JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
On Monday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel outlined a Pentagon budget that will reduce the size of the military and curtail certain weapons systems. The proposal is an alternative to across-the-board cuts which will be implemented because of the so-called sequester.
Now joining us to discuss this is William Hartung. William is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.
Thank you so much for joining us.
WILLIAM D. HARTUNG, DIRECTOR, ARMS AND SECURITY PROJECT, CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL POLICY: Yes. Thanks for having me.
NOOR: So let’s start off by getting your response to this proposal by Chuck Hagel. So even though the military personnel are going to get cut, the defense budget, the Pentagon’s five-year plan, would boost spending by as much as $115 billion over spending caps set in the sequester. So what’s happening, basically, is that even though the fighting force is one of the smallest it’s been since World War II, the budget is near historic highs. Give us your response.
HARTUNG: Well, you know, the per-soldier costs are a lot more than they used to be. Some of that is because it’s a volunteer force and they get better-paying benefits than when it was a draft. A lot of it is because the weapons systems are very expensive, both the bombs, the fighter planes, the communications, the whole web that holds it all together. And that’s, of course, the piece that benefits contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. And they’re—you know, they have pretty good lobbyists to make sure that they’re ones who take the hit.
NOOR: That’s one of the things that’s not being cut, as you mentioned, as well as special forces and other more advanced weapons. Break down what’s happening and what this signals for the future of the Pentagon.
HARTUNG: Well, there’s a couple of interesting things on the weapons side. One is Hagel said, you know, we’re going to sustain the “nuclear triad”, which is nuclear bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
That’s an artifact of the Cold War. There’s no need to have three different ways to deliver nuclear weapons. There’s no need to have thousands of them. So that’s really a hangover from the Cold War. But, of course, it benefits certain companies and certain states where these things are based.
You have 35 combat aircraft—you know, the wings are cracking, the software’s not working, it’s years behind schedule, it’s the most expensive weapons program undertaken by the Pentagon ever, and yet they’re going full speed ahead. They’re getting rid of cheaper options like the A10 aircraft, F-18 and F-16, which are more than sufficient to deal with, you know, any threats that currently exist or will exist in the foreseeable future to the United States. So they’re really going for those kind of expensive big-ticket weapons at the expense of things that could do the job just as well but would not generate a big contracting kind of pool of contracting revenue, ’cause the A-10s are already in the force, an F-18 costs about a third of what an F-35 costs. So they’re really kind of skewing the weapons-buying in that direction. And then at the same time, you know, they’re cutting commissary subsidies, they’re slowing pay raises, they’re increasing deductibles and copays on the insurance for the active military and military retirees. And then, as you said, they’re cutting the size of the force. So to a large degree the cuts are coming in military personnel, the people who fight the wars and are the support systems for that, not the companies that build the weapons or, for that matter, the higher-ups in the military hierarchy, like the generals, who do quite well for themselves.
NOOR: It’s being reported that this will prevent the U.S. military from doing prolonged invasions such as what we had or currently have in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it’s still going to allow the U.S. military to do the targeted killings it’s been doing through the Middle East, and in Pakistan as well. So talk about what this means for the future of U.S. military intervention and the U.S. global outlook in the coming decades.
HARTUNG: Well, you know, there’s a shift in the nature of warfare, and it’s enabled by things like drones, by better surveillance techniques, a move towards autonomous robotic systems in, you know, five, ten, 15 years down the road. All of this means you can have a global military reach without having to put hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground. So to some degree Hagel was just acknowledging reality, which is that people are not going to sit still for another Iraq or another Afghanistan.
So I think the question is going to be: will we sit still for a series of smaller wars using drones, using special forces, which were increased in this budget, you know, because those don’t involve large numbers of troops at risk? Are we just going to, as an American public, say, well, you know, I’m not interested, that’s not my business, I’ve got my own problems? Or are we going to say, this is not the country we want to be in the world, we don’t want the face that we give to the rest of the world to be one of aggression or one of use of military force as sort of a first option in too many cases?
NOOR: Getting back to what is being cut, Hagel indicated things like military pay, housing, health-care benefits, and, as you mentioned, these commissaries, $500 million to these commissaries, which sell discounted food and essentials to military members and their families.
HARTUNG: Yes. And, you know, there’s a tradeoff. They did increase benefits substantially, because they were trying to recruit people to go to war. And, of course, that’s a less attractive option. If you’re going into a military force that’s really going to send you straight to Iraq or Afghanistan. So now that those wars are winding down, their theory is they can shave back the benefits a bit and still recruit a qualified force.
Now, I think if they were to look at it in kind of a fair way—you know, for example, you know, if you’re a retired general and you go to work for a weapons contractor and you’re still taking, you know, free health insurance or, you know, virtually free health insurance from the Pentagon, maybe you should switch over to the company’s health care plan, or maybe at the very high end, you know, maybe there should be some adjustments in copays and so forth.
But this is more of an across-the-board thing. And I think for some people, you know, every dollar that’s cut may be a dollar that they need if they’re, you know, in tight circumstances.
NOOR: And let’s end on this note. We mentioned defense contractors and how they will be benefiting from this. The stocks of all but three major defense contractors hit a 52-week high on Monday, and the stock price of Lockheed Martin, the nation’s largest defense contractor, hit an all-time high as Hagel detailed the Pentagon’s plans.
William Hartung, thank you so much for joining us.
HARTUNG: Yes. Thank you.
NOOR: You can follow us @therealnews on Twitter. Tweet me questions and comments @jaisalnoor.
Thank you so much for joining us.