1. Update
  2. U.S. Wars & Militarism

Breaking the Militarism Mindset: The Pentagon Budget

By Anthony Wier, November 29, 2017


Today, U.S. taxpayers are giving as much money to the military as they did during the Vietnam War’s height. The Pentagon budget rivals military spending in the last years of the Cold War. And, unless we can change their minds, members of Congress are going to give the Pentagon even more.

These budget increases reflect a mindset I observed in a decade of service inside the federal government. Any time a new national security challenge arose—from Iran to Ukraine, from Syria to North Korea—the default instinct of far too many in Washington, DC has been to mindlessly reach first for military power to respond—to look first for the Pentagon and the tools of war to address the problem.

The instinct to increase Pentagon spending runs right across Congress’ partisan divides. In large part, that’s because members of Congress and their staff hear practically every day both from all manner of Pentagon officials and from the legions of defense contractor lobbyists who swarm Capitol Hill.

If these are the only people they are hearing from, then it is going to make sense to many in Congress to go along with Pentagon budgets of $600 billion, or $700 billion, or even more in years ahead.

That’s why they need to hear from all of us—right now, when leaders in Congress are quietly talking behind the scenes to work out top-line numbers for a budget for the rest of the year.

This November, I stood before a room of Quakers and friends at FCNL’s Quaker Public Policy Institute. These grassroots advocates were about to go into congressional offices and urge them to reject budget proposals that grow Pentagon spending or force cuts for urgent needs in diplomacy, development, and domestic priorities. That lobbying was bolstered by the dedication of FCNL’s Advocacy Teams—more than 1,300 people in 35 states as of this writing—who have been working for almost a year asking Congress to rein in Pentagon spending.

That lobbying—and your continued advocacy—can help sway members’ opinions during budget negotiations right now. But it’s also about a longer-term struggle that FCNL is leading to put the brakes on administration and congressional designs for skyrocketing Pentagon growth next year and in the years beyond. Throughout its nearly 75-year history, FCNL has persistently lobbied to oppose increases in Pentagon spending and instead invest in programs that advance peace, justice, and an earth restored. That work today is as urgent as ever.

So long as we keep funding military strategies at the expense of other approaches, the military strategies will seem like the only option. Taking on militarism requires cutting off the taxpayer dollars that enable it to flourish.

Members of Congress hear a lot of stories about why Pentagon spending needs to keep growing. Regardless of that groupthink in the DC herd, the truth is that U.S. military spending exceeds Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea combined—and only the United States is also backed by a globe-spanning web of allies.

Congressional members and staff will claim that taxpayer spending on the Pentagon is a key source of jobs in their districts and states. But the truth is, dollar-for-dollar, U.S. military spending is less effective at creating jobs than spending on education, health care, or clean energy, according to a study out of Brown University.

The truth is that the Pentagon already wastes much of what taxpayers give it.

The truth is that the Pentagon is the only major federal agency that still has not passed a full, clean financial audit.

The truth is that misuse of Pentagon funds is so rampant that, when the Pentagon itself conducted an internal study, it identified $125 billion in potential savings over five years.

A big part of my work at FCNL is to share these truths with members of Congress. Across the country, people in the FCNL network are joining me in offering their stories and perspectives. We’re asking members of Congress why they hold the Pentagon budget to lower standards than any other agency. We’re showing that we don’t believe this is the right direction for our country.

We may not change a member’s mind right away. But members will pay attention to what voters say. You will make an impression. And all those impressions will add up to a real difference.

What’s more, if we aren’t out there saying these things, reminding this town of some of these actual facts, then we can’t really count on anyone else to say them either.

I believe that the best way to help make our time here on this earth a little bit better, a little bit lighter, is for an active citizenry to come together and get busy improving things—rather than just sit on the sidelines in the always vain hope that a government would just take care of it for us.

I am amazed all the time by what can happen when just one person has the courage to ask a question or speak up for their truth.

Militarism is embedded deeply in our country and culture. The size of the Pentagon budget is just one manifestation of that mindset and the problems it causes. By working together and speaking out and speaking up, we can start to change the power it has.

Anthony Wier

  • Legislative Secretary, Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending

Anthony is our lead lobbyist and the director of FCNL's work on nuclear weapons policy and is the key team leader working on our efforts to rein in Pentagon spending. He is also responsible for maintaining FCNL’s Nuclear Calendar and for representing FCNL with the various coalitions that work on these issues.