The recent announcement that US military spending is set to grow at a slower pace and that ground troops will not fight in more than one major war at once was welcomed by many. However, according to Manlio Dinucci, it is all smoke and mirrors: the incremental outsourcing of conflicts to vassal states, the black budgets for intelligence agencies and the expanded use of technological warfare hardly foreshadow a scaling down in the number of Pentagon-run theaters of wars.
"We’re turning the page on a decade of war: this is what President Obama said during a press conference on 5 January at the Pentagon, while presenting his new strategy, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The armed forces will be "leaner," allowing for budget cuts of 450 billion dollars over ten years. The propaganda message is clear: in times of crisis, even the armed forces have to tighten their belt. Does it mean that the Pentagon disarming? Not at all: it will rationalize the use of resources to render its war machine even more efficient.
According to SIPRI, US military spending, which has almost doubled over the past decade amounts to 43% of world military spending. However, when other military expenses are factored in, the proportion exceeds 50%. For 2012, the Pentagon was allocated 553 billion dollars. 23 billion more than in 2010. Added to this are the 118 billion dollars for the war in Afghanistan and the “transition activities in Iraq” plus 17 for nuclear weapons, administered by the Department of Energy. By throwing in other military-related costs – including 124 billion for retired military personnel and 47 for the Department of Homeland Security, US military spending exceeds 900 billion dollars, a quarter of the federal budget.
It is in this context that the announced cuts of 45 billion annually over the next decade come in. The savings should be achieved primarily by reducing ground forces from 570,000 to 520,000 soldiers, and by trimming benefits (including health care) for war veterans. Downsizing ground forces is part of a new strategy, already tested in the war against Libya: the new way of making war – it is argued in Washington – which showed how middle-sized powers can be defeated and their leaders overthrown, by resorting to the overwhelming air and naval superiority of the US/NATO and by making their allies carry the heavier burden. But this does not make the wars any less expensive: as was the case for Libya, expenditures are authorized by Congress piecemeal and added to the Pentagon budget.
U.S. forces, said Panetta, "will be more agile, more flexible and ready to deploy more quickly." With them, the United States will have the ability to confront and defeat more than one adversary at a time. This will be made possible by the fact that, while it reduces its ground forces, the United States will develop new military capabilities, focusing on high-tech weapons systems and space control. At the same time, the new strategy contemplates a heightened use of secret services and special forces.
When he was head of the CIA (one of 17 federal organizations of the "intelligence community"), Panetta stepped up the transformation of the agency into a true military organization, which has escalated the deployment of weaponized drones in Afghanistan and set up secret bases for commando operations in Yemen and several other countries. According to the findings of a Washington Post investigation, there are special operations forces currently fanned out in 75 countries, down from 60 two years ago. They are increasingly flanked by mercenaries from private companies, which also operate in the shadows. War is thus conducted in a less visible fashion but is not less costly as a result. The intelligence budget is indeed "classified", that is to say secret. It is impossible for anyone to know how much the U.S. military is actually spending.
Under the new strategy, the United States should be able to take on and win a large-scale conflict, while simultaneously maintaining the ability to block another major adversary in another region and to handle further "counter-terrorism" operations as well as the management of "no-fly zones." For that, they will need the most advanced weapons systems, such as the F-35 jet fighter, whose production, with some adjustments, will continue (since it also serves to boost US leadership over allies). At the same time, the United States will need launch-ready nuclear forces: to this end, the Pentagon announced that the "Administration will modernize America’s nuclear arsenal and the complex that sustains it." The expense has not been quantified, but it will certainly be huge.
What Washington has announced, therefore, is not a rollback in the arms race, but an adjustment leading to a further war escalation and, consequently, a subsequent increase in global military spending, which already exceeds 3 million dollars per minute. Panetta explained that the central focus of the new strategy would be the Middle East and the Asia/Pacific region, making it clear that the United States is keeping its sights on Iran and Syria, and intends to challenge China and Russia militarily. President Obama proclaimed that “Even as our troops continue to fight in Afghanistan, the tide of war is receding,” but also said that "the United States will maintain its military superiority." The goal is stated in the title of the Pentagon report encasing the new strategy: "Sustaining U.S. global leadership."
The United States is "turning the page" by walking back in history to the golden age of imperialism.
Il Manifesto (Italy)
Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense
(PDF - 5.8 Mb)