7 Ways to Divest from a Militarized Economy
by: Miriam Pemberton
Among the just transitions we seek must be this: The jobs base of communities across the country must no longer depend on wasting public money building weapons we don’t need to fight wars we shouldn’t be fighting. This transition will free up resources for the battles—climate change and the concentration of wealth heading the list—that we do urgently need to be in. Here are seven pieces of this challenge:
1. Cut the military budget.
May as well start with the no-brainer.
2. Shift the savings to investment in things we actually need our workers to build.
The list of starved domestic needs deserving of the resources we’re currently squandering on the military is long. But actually achieving the transfer of those resources from guns to various kinds of butter depends on investing a substantial portion of the money in new projects creating a demilitarized industrial base.
Here’s how not to cut the military budget: the way we’ve been doing it lately.
Deficit mania has shaved the military budget a hair below the steepest heights of the post-9-11 military buildup. But this is a bad way to cut military spending, not only because the cuts are hardly visible to the naked eye, but because the deficit reduction mechanism cuts everything else too. (And now, of course, the Republican leadership is trying to cut everything but the military budget—militarized national security uber alles, you know.)
Here’s the way it has to be done: “Divest-Invest.” Military contracting has wormed its way deep into economies across the country. We can’t just pull it away. We need to replace it.
Here’s one target for investment that a lot of Republicans actually agree with: repairing and replacing the infrastructure—water systems, transport systems, energy systems—that the American Society of Civil Engineers’ annual report card grades further and further down every year.
3. Commit to a new national mission
Infrastructure repair can go hand in hand with the existential imperative of our time: Divesting from fossil-fuels. Pope Francis’ encyclical gives us eloquent expression, and galvanizing force, to move this mountain. It’s also the task big enough and important enough to absorb the engineering and worker talent and energy, and the money, that is now being wasted on the military. Building the infrastructure of this transition needs to be the foundation and focus of our industrial base.
And we need to call this what it is: Industrial policy. At one time or another we’ve all probably pulled out this invaluable gem: If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. All we have is a military industrial policy, when what we urgently need is a green industrial policy.
4. Follow the simplest and most direct tactic of the Divest-Invest (from fossil fuels) movement.
If you hold shares in any military contracting corporations, get rid of them.
5. Get campaign finance reform done.
Put the largest corporations together with the incentive to protect their stakes in the largest goldmine in our discretionary budget (the part that Congress is supposed to vote on every year) and you have the ingredients of campaign finance abuse. The National Priorities Project looked at the top 10 federal contractors and found: all ten of them have a majority or substantial stake in military contracting. And new analysis of PAC contributors is titled: “Defense Contractors Dominate List of Top Ten PAC Contributors of 2015.” Five of them, including the top two, are major military corporations. Think this might put a finger or two on the scale as Congress debates the Pentagon budget?
6. Build models showing there’s life after military contracting.
As with other parts of New Economy building, the route to a demilitarized economy will depend on communities, broadly defined, getting a say in what kind of economy they want to take the place of the one they have.
Fortunately the demilitarization terrain has a vehicle that we can use for this purpose—funded by the Pentagon, no less. Its Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) gives planning grants to communities adjusting to base closures and defense contract losses. The results to date are a mixed bag, mostly because the transition planning processes too often become insider games: A public official, defense contractor reps, “economic development experts,” and a few other interested parties getting together to cut a deal.
But: these are supposed to be public processes, run by public officials, funded by public money, and crucially, involving a broad-based group representing all stakeholders. So IPS is launching a project to work with organizers on the ground in key states to make these processes into contested territory. The project will be working to challenge the current model of economic development and turn these processes into opportunities for real, community-based planning for transition to a demilitarized economy.
7. Build cross-silo alliances.
None of this will happen through the work of peace advocates alone. The interest in building a New Economy is drawing energy and strength from all over. It’s a train we need to be aboard, and we need to be reminding everyone that no New Economy is worthy of the name unless it is demilitarized.
About the Author: Miriam Pemberton directs the Peace Economy Transitions Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
*links provided by CODEPINK.