Sunday, February 19, 2012

Arms sales, budgets, defense and the inevitable decline of the ugliest Empire...

Arms sales, budgets, defense and the inevitable decline of the ugliest Empire....

Negotiators on Friday narrowly averted the collapse of talks on a world arms trade treaty to regulate the $55 billion global weapons market, agreeing on ground rules for negotiations after days of procedural wrangling.

Delegates and advocates for tougher oversight of global arms sales said the agreement set the stage for a monthlong conference in July to draft the treaty.

Arms control campaigners say one person every minute dies as a result of armed violence and that a convention is needed to prevent illicitly traded guns from pouring into conflict zones and fueling wars and atrocities.

Earlier on Friday, arms control activists and diplomats said the talks were nearly derailed by disputes over procedure - above all whether participants can effectively veto an agreement in July - although those issues were eventually resolved.

There are also divisions over whether human rights should be a mandatory criterion for determining whether governments should permit weapons exports to specific countries.

Brian Wood of Amnesty International said Russia, China and several other arms-exporting nations were "resisting proposals from the overwhelming majority for criteria in the treaty that would stop arms transfers" when there was reason to believe they could be used for serious human rights violations.

He said Washington also had misgivings and was concerned that human rights criteria would discourage states like Syria, a major purchaser of Russian arms, from joining the treaty.

One diplomat described Syria's 11-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, which has led to the death of over 5,400 people according to U.N. figures, and other Arab Spring uprisings as "the elephant in the room" as delegates ponder ways of halting arms sales to governments that kill their citizens.

"It was in everyone's minds as we discussed the need for the treaty," a senior Western diplomat told Reuters.


There was a long debate about whether decisions at the July drafting conference in New York need to be made unanimously, which would give every country a veto.

The United States, Russia, China, Syria, Iran and others pushing for unanimity have argued that the only way to ensure universal compliance is to get all countries on board. Those who dislike the virtual veto, like Mexico and some European countries, believe it could mean that whatever treaty is agreed on in July - if there is one - will be weak.

"As we have seen in the case of Syria, veto power leads to inaction and hampers the ability of the international community to prevent conflict," said Jeff Abramson of the group Control Arms. He was referring to Russia's and China's veto of two U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Syria's crackdown.

In the end, participants at this week's discussions at U.N. headquarters agreed that decisions at the drafting conference in July would be taken by consensus. A senior U.S. official described the veto as "the nuclear option" - a last resort.

The U.S. official, a leading member of Washington's delegation, told Reuters the ability to "block a weak treaty" while protecting U.S. domestic rights to bear arms - a politically sensitive issue in the United States - was agreed on in 2009 and remained a condition for U.S. participation.

Diplomats involved in the talks said bickering between the United States and Mexico over procedure belied a concrete subtext - Mexico's complaints that lax U.S. gun laws enable Mexican drug cartels to obtain weapons easily in the United States and move them across the U.S.-Mexican border.

One issue on which the U.S. and Mexican delegations disagree relates to tracking weapons and ammunition. Mexico would like a treaty to require national authorities to track and keep records of arms and ammunition from their manufacture to final use.

The senior U.S. official said such monitoring would not be permissible under U.S. law.

There are other areas of disagreement, delegates said. Washington does not want the treaty to cover ammunition, while China and Egypt are among those that want to exclude small arms...

The lack of international regulation in the trade of conventional arms is a "scandal" that must be brought to an end, said a coalition of non-governmental organisations as they heightened their campaign this week for a comprehensive United Nations treaty.

"There is more control on the selling of bananas than there is on conventional arms," said Zobel Behalal, peace and conflicts advocacy officer for CCFD-Terre Solidare, a French-based Catholic NGO.

"For us, this is a true scandal because states can do what they want without taking into account the impact on civilian populations," he told IPS.

The CCFD has joined forces with Amnesty International, Oxfam France and other groups to urge that there be no "watering down" of the proposed Arms Trade Treaty when government representatives meet in New York next week to discuss various elements.

Conventional arms (excluding nuclear, chemical and biological weapons) comprise the majority of arms in circulation, and the growing global trade exacerbates their proliferation and the risks to civilian populations, the groups said Thursday at a media briefing.

NGOs have been campaigning since 2003 for international controls, and a U.N. conference on the treaty will be held in July of this year. This follows the adoption of a resolution in December 2006 by the U.N. General Assembly.

That resolution was in favour of a "comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms (TCA)."

France, the fourth-largest global seller of arms, says that it jointly sponsored and promoted the resolution and since then has "resolutely strived to support this draft treaty."

But Oxfam stresses that such support cannot be taken for granted, especially as the country is holding presidential elections in April and May, and the candidates have not expressly declared their position on the issue.

"France should work for the adoption of the strongest and most ambitious treaty possible," Nicolas Vercken, Oxfam’s policy and advocacy officer, told IPS. "It should conform to the most exacting standards."

