Saturday, January 9, 2010

Military Spending and Other Costs Associated With the Invasion

In Michael Moore's documentary Sicko, about America's lack of public health care, he interviewed politicians from countries that had good health care programs in place, and I remember a comment that we should pay heed to.

It was in Britain, and I don't recall the gentleman's name, but when Moore asked him about the costs associated with the program, the man stated that a country can always find money to go to war, so they should be able to find the money to keep their own citizens healthy.

We don't talk about health care much in Canada now, though anyone who's followed Stephen Harper's career for more than a week and a half, know that his ultimate goal is to scrap our public system. In fact his National Citizens Coalition was established to fight against what they called 'socialized medicine'.

But we also rarely talk about the cost of this 'mission'. The last time the Parliamentary budget officer gave us a figure it was about 20 billion dollars, but apparently things like maintenance of equipment, death benefits, disability pensions, etc. were not factored in. I read an account the other day that suggested it could be as high as 100 billion dollars. A staggering sum.

In the final short video series of Linda McQuaig's Exposing Canada's Role in Afghanistan, based in part on her book Holding the Bully's Coat, she discusses the misconception Canadians have that we are not spending enough on our military.

Early in his tenure, Stephen Harper had a private meeting with George Bush, where he committed our soldiers and resources to the U.S. cause. Paul Martin had already changed the direction of the mission under the leadership of Rick Hillier, but we would now be playing a much more intense role in the fighting. Any notion of peacekeeping was thrown away, while our prime minister asked his idol if he could hold his coat.

But then it would be the Canadian taxpayers and the Canadian soldiers who would be doing the heavy lifting, not our little Steve.

Of course, the Canadian military would be getting a lot of new money, but it would be spent on things that please, rather than irritate, the Bush administration: aircraft and helicopters that would allow Canada to contribute more effectively to the U.S. "war on terror." Particularly pleasing to the Bush administration was a $3.4-billion contract for heavy-lift cargo planes, awarded—without competition—to U.S. aerospace giant (and major Republican contributor) Boeing. It's all part of Harper's plan to massively increase Canada's military spending, well beyond the substantial increases made by Paul Martin's government. By 2010, Harper's plan will raise our military spending to $21.5 billion a year from $13 billion in 2005.

This means significant additional taxpayer dollars will go to the military rather than to other Canadian priorities. Perhaps this sounds like a good idea. After all, we've heard a relentless chorus from commentators, academics and retired generals about our woefully underfunded military. But is this really the case?

Before the dramatic increases announced by Harper, Canada was already the seventh biggest military spender among the twenty-six nations of NATO, putting us clearly in the top one third of the organization, which is the world's strongest military alliance. NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer noted on a visit to Ottawa in June 2006 that Canada was increasing its military spending even as most other NATO members were actually decreasing theirs.

The notion of Canada as a significant military spender may sound bizarre; it certainly doesn't fit with the popular perception. That's because the Harper government and a host of pro-military commentators have dominated the public debate with their portrayal of Canada as a laggard whose military spending ranks only above little Luxembourg among NATO nations.

This characterization is extremely misleading. As Steven Staples, a defence analyst with the Ottawa-based Polaris Institute has noted, the pro-military set has managed to make Canada's military spending look shrivelled by using an inappropriate method of measurement—measuring military spending as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), rather than measuring it in actual dollars. That may sound reasonable, but here's the first clue that it isn't. As we all know, the biggest military spender in the world is the United States, which currently spends some $450 billion a year on its military—more than almost all the other nations in the world combined. But, using the measuring stick favoured by Canada's pro-military commentators (percentage of GDP), the biggest military spender in NATO isn't the United States. It's Turkey! And next biggest is another military powerhouse—Greece! (HOLDING THE BULLY'S COAT, Canada and the U.S. Empire , Linda McQuaig, Doubleday Canada, ISBN 978-0-385-66012-9, Pg. 27-28)

So as our government tries to find ways to reduce spending , which will no doubt include major cuts to social spending, we have to tell them that they need to reduce the funding of this damn war. They made one announcement that they would be chopping the budget of the military, but only at home. That is not good enough.

We should not look at reducing necessary military spending, but significantly reduce the money we are pouring down the drain in Afghanistan, simply to impress the United States. We never hear the words 'victory' or 'peace', because they are unattainable. So we now need to demand the word 'ENOUGH!' We made a mess over there, so clean it up. It's the least we can do.

Then get out.

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