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Tim Rinne

Boosting defense spending routinely gets equated to boosting national security.

It doesn’t matter that the U.S. already spends over two-and-a-half times as much on defense as China, nine times as much as Russia or more than the next seven largest military powers combined (most of which — United Kingdom, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia and India — are our military allies).

Half of our hard-earned tax dollars for federal discretionary spending (everything but Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) goes to the Pentagon. This doesn’t faze us tight-fisted taxpayers a bit.

Nor do we get very worked up over the fact the Pentagon hasn’t passed a financial audit in decades.

In November, auditing firm Ernst and Young threw in the towel on trying to conduct a congressionally mandated audit of the Department of Defense’s books, stating they couldn’t account for $21 trillion in financial transactions.

Our brains can’t even begin to grasp how much money that is. Yet Congress appropriated a record $717 billion for defense in Fiscal Year 2019.

To hear the Pentagon though, that’s not enough. There’s a new peril on the horizon, a new arms race we now must win.

China and Russia, we’re told, are developing “hypersonic weapons” capable of evading existing missile defense systems and delivering either conventional or nuclear payloads virtually without detection.

The United States, StratCom’s commander warns, is trailing in this hypersonic arms race, and we have to catch up.

Before we panic and, in our terror, throw even more money at a military that can’t account for trillions, let’s take a collective deep breath and think about this all a moment.

Security is essential. We can’t live without it.

But if we found that our local police or fire department (central to our local security) couldn’t account for even $500,000 in appropriations, would we just keep shelling out more of our tax revenue to them without demanding to get to the bottom of the situation?

No. We’d want answers. We’d want to know what happened. We’d demand a public accounting. And heads would roll.

Unless we intend to continue gouging the domestic portion of the federal budget indefinitely (agriculture, health, education, transportation, environment), the Department of Defense needs to come clean.

Putting the Pentagon’s fiscal house back in order is going to take a while. There won’t be any quick fix, and we will continue to live in a dangerous world -- one just made more unstable and jittery with the Trump administration's announcement that it intends to unilaterally pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia.

So here’s a suggestion: With respect to this new nuclear arms race that’s ratcheting up and imperiling the world (the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists just set the “Doomsday Clock” at two minutes to midnight), let’s everybody just stop.

Let’s call on all nine nuclear states (U.S., Russia, China, U.K., France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel) to just stop right where they are — freeze all research and development — and not make matters any worse. Everybody just take a breather and let things cool down a bit.

This is what’s called for with the “Back from the Brink” initiative of The Call to Prevent Nuclear War — sponsored in part by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Under this proposal, nobody has to give up anything first, make unilateral cuts to their arsenals or weaken themselves before their enemies. Just stop and step back from the brink.

Then, after a moment, there are five steps that the nine nuclear states should adopt:

* Renounce the option of using nuclear weapons first

* End the sole, unchecked authority of any president to launch a nuclear attack

* Take U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert

* Cancel their plans to upgrade their arsenals with enhanced weapons, and

* Actively pursue a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

This isn’t a solution in itself. But it could be the beginning of one — and it’s preferable to bankrupting ourselves and lurching into nuclear catastrophe.

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Tim Rinne is state coordinator of Nebraskans for Peace. He lives in Lincoln.

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