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Does the US Really Need to Spend $800bn on Its Military?

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Joe Biden’s likely request for a record-breaking defense budget shows America’s priorities remain all wrong

President Biden is expected to ask Congress for a record-shattering military budget for the fiscal year 2023 that will exceed $770 billion and could reach $800 billion, according to a Reuters report on Wednesday, which cited anonymous sources.

While the story has yet to be confirmed, there are many reasons to believe its veracity – and it raises serious questions about the country’s direction.

For starters, American military contractors, who are among the most influential lobbyists in Congress and have a revolving door with the US government, anticipate this will be the case. Just look at what some powerful people in the industry have already said publicly.

James Taiclet, CEO of Lockheed Martin, told investors in a quarterly earnings call on January 25 that “there’s renewed great power competition that does include national defense and threats to it,” mentioning that his company needs to be able to meet the demand for what he expects will be higher defense spending in the future.

Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes went a step further on his earnings call the same day. He said that his company is seeing “opportunities for international sales” from conflicts around the world, meaning more defense spending from both America and other countries.

He explained, “We just have to look to last week where we saw the drone attack in the UAE, which have attacked some of their other facilities. And of course, the tensions in Eastern Europe, the tensions in the South China Sea, all of those things are putting pressure on some of the defense spending over there. So, I fully expect we’re going to see some benefit from it.”

Do these guys know something we don’t? Well, the answer is yes, of course they do. The priorities mentioned in the Reuters report for Biden’s spending request would directly impact their companies – for example, modernizing the country’s ‘Nuclear Triad’, updating missile systems, and acquiring new fighter jets, such as Lockheed’s F-35.

Another point worth making about this likely increase in spending is that while Biden is expected to ask for over $770 billion, the number that passes through Congress will probably be much higher. Given this year’s record-high inflation, it means that defense spending will have to increase substantially – to at least over $850 billion – just to keep pace.

Congress has a proven record of giving administrations even more than they ask for when it comes to defense, which is something that transcends the partisan divide. As an example, the budget request during Donald Trump’s final year in office was for $752.9 billion, but that was increased by $25 billion to arrive at a total of $778 billion for the fiscal year 2022. There is every reason to think this trend will continue.

Ironically, around six months ago Biden gave a speech promising a paradigm shift in American foreign policy, an end to “forever wars” and attempts to “remake other countries” with the military. While there were asterisks to add to this that were obvious at the time, it now seems the US is not going to divert war resources to much-needed programs at home, but instead will direct them to new fronts in the forever war, as military contractors have hinted.

For example, there are still thousands of Americans dying from Covid-19 every day. If human life and wellbeing were properly valued, it would be a good idea for the government to put more funding toward its healthcare system. Even pre-pandemic, there were tens of thousands of people dying yearly because of a lack of access to basic health care.

At the time of writing, America’s student debt crisis has reached a monumental total of $1,883,629,046,704. The US is a notoriously unaffordable place to seek a higher education and this debt is crippling young people, even though loan repayment has been paused through the pandemic. In fact, so inaccessible has education become that enrollment in colleges and universities is plummeting – and the White House has gone as far as to describe this problem as a looming national security threat.

There also more basic things to consider, such as the country’s collapsing infrastructure. Sure, Biden passed a bipartisan, $1 trillion infrastructure bill – but this doesn’t even come close to addressing the US’ massive needs. A lot of this has to do with climate change and modernizing or retrofitting existing infrastructure, but the plan to address that is stalled in Congress with no hope of being passed. The country could use a Green New Deal to both adapt to the future and build new infrastructure, with Texas’ flimsy, independent power grid providing a prime example why.

It tells you a lot about America that a $770 billion-plus defense budget is being seriously discussed while the country has all of these gaping wounds – and Biden’s legislative plan to put a band aid on them, the Build Back Better bill, is jammed in Congress. It’s even more galling that this desperately needed funding is being diverted to the military because of situations that the US helped create in the first place.

And while you might think this makes no sense, the net result will be the age-old story of a wealth transfer from taxpayers to military contractors and their shareholders, the people who need help least – as is ever the case in America.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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US Officials ‘obsessed’ With Wagner Group – Media

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The CIA and State Department have reportedly tried to pressure African governments into kicking out the Russian contractors

The Biden administration has attempted to pressure African nations into expelling the Wagner private military company, with the firm’s presence in Sudan and Libya “at the top of every meeting” between American and Egyptian officials, the Associated Press reported.

CIA Director William Burns focused on the group during recent trips to Egypt and Libya, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Wagner with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi during a jaunt to Cairo last month, the news agency reported on Saturday.

“Wagner obsesses [the American officials],” said an Egyptian senior government official. “It is at the top of every meeting.”

Egypt is a key conduit for American policy, with the Biden administration going as far as using Cairo to pass messages to Moscow, rather than communicating through direct channels. According to the report, the Egyptians reached out to their Sudanese and Libyan counterparts to relay Washington’s displeasure with Wagner.

Abbas Kamel, the director of Egypt’s Intelligence Directorate Agency, urged the head of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan to address Wagner’s “use of Sudan as a base” for operations in Central Africa, a Sudanese official said. Burns himself visited Libya to speak to the country’s competing governments, discussing Wagner with Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar, the report claimed.