Oxfam says that the agreement should go beyond the "mere commercial interests of states and must effectively permit the saving of lives."

According to figures from human rights group Amnesty International, more than 1,500 people die each day from violence involving arms, and some 300,000 are victims each year of conventional firearms, outside of armed conflicts.

In war zones, meanwhile, 80 percent of the victims are civilians, and armed clashes cause the displacement of about 26 million people.

Campaigners stress that armed conflict is one of the main causes of under-development in many parts of the world, and they say that the absence of international controls helps to fuel such conflicts and also abets the perpetration of war crimes and gross violations of human rights.

Amnesty International points to the civil wars in Libya, Syria and Sudan as examples where the unregulated trade in arms has led to abuses. The group says that despite a U.N. arms embargo on the war-torn region of Darfur since 2004, Sudan has bought arms from various countries that knew the weapons would be used in Darfur.

"Countries such as Belarus, China and Russia that sold these arms to Sudan must have been aware that they were going to be used in Darfur to massacre the civilian population and they still sold them," Aymeric Elluin, Amnesty International France’s arms campaigner told IPS. "We’ve been denouncing this for years now."

The organisation says that in the last 12 months, the region has seen a new wave of fighting, including "targeted and ethnically motivated attacks on civilian settlements, and indiscriminate and disproportionate aerial bombings."

The fighting has contributed to the displacement of an estimated 70,000 people from their homes and villages, Amnesty International says.

Regarding the Arab Spring, Elluin said that many countries bore a responsibility for having sold arms to dictatorial regimes. France, for instance, sold arms to the regime of Muammar Gaddafi and later also armed the Libyan rebels. Some 20 states had sold weapons to Syria before the current uprising.

"Everyone is guilty," Elluin said.

As part of the groups’ campaign, a Syrian refugee and former maths teacher Auman al-Aswad spoke of the human rights abuses in his country, saying he supported a general embargo on arms sales to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Between 2005 and 2009, France sold munitions to Syria worth 1.2 million euros, campaigners say.

Al-Aswad, who fled to France last December, said he had been targeted by the regime because he transmitted information abroad about official crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations.

On Thursday, meanwhile, more than 100 people were reported to have been killed by Syrian government forces, as attacks continued after the failure last weekend by the U.N. Security Council to agree on a resolution condemning the violence in the country.

The five permanent members of the Security Council – China, the United States, France, Russia and the United Kingdom – account for 88 percent of the global trade in arms, with the United States being the biggest exporter, campaigners say....

When the Pentagon released its budget materials and press releases last Monday, the press dutifully reported the numbers. The Pentagon's "base" budget for 2013 is to be $525.4 billion, and with $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan and elsewhere added, the total comes to $613.9 billion.

Indeed, if you plowed through the hundreds of pages of additional materials the Pentagon released Monday, you would come up with little reason the doubt the accuracy of those numbers as the totality of what Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was seeking for the Pentagon. It would also seem reasonable that those amounts constitute the vast majority of what America spends on "defense," defined generically.

You would be quite wrong.

The Pentagon's "base" budget -- i.e. the non-war parts -- is not $525.4 billion; the formally presented Pentagon budget, as shown by the President and his Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is $6.3 billion higher, making a total of $531.7 billion.

Why isn't that slightly higher number reported by the press? Simple; it's not in the Pentagon press release. Even when told about the more complete materials at the OMB website (as I attempted to do), the press seems to unanimously prefer the smaller DoD version.

The additional $6.3 billion is for some military retirement and other military personnel costs that are every bit as much a part of the Department of Defense budget as are the rest of its personnel costs or any plane, tank or ship in the inventory. It's a part of the President's official budget request for the Department of Defense, and it's money appropriated by Congress, just like the rest. The only difference is that it is appropriated by a different mechanism. That mechanism is what OMB and others call "mandatory" spending, also known as "entitlement" spending, or as it was originally conceived, permanent appropriations as authorized by law.

You'll have to ask the Pentagon why its press releases are inaccurate to the tune of $6.3 billion. They might say that's the way they have always shown their budget to the press. They might say that they don't want to change now and present apples this year compared to last year's oranges. They might say they like to hide DoD costs, but I doubt they'll admit the latter.

They hide other DOD costs as well. There are other expenses for DOD military retirement and also for a part of the DOD healthcare system buried in other parts of the federal budget. You can find them in the budget requests for Health and Income Security. (Find them in Budget Functions 550 and 600 in this table.) When you net out some intra-governmental transfers and other obscure budget-geek twists and turns, I calculate a total of $29.4 billion in 2013 for the expenditures for these costs not shown in the Pentagon budget -- and certainly not in the Pentagon's press releases, not ever.

