Public Comment

California Democrats Call for Huge Reductions in Military Spending

By Nicholas A. Carlin
Saturday March 15, 2014 - 08:45:00 AM

Media coverage of the California Democratic Party’s 2014 Platform, adopted Sunday by acclamation at the 2014 California Democratic Party Convention in Los Angeles last weekend, focused on calls to eliminate fracking and legalize marijuana. But perhaps the most significant provision of the Platform has so far been ignored by the press: the call (in the National Security plank) to reduce military spending by 25-30%. Here is the specific text: "To protect and defend California and our Constitution, Democrats will . . reduce the DOD budget by 25% - 30% – in line with historic drawdowns after major conflicts – primarily by cutting back on that portion of the DOD budget dedicated to bases in foreign countries, projection of military power overseas and development of weapons of mass destruction, and reallocate the savings to other priorities including assistance to state and local governments to maintain and rehire laid off employees, building out the renewable power grid and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, investing in technology and manufacturing jobs in the U.S., and deficit reduction.” 

At a time when many in Washington scream that even a 5% cut is somehow disastrous, the California Democratic Party's bold recognition of the reality that military spending is grossly out of proportion with the rest of the world and any actual threats is refreshing, and has the potential to reframe the debate over the size of the military. 

Current annual US Military and National Security expenditures are somewhere between $700 billion and $1 trillion depending on what is counted - the majority of the $1.2 trillion discretionary budget. These astonishing numbers, apart from being a major cause of our massive budget deficits (projected to be $514 billion in 2014), are totally out of proportion with any realistic threat, and with the rest of the world’s level of military spending. The number 2 spending country in the world, China, with over four times our population, only spends around $139 billion. All other countries are far far less: Russia spends around $69 billion, the UK, $59 billion, and so on. This massive overspending on the military puts us at a competitive disadvantage with other countries who spend far less. An actual “Defense” - as opposed to world domination - budget would be more like $66 billion. 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s recent call for a $75 billion reduction in military spending (albeit over two years – so really only $37 billion annually) is a small step in the right direction, but only represents at most a 5% annual cut. And even that is drawing howls of outrage from the Republicans who receive huge campaign contributions from the military industrial complex. So the California Democratic Party’s call to reduce the military budget by 25 – 30%, which the Platform notes is simply in line with historic drawdowns by the US after major conflicts are over, is a potential game - and frame - changer. 

To those who worry that such large cuts to the military budget would reduce employment, the response is that the military is an extremely inefficient and expensive job creator. Each job in the military costs us around $500,000/year. That is almost 20 times the median income of US workers (around $27,000). As the Platform points out “we recognize that every $100 billion/year reallocated from the military to civilian employment would support some 4 million jobs at the median wage.” 

While the California Democratic Platform is very strong and progressive, it will be meaningless without the active participation of citizens holding their elected representatives to account. I urge everyone to call or write or personally visit your representative and demand that they work to implement the desperately needed military budget cuts called for in the Platform. 

Nicholas A. Carlin is an attorney with Phillips, Erlewine & Given LLP in San Francisco, and is a member of the California Democratic Party Platform Committee. He is the chair of the Platform Committee’s National Security plank. The entire 2014 Platform can be read here.