to follow in the U.S. wake, but the U.S. leadership didn't care about this, and was actually pleased at its effects on the Soviet Union, a poor country that could ill afford such expenditures that were diverted from serving its civil society. There were even explicit statements by U.S. officials dating from the mid-1950s, suggesting that this beggaring of the Soviet Union was a real plus and aim of the U.S.'s forcing of an arms race, a part of the long-term destabilization effort.
So the quest for arms superiority was useful in beggaring rivals by forcing them to spend for what was REALLY "defense" for them. It was also useful in allowing small rivals to be crushed militarily, ending any "threat of a good example" in Nicaragua and the effective pursuit of a non-market-oriented development path in Vietnam and elsewhere. Posing a security threat to them also made these rivals more authoritarian, weakening both their flexibility and attractiveness to others as well as to their own citizens.
Arms superiority also facilitated control over allied regimes and independent Third World countries, partly by the use of military alliances like NATO as a control device, partly by cultivating relationships with military establishments that were used as beachheads or proxies to overthrow social democratic governments (done systematically in Latin America after World War II, as described in Penny Lernoux's Cry of the People , and my Real Terror Network ). Military power complemented financial power in forcing countries into the global economic system and neoliberal dependency.
Although it was estimated during the Cold War years that at least 50 percent of the U.S. military budget was to counter Soviet power, the collapse of the Soviet Union and reduction of the Russian GDP to the level of the Netherlands has not produced a "peace dividend" for the U.S. public; the military budget dropped by some 12 percent from its peak in 1989 to a trough in 1996, but has now recovered those losses and with bipartisan help the MIC is pressing for more. It is clear once again that this has nothing to do with "defense" but is grounded in the ability of the MIC to command resources, and, in addition to sheer boondoggling in the interest of profits, in its search for offensive capability to project U.S. power across the globe. (Despite the conservatives' devotion to giving "the people" what they want, a rationale for major tax reductions, the fact that the public wants a "dramatic reduction in defense spending--on the average, by 24 percent" according to public opinion analyst Steven Kull--does not affect conservative [i.e., Republican and New Democrat] actions in actual spending decisions; these are shaped by higher considerations.)
The irrelevance of the public interest in such decision-making is dramatically evident in the Bush team's push for a National Missile Defense (NMD). This project is deeply irresponsible and literally insane in terms of public welfare at home and abroad. Its rationale in terms of the "rogue" threat is laughable--a throwback to the Nixon era defense of an early missile program as needed for a China threat, long before China even had a single missile with which it might commit national suicide--and Bush has had to behave harshly toward North Korea in order to preserve a rogue to do the threatening! The "China problem" today is how to reconcile the China lobby's interest in reaching that gigantic market and the MIC lobby's need for a rogue and threat big enough to justify vast and destabilizing expenditures with a pretended "defense" need.
There is extensive evidence in government reports that its sponsors not only know very well that the NMD program has an offensive potential, but that this is what they understand to be its main role (see Joseph Gerson's "In Dark Times: The politics and geopolitics of missile 'defenses'," Z Magazine, July-August 2001). They are also well aware that it will force other governments to respond in a new arms race. So this program is not about "defense," but beyond the sheer boondoggling aspect is rather an attempt to advance the U.S. offensive capability in order to allow this country to impose its will on foreigners.
But the mainstream media, while allowing moderate criticism of the rush to an NMD and the imminent unilateral abrogation of the ABM treaty, do not stress, and rarely even mention, that this new system will have an important offensive capability and that its Pentagon supporters give this heavy weight in urging its adoption. The media pretend that it is a defensive weapon and that the main issue is whether it will be effective in this defense role. This helps make the system seem almost reasonable, as we certainly want "national security" protection against rogues. It is thus a kind of normalization of irresponsibility and insanity, perfectly in line with past media performance that failed to challenge either the fraudulent "gaps" and arms race based on them, or the numerous boondoggles past and present.
The corporate community, including the MIC contractors and global firms benefiting from U.S. offensive power in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, supported George W. Bush with enthusiasm, as he will keep those environmentalists and peaceniks in check and aggressively push the corporate agenda. A strong offense serves their interests, if not that of ordinary citizens. But we ordinary citizens, left out of this corporate and lunatic military calculus, should be fighting this agenda furiously. A first step, surely, must be to laugh at the notion of a "defense budget." Let us call it by its right name--an "offense budget," or even an "offense and boondoggle budget."