Leading Biomedical Scientists Say Research Suffers While Pentagon Budget Grows

Peace Advocate Septemberr 2023

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

by Jonathan King

When the Covid 19 pandemic engulfed our country, many couldn’t understand how the richest, most scientifically advanced nation in the world could be so unprepared.

Our Fund Healthcare Not Warfare working group understood that, in addition to the lack of a coherent health care system in the US, the diversion of funds from the Congressional budget to the Pentagon was a major source of the problem. We gathered leaders from the front lines of health care to develop and present this analysis at a June 11th forum; where we launched Mass Peace Action’s (MAPA’s) Peace Economy campaign.

The development of diagnostics, therapies and vaccines to prevent and alleviate disease is not funded by Medicare, Medicaid, private health insurance or hospitals. These key preventive programs depend on the annual appropriations to the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and Centers for Disease Control. The pie chart shows how the military budget dwarfed NIH and NSF budgets going into the pandemic – the period we needed them the most.

This pie chart shows the Congressional discretionary Budget for 2017, a period key for preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic, with the military budget more than 18-fold larger than the NIH Budget. The current NIH budget is closer to $55 billion, but still dwarfed by the $884 billion military budget.

On Saturday September 13, MAPA hosted a forum which explicitly addressed the importance of Congressional Discretionary spending to prevent disease and protect us from current and future pandemics. The forum was entitled “Protecting Our Nation’s Health: Doubling the NIH, NSF and CDC Budgets by Cutting Nuclear Weapons Spending.”

Deborah Weinstein of the Coalition on Human Needs opened the forum by describing how these essential programs are being systematically underfunded to finance the $884 billion dollar military budget. Shailly Gupta Barnes of the national Poor People’s Campaign noted that the failure to keep people healthy is a major source of the impoverishment experienced by more than 100 million Americans. In addition, cuts to child support, WIC, food stamps, Section 8 housing, and related safety net programs are driving tens of millions more below the poverty line.

Brook Baker of Northeastern Law School addressed the continuing problem of the access to Covid-19 vaccines. He identified restrictive patents and excess profits taken by the vaccine producers as roots of the problem.

Three leading biomedical scientists, Prof. Eric Sundberg from Emory University, Prof. Catherine Royer from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Prof. Ed Egelman of the University of Virginia described how modern biomedical research is being held back by the inability of research teams to cover the costs of purchasing, maintaining, and employing modern instrument tools. These include X-ray diffraction beam lines, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging machines, and cryo-electron microscopes. It became apparent that the call in the forum’s title for doubling the agency budgets would be a modest increase, compared to the real needs!

Lindsay Koshgarian of the Institute for Policy Studies said that nuclear weapons are becoming an increasing fraction of the military budget. Their costs this year were about $65 billion and these are projected to continue increasing over the next ten years. Note that the nuclear weapons budget component of the military budget is larger than the entire NIH budget, which is now about $55 billion.

Elaine Scarry and Richard Krushnic made abundantly clear that the maintenance of nuclear weapons on hair trigger alert was a grave danger to life on Earth. Krushnic described how increases in the accuracy of the missiles and bombs only increase the likelihood of their use, triggering nuclear Armageddon.

As described by David Borris of Chicago Area Peace Action, the most egregious of these planned weapons purchases is contracting for new Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), which are in fixed silos. Since the location of these sites is known precisely by adversary nations, military doctrine calls for launching if there is any danger of their being attacked. David suggested that challenging these appropriations should be a key focus for nuclear disarmament advocates.

Larry Cohen, the national chair of Our Revolution, asked us to recognize that cutting military budgets was “hard but not hopeless.” He advocated trying to strengthen the Congressional Progressive Caucus by electing additional progressive Representatives. This path requires recruiting candidates who will run against incumbents in Democratic Primaries for the House of Representatives.

Rep. Jim McGovern closed the forum describing his House “Back from the Brink” Resolution which attempts to move the House of Representatives from upgrading nuclear weapons, to beginning to lower stocks, prohibiting first use, and supporting the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Though optimistic, Rep. McGovern made clear the path would not be easy.

A key strategy for moving along this path will be to engage more of those Americans whose current lives are hurting due to funding the Pentagon instead of the People. Our Fund People Not the Pentagon campaign is tackling this goal.