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It is difficult to see much good in this year’s defense policy bill, which authorizes a whopping $741 billion for the Pentagon.  That’s $1.4 million every minute, in a year when 300,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, millions are facing hunger, unemployment and eviction, the impacts have fallen most heavily on communities of color, and the Senate has done nothing about it since April.  

It has become painfully clear that the military cannot solve any of the principal threats to the health, safety, and well-being of the American population.  Rather than doubling down on a failed approach, we must reckon with the fact that our government’s endless wars have killed over 335,000 civilians and displaced 37 million – most of them Black and brown people.

FCNL lobbyists worked hard to ensure the inclusion of small but meaningful provisions.

With so much at stake, nothing less than a massive cut to the wasteful, excessive, and unaccountable Pentagon budget will do.  Regrettably, however, our leaders do not yet see it that way.  The House and Senate passed the final defense bill earlier this month, even under threat of a veto, by overwhelming margins.  If the president does veto the bill, it will be for all the wrong reasons.

There are some glimmers of hope, though. FCNL lobbyists worked hard to ensure the inclusion of small but meaningful provisions that will help mitigate the damage wrought by this militaristic approach to the world.  And we achieved some important victories:

1)  Reducing militarization of police. 

The final bill reforms the Department of Defense’s 1033 program by limiting the transfer of weapons of war - including bayonets, grenades and weaponized drones - to state and local law enforcement. 

2)  Demanding answers on Yemen. 

Legislators agreed to require a report by the Government Accountability Office on any U.S. military participation in the Saudi and UAE-led coalition’s blockade of Yemen, and a report by the Secretary of State on civilian harm and U.S. efforts to ease human suffering.

3)  Demonstrating concern for civilian casualties. 

The bill requires the Secretary of Defense to tell the defense committees what is being done to mitigate, investigate, and provide redress when civilians are killed or injured by U.S. forces.  It also calls the protection of civilians “a moral and ethical imperative” and encourages more progress toward preventing civilian harm.

4)  Preventing atrocities in high-risk countries. 

A House provision was included to ensure that when the United States provides military aid to countries at high risk of new atrocities, planners at the State and Defense Departments assess the impact of the aid on the risk for atrocities and factor in ways to reduce the chances of violence against civilians.

5)  Forestalling a return to nuclear testing. 

While the final bill does not prohibit funds for new nuclear testing, as we would have liked, it does strip out $10 million for preparations to resume explosive nuclear testing.

The bill also requires that military bases named for Confederates be renamed within three years – which is one of the main reasons for President Trump’s veto threat.

Taken together, these provisions make a lemon of a bill just a little less sour.  Alongside a wide range of partners for peace and justice, the FCNL network – lobbyists and grassroots activists alike – made their presence known and their moral voice heard.  As a result, policymakers are beginning to pay more attention to the brutal and racist impacts of an approach to national security that has for too long gone unquestioned.

Diana Ohlbaum, Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy

Diana Ohlbaum

Former Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy

Diana Ohlbaum directed FCNL’s foreign policy lobbying team and leads an effort to replace the current U.S. foreign policy paradigm of military domination and national superiority with a more ethical and effective one based on cooperation and mutual respect.