April 2, 2022 Essay: Seeking to Make Our Nation Secure
In a time of war and heightened international tensions, we must give careful thought to what will provide our nation with true security.
The Biden administration is proposing more than $770 billion for the defense budget in fiscal year 2023. For the current fiscal year, Congress passed a $768 billion defense budget that was $25 billion more than the administration requested. Pope Francis has called the collective commitment of Western nations to increase their defense spending in light of the war in Ukraine “madness.” In that strong reaction, Pope Francis is simply reminding us that more defense spending does not necessarily equate to greater national security, especially when it comes at the expense of human needs.
Our system of military procurement has grown sclerotic and largely serves the interests of the top five defense contractors in the United States. Virtually every major weapons system currently under development, or now being deployed, has been over budget and failed to meet the performance standards set when the contracts were issued. The United States Navy has an entire class of ships, Littoral Combat Ships, that have never found performed as intended, nor found an appropriate mission. Indeed, they are known within the Navy as “Little Crappy Ships.” The United States has not even been able to field a hypersonic weapon even though both China and Russia already have such weapons. Unless there is meaningful reform of Pentagon procurement practices, and meaningful oversight of defense contractors, increasing the budget of the Pentagon each year will not guarantee our nation’s security.
We must also recognize that our national security cannot be equated to the size of our military. It depends, instead, on the strength of our society which requires that the legitimate needs of our citizens are met. Our society will not be secure so long as we have the depth of poverty that we now have, the number of persons without access to adequate housing, lacking sufficient food that is nutritionally sound, unable to obtain the health care that they require, the number of working parents who are impeded in their efforts to work by the lack of child care, the number of workers who are denied a minimum of forty hours in one occupation, and the inability of young people to obtain the advanced education they need without assuming crippling debt.
We know how to address each of these problems and to do so effectively. We have the resources, current and potential, to address them. What we lack is the political will to act. There is ample room for significant savings in defense expenditures if Congress was willing to confront entrenched interests, overcome parochial concerns, and effect the changes needed so that we can spend less and achieve more with regard to national defense. Congress must also revise our nation’s federal tax policies. As our U.S. bishops have said: “…The tax system should raise adequate revenues to pay for the public needs of society, especially to meet the basic needs of the poor. Secondly, the tax system should be structured according to the principle of progressivity, so that those with relatively greater financial resources pay a higher rate of taxation.” Finally, all of our policy decisions must be examined through the lens of their impact on the poor. Quoting our bishops: “The way society responds to the needs of the poor through its public policies is the litmus test of its justice or injustice.”
Each of us can pray and act so that our national leaders will work to give us genuine security – a nation in which there truly is liberty and justice for all.
– Fr. Mark Hallinan, S.J., Associate Pastor