As the budget debates continue in Washington, the picture of where our priorities are as a nation has come into clearer focus. While dramatic cuts are being proposed to vital domestic programs --- health care, food, education, housing and international foreign aid efforts - military spending remains untouched. Despite election talk last fall that indicated a willingness to see that “everything is on the table,” the reality is that cuts to the military remain a taboo subject while programs that serve the poor are too often and easily offered up as expendable.
Something is out of order.
U.S. food Programs like USAID’s Food for Peace program and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program are critical to the well being of millions around the world. In some proposed cuts, these programs would see close to a 50 percent reduction. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, testifying before the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee last week, suggested that the impact of proposed cuts to foreign aid programs would “lead to 70,000 kids dying.”
Likewise, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently suggested that proposed cuts would be “devastating to our national security…and damage our leadership in the world.” Funding for entire programs like the U.S. Institute of Peace would be cut, all while the military budget would remain at historic levels --- 6 times that of the next closest country (our ally China) and close to half that of all global military expenditures per year- over 700 billion of the $1.5 spent worldwide.
Something needs to change.
Few would argue that maintaining a robust U.S. military remains important for the security of the U.S. and global community. We are engaged in two, some say three, wars. However, we know that our security is not only achieved through defense alone, but rather through the three-pronged approach of defense, diplomacy, and development. The U.S. has relied far too heavily on the military side alone, arguably to the diminishment of the other two. The proposed budget is a prime example as U.S. diplomacy and development will inevitably bear the brunt of cuts in the proposed budgets, resulting in increased scarcity and insecurity in regions already faced with spiking global food prices, war, and climate change. Many look at the past decade and foreseeable future as a state of “perpetual war.” This debate is further raised by growing trends in the militarization of disaster relief and development aid.
There is another way.
Although finding ways to lower our military budget will not be the magic solution to solve our economic challenges, Pentagon spending must also be reviewd to determine whether it represents the best use of our limited tax dollars. Studies have shown that investment in domestic priorities such as education, health care, and clean energy create more jobs than the same amount spent on the military. Limiting our budget debates only to cuts in non-security discretionary spending is a distortion of our fiscal reality. We cannot excuse military spending from the conversation while at the same time shining spotlights on anti-poverty programs that are proven life-lines for many and constitute such a small percent of our budget.
We must act.
As people of faith, we believe that our budget should reflect our values. We cannot let the conversation be limited only to cuts to critical domestic and international aid programs without lifting up the moral dimension of military spending without debate. We commit ourselves to learning, praying, and advocating for a more peaceful world in which the most vulnerable still have a place at their table.