Throwing more money at the Pentagon won't make us more secure
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With most living paycheck to paycheck, millions of Americans build their budgets around the priorities that matter — from food and housing, to education and health care. We expect our lawmakers to do the same as they appropriate money for the federal budget, identifying priorities and spending our hard-earned tax dollars accordingly. Undoubtedly, security is one of those priorities. As the House considers a bill that would appropropriate a gargantuan sum -- $733 billion -- to the Pentagon and other security related agencies, we must understand that this allocation, and indeed, our government’s already bloated and overly militarized defense spending does not keep Americans — nor the world — safe.

The Pentagon is by far the largest recipient of federal discretionary spending, with the United States spending more on the military today than during wars in Korea and Vietnam. Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy MORE has requested a colossal $750 billion in defense spending for FY2020 — a $34 billion increase over last year, a proposal he had previously deemed “crazy.” While lower than Trump’s request, even the defense spending bill that passed out of the Democratic-led House Appropriations Committee includes $15.8 billion more than what was allocated for the Pentagon in FY2019. As a result, Congress is sending the same message from both sides of the aisle: The Pentagon needs more money.

The Pentagon, however, doesn’t even know where it is spending its hundreds of billions. It failed its first-ever audit and remains the only federal agency to have never passed one, demonstrating its inability to assess whether taxpayers’ dollars are being spent responsibly — a reality repeatedly underscored by numerous reports of waste. A recent study also found that the Pentagon can’t even spend all of its money, returning $80 billion between FY2013 and FY2018. What the Pentagon actually spends goes towards financing a militarized status quo that jeopardizes the safety of people at home and abroad, from waging an endless war in 40 percent of the world’s nations and maintaining about 800 military bases in more than 70 countries, to undergoing an excessive nuclear modernization program that is stoking a global arms race. Meanwhile, nonmilitary tools like diplomacy and domestic priorities like education remain vastly underfunded.

To truly keep Americans safe, lawmakers must make a clear-eyed assessment of the contemporary, interconnected threat environment. The reality is that the greatest challenges to American and global security do not have military solutions. Rather than continue to fund the weapons of yesterday’s wars, Congress must realign federal spending with today’s security priorities.

First, invest in combatting the climate crisis. It seems that nearly every day a new headline reminds us that climate change will doom us all. From natural disasters to large-scale displacement and resource scarcity, the global climate crisis threatens human survival. And scientists say we only have 12 years to limit its most devastating effects. No weapon will prepare the U.S. to confront this existential challenge. Lawmakers must invest in proactive, preventative, and bold measures today to secure our planet before it’s too late.

Second, invest in slowing the march of global authoritarianism. From Europe to South America, authoritarian leaders are emboldened across continents – unopposed by a U.S. president that would rather befriend them than hold them to account. Authoritarians consistently violate human rights and deploy xenophobic rhetoric, stoking violence and threatening the security of their people. Their repression and impunity prompt social unrest and stymie economic innovation. They even undermine democracy by meddling in elections, as Russia did to the United States in 2016. To truly counter the rise of these authoritarian regimes, the U.S. must strengthen the resilience of democratic and international institutions, empower democratic movements, and offer a competitive model of economic and political development.

Third, invest in reducing mass inequality. Some of the countries experiencing the highest levels of violence are the most unequal and the most polarized, with the lack of attainable pathways to dignified income, economic opportunity, and political power increasing individuals’ vulnerability to exploitation and driving recruitment into violent groups. Plus, people cannot feel secure if they don’t know when their next meal will be, where they’ll sleep, or whether they’ll be able to afford medicine for their children. As a result, initiatives that protect human dignity, like a livable minimum wage and universal health care, are fundamental to security.

Finally, repudiate militarism. Military-first approaches have a tendency to aggravate the threats the U.S. faces, rather than resolve them. Take for example, the U.S.’s military-first approach to terrorism, which has resulted in mass civilian casualties, shattered communities, and only proliferated violent groups. To protect servicemembers and civilians, military force must only be used as a last resort. That means investing in nonmilitary alternatives, like doubling the State Department’s budget instead of slashing it.

A security budget that prioritizes the security challenges of today and tomorrow better reflects the range of tools needed to help keep Americans, and the rest of the world, safe. As lawmakers appropriate funds for FY2020, they must invest in policies that actually improve people’s wellbeing, rather than continuing to invest in a military-first approach that has exacerbated communities’ suffering. By resisting a continued increase in Pentagon spending and investing in nonmilitary alternatives and domestic priorities, lawmakers can begin the vital process of realigning U.S. security spending with true security needs.

Laila Ujayli was a Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at Win Without War. She specializes in the human impact of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.