Short Film: A Look at Global Militarization

While the international global recession has increased unemployment and created hardship for many, these times remain profitable for the merchants of death. The economic crisis notwithstanding, the U.S. government’s military spending has reached its highest level since World War II. In 2009 alone, it spent some $650 billion on its military, more than the next 46 highest-spending countries combined. Forty-four percent of federal tax revenues continue to be allocated to military and defense spending. The United Nations and all of its related agencies, which broadly speaking are in the business of peace, have an annual budget of around $30 billion, less than three percent of global military spending. Even as the U.S. government slashes local budgets and social services in response to the recession, austerity in the realm of military spending is off the table.

It should not be. Those who are pushing to reel in government spending and balance the budget would be wise to look carefully at bloated and unchecked military spending.

Below is a short film we made that takes a brief look at the current state of military spending both in the U.S. and around the world.

The “military-industrial complex” refers to the political and economic relationships between governments, the armed forces, and industrial manufacturers of military related goods and services. The term was first made popular by President Eisenhower, who was anything but a dove—as commander-in-chief he personally oversaw many U.S. military interventions overseas. In his farewell address of January, 1961, he warned that “in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex [where] the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

The concern was certainly justified. The intimate ties between lawmakers, private contractors, and military officials—and the material benefits these actors enjoy as arms spending rises—creates a troubling conflict of interest. Not only is the cost to U.S. citizens high, but this arrangement also results in the projection of the U.S. as an oppressor overseas. John Feffer of the Institute for Policy Studies remarks that militarization has become “the face of the United States to the larger part of the world.” U.S.-based companies account for 14 of the top 20 international industrial military manufacturers. Feffer’s colleague Phyllis Bennis adds that since American companies produce the majority of the world’s weapons, it is not surprising that people around the world suffering from military attack often blame the U.S.

Unless the U.S. changes its relationship with the military-industrial complex, it will deserve a large share of international criticism. However, other countries must also bear part of the responsibility for escalating militarism. Despite the overwhelming resources the U.S. devotes to its Department of Defense, a growing military budget is not unique to just one country. Many countries that aspire for greater international prominence also feel the need to further develop their militaries as a means of demonstrating their geopolitical influence. In 2008, China, for the first time, spent more than any other nation besides the U.S. on its military. And, even in the midst of the global recession in 2009, sixteen G20 member states increased their military spending in real terms.

While the production of more fighter jets and missile systems will make the world a more dangerous place, the dangers they present pale next to threat of ultimate destruction posed by nuclear weapons. Despite recent international efforts to reduce the number of nuclear weapons worldwide, Frida Berrigan of the World Policy Institute warns that the spread of these arms is also escalating. She notes that “many international observers predict that over the course of the next ten years another dozen countries could build nuclear weapons.”

In the closing of his farewell address, President Eisenhower advised the U.S. Congress that “disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative [and] together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.” Some fifty years after they were first spoken, these words ring ever more true, and their relevance for those who seek a more just and peaceful world could not be greater.

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