If you want to be a stickler for detail and budgetary ethics (the latter not a particularly popular activity these days, if ever), the "base" Pentagon budget, is not $531.7 for 2013,it is $561.1 billion. It sure as heck is not the $525.4 billion the Pentagon press release and its avid readers in journalism have reported so profusely.

There is, of course, more. Technically not a part of the DoD budget, but certainly a generic defense cost, are the warheads carried by the Pentagon's strategic nuclear delivery systems, like the B-2 bomber and the Minuteman and Trident missiles. Nuclear warhead research and upkeep are a Department of Energy cost; $19.4 billion in the 2013 budget.

There are also the costs for what OMB officially calls "defense-related activities" (the Selective Service, the National Defense Stockpile and other cats and dogs) that amount to another $7.8 billion for 2013.

Done? Not yet.

Consider the $8.2 billion that the State Department wants to spend for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which-like it or not-is a national security cost. And what of the rest of the State Department budget ($61.6 billion) for diplomacy, foreign aid, arms sales, aid to Israel and a lot more. Some Washington-types call this budget "soft power," and it is surely an important part of America's international security presence.

Consider also the human consequences of past and current wars that are born by our veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs: add another $137.7 billion for 2013.

How about protection in the war on terrorism? The Department of Homeland Security and the homeland security expenses of various agencies not discussed here (such as the $4.1 billion being sought by the Department of Health and Human Services) are certainly a national security cost: add $46.3 billion for 2013.

Add all that together, and you get $930.6 billion.

But we're not quite done yet.

The Pentagon budget and all the other defense related spending have to be taken into account for our annual payment for the national debt. The net interest on the national debt for 2013 is to be $248 billion. All defense related spending for 2013 constitutes 25.7 percent of all federal expenditures ($3.8 trillion in 2013); 25.7 percent of the interest payment is $63.7 billion.
The total budget request for all US defense related spending in 2013 is $994.3 billion, by my calculations.

Some might differ with some part of my tabulation, such as using a different formula for calculating a defense share of the debt payment or including or excluding something different (perhaps NASA) from the agencies and expenses I list above. In any case, however,it will come to a grand total close to $1 trillion.

After Monday's press releases were consumed, newspaper story after newspaper story described a defense budget that consisted of a $525.4 billion "base" plus $88.5 billion more for the war in Afghanistan, etc. to make a total of $613.9 billion. That was $380.4 billion short of the total "defense" (or national security) budget I see if you go through the budget materials a little more thoroughly.

All those numbers are shown in the table below. Also shown is a comparison to the current fiscal year, 2012. After all the chatter, some of it still quite hysterical, about "defense cuts," I find no cut; I find "defense spending" (defined generically) going up by $8.2 billion, from $986.1 billion to $994.3 billion.

Given the rhetoric we hear out of Washington about "devastating" cuts that fail "to adequately address threats" you have to wonder how much more than $1 trillion do these people want to spend?

Table: Total Defense Spending
DOD or Defense Related Program 2012 2013 Notes/Comments
DOD Base Budget (Discretionary) 530.5 525.4 Widely reported by the press as the "base" DOD budget.
DOD Base Budget (Mandatory) 4.9 6.3 This amount is frequently not counted by DOD, its press releases, and the press as DOD spending. It is an official part of the DOD budget, always counted-for example-by OMB.
DOD Base Budget (Total) 535.4 531.7 "Total" spending is Discretionary and Mandatory combined.
Overseas Contingency Operations 115.1 88.5
DOD Subtotal (Total) 650.5 620.2
DOE/Nuclear (Total) 18.5 19.4
"Defense-related activities" (Total)
National Defense (Total) 676.7 647.4 This is the "National Defense" budget function, also known as "050."
Net Military Retirement Costs Not Scored to DOD (See Budget Functions 600 & 950)

The Military Retirement Trust Fund in Treasury collected and paid $17.1 billion in interest in 2012 and 2013. That amount is included in the totals to the right.
Net DOD Retiree Health Care Fund Costs Not Scored to DOD (See Budget Functions 550 & 950)

This fund also collected and paid $7.0 and $7.4 billion in interest in 2012 and 2013.
International Affairs (Total) 61.3 69.8 Includes $8.2 billion in OCO for Budget Function 150. The OCO grand total is $96.7 billion.
Veterans Affairs (Total) 124.6 137.7 This spending encompasses the effects of past and current wars; spending for veterans of the last ten years will be increasing dramatically in coming years.
Homeland Security (Total) 46.0 46.3 Includes HS spending in DHS and all federal agencies not shown on this table.
Subtotal of the Above 928.7 930.6 Total Federal Spending is $3.8 trillion in outlays in 2012 and 2013.
24% of Net Interest on the Debt 57.4 63.7 The outlays of the above programs comprise 25.5% and 25.7% of total federal outlays for 2012 and 2013.
Grand Total 986.1 994.3

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