Egypt reportedly asked that Haftar not station Wagner soldiers near its borders, while the US demanded that Wagner fighters be removed from their posts safeguarding Libyan oil facilities.

Founded in 2014, Wagner has mainly operated as a security contractor in Africa and the Middle East. The precise details of its deployments are not made public, although Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has confirmed that his forces fought in Libya. He denied involvement in Sudan when asked by American journalists last year, saying at the time that he was “not aware of any evidence that the Wagner Group exists,” and that he had personally donated humanitarian aid to the conflict-stricken country.

“Who arranged wars and revolutions in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Mozambique, Central Africa, and so on?” he told RT last month. “Some of these countries later turned to the Wagner PMC, which put an end to these wars with an iron fist.”

The US declared the Wagner Group a “transnational criminal organization” last month, after Wagner forces notched up a series of victories against the Ukrainian military in Donbass.

Despite Washington’s apparent “obsession” with the group, “there is no evidence yet that the Biden administration’s pressure has yielded results in either Sudan or Libya,” the AP report noted.

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Serbia Names ‘greatest’ Mistake by West

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The decision to supply Kiev with battle tanks has only further united Russians, Aleksandar Vucic has said

The West’s recent announcement that it would be supplying Ukraine with main battle tanks marks a major miscalculation, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said on Friday. That’s as Moscow has threatened to burn any Western equipment that enters Ukraine and has vowed to retaliate “far beyond the scope of armored vehicles.”

Vucic noted that the decision to supply Ukraine with tanks, especially with the “terrifying” German Leopard 2s, is the West’s “biggest” political mistake because it effectively manages to “unite the Russians like never before.”

Last month, Germany and the US agreed to provide a number of heavy tanks to Kiev. Washington has promised between 30 and 50 of its M1 Abrams tanks, while Berlin pledged 14 Leopard 2A6s from the Bunderswehr’s own stocks. An additional 51 of the same model and 88 of the older Leopard 1 model may also come from Rheinmetall as they get refurbished, Germany said.

Berlin also gave the green light to countries that have expressed a desire to export their own Leopards to Ukraine. Those include Poland, Finland, Spain, Norway and the Netherlands. The UK and Canada have also said they would be sending their heavy equipment to Kiev.

The decision has been heavily criticized by Russia, which has called it an “extremely dangerous” move that threatens to escalate the conflict in Ukraine. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin likened the new threat of “German Leopard tanks with crosses on their hulls” to the Soviet Union’s struggle against Hitler’s forces and warned that Moscow’s response would not be limited to weapons.

Other countries have also voiced their concerns about the West’s move. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the delivery of NATO tanks to Ukraine was a “high-risk endeavor” that would fail to help end the conflict and only “line the pockets of gun barons.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also slammed Germany’s decision, noting that these Western countries are “drifting” towards becoming active participants in the conflict. Orban has insisted that instead of arming Kiev, the West should be pursuing “a ceasefire and peace talks” in Ukraine.

Moscow has repeatedly objected to Western weapon deliveries to Ukraine, arguing that non-stop arms shipments only serve to prolong the conflict and risk direct confrontation with NATO. The Kremlin has also insisted that no amount of military aid will prevent Moscow from reaching its objectives and warned that the tanks would “burn like the rest of Western weapons” supplied to Kiev.

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Germany Approves Retired Tanks for Ukraine

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Berlin has given German defense industry companies permission to export older Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine, the German media reported on Friday, citing government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.

The official confirmed to journalists that a relevant export license was granted, without providing any further details.

“I do not want to say much more at the moment,” Hebestreit told journalists during a government press conference on Friday, according to Der Spiegel weekly. The official also said that further clarifications on the issue would be provided “within the coming days or weeks.”

Rheinmetall, one of Germany’s top arms manufacturers, suggested sending Leopard 1 tanks from its stocks to Ukraine as early as April 2022. At the time, the company stated it could supply up to 50 tanks to Ukraine within just six weeks if granted the government’s approval. The company also added that it was still checking on the condition of the tanks at the moment.

In mid-January, Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger told the tabloid Bild that it would take a long time to prepare the Leopard 1 tanks for potential export to Ukraine even if the company got a relevant license “tomorrow.” The tanks were “completely disassembled and built anew,” he said. According to Papperger, the delivery might take up to a year.

Der Spiegel reported on Friday that there were 29 Leopard 1 tanks largely ready for delivery, which were being stored by another defense manufacturer – the Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft (FFG). However, both Der Spiegel and SZ newspapers cited a lack of ammunition for the tanks in connection with the potential delivery.

Both Rheinmetall and FFG said they could potentially supply dozens of Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine, but only if Kiev was willing to buy them, SZ reported. Earlier, Rheinmetall said that overhauling the heavy equipment would cost hundreds of millions of euros – a cost it could not cover on its own.

Earlier, Berlin also vowed to send 14 modern Leopard 2 main battle tanks out of the army’s stockpiles to Ukraine. Moscow has repeatedly criticized the West for supplying weapons to Ukraine, arguing that they only served to prolong the conflict and human suffering.

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