Pentagon Budget Could be Cut in Half, Former Secretaries of Defense Stated in 1989

Sure Could Use that Peace Dividend Now

Thirty three years ago the front page of the New York Times featured a stunning report on the possibility of a complete reorientation of the U.S. economy away from war, toward peace. It was all the more remarkable as it was neither written by nor about peace activists blinded by utopianism. It was, rather, about the testimony before Congress of two former managers of the U.S. war machine.

In light of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) President Mikhail Gorbachev’s persistent efforts to achieve domestic political reform at home, and end the long Cold War between that nation and the United States, reporter David E. Rosenbaum wrote in the December 13, 1989 edition of the paper that “military experts from previous administrations told Congress today that the $300 billion annual Pentagon budget could be safely cut in half over the next decade because of the reduced threat from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.”

Rosenbaum quoted Robert S. McNamara, Defense Secretary in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, who stated that by “such a shift, we should be able to enhance global stability, strengthen our own security and, at the same time, produce the resources to support a much-needed restructuring of the economy.”

Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, Lawrence J. Korb, echoed McNamara’s assessment, telling Congress that such “a development can have a dramatic impact on our economic well-being and our competitive position in the world.”

Within two years the USSR would no longer exist and the Cold War would be over. Soon after, historian Francis Fukuyama celebrated the “universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government” in his book, The End of History

Historian Andrew J. Bacevich wrote later of the historic turn of events in The Limits of Power: An End to American Exceptionalism:

For the United States, the passing of the Cold War yielded neither a “peace dividend” nor anything remotely resembling peace. Instead, what was hailed as a historic victory gave way almost immediately to renewed unrest and conflict. By the time the East-West standoff that some historians had termed the “Long Peace” ended in 1991, the United States had already embarked upon a decade of unprecedented interventionism. In the years that followed, Americans became inured to reports of U.S. forces going into action — fighting in Panama and the Persian Gulf, occupying Bosnia and Haiti, lambasting Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Sudan from the air. Yet all of these turned out to be mere preliminaries. In 2001 came the main event, an open- ended global war on terror, soon known in some quarters as the “Long War.”

Fast forward to the year 2020. 

According to Brown University’s Cost of War project, the United States has spent $6.4 trillion since 9/11 on warfare, largely on the national credit card. That amounts to around $32 million an hour. 

As the most urgent threat we currently face is not from an external enemy but from the COVID-19 virus, it seems clear the time has come to give ‘national defense’ a rethink.

Here’s some further reading on the aforementioned subjects.

Congress Is Deadlocked on Covid Relief But Came Together to Fund the Pentagon for $740 Billion

by Sarah Lazare, In These Times.

How America should redefine its national security after pandemic

by Roger Myerson, Nobel Prize winning economist writing at The Hill.

The Coronavirus and the Urgent Need to Redefine National Security 

by Melvin Goodman, author and former CIA analyst, writing for Counterpunch. 



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