Often what is hidden in our world is so simply because no cares or thinks to look. Yes, a fair amount of attention has recently been given to the staggering new Pentagon budget request, the largest since World War II, that the Bush administration has just submitted to Congress for fiscal year 2009. It comes in at $515.4 billion–a 7.5% hike for an already bloated Pentagon–and that doesn’t include all sorts of Defense Department funds that will be stowed away elsewhere (even if in plain sight), nor does it include the couple of hundred billion dollars or more in funds to be appropriated largely via "supplemental" requests for the ongoing military disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even the official budget, however, includes staggering sums for procuring major new weapons systems and for R&D leading to ever more such big-ticket items in the future. (Flash from the budget front! Noah Shachtman of Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog reports that the U.S. Air Force swears it can’t make due with its mere $144 billion slice of the pie. It’s demanding $19 billion more than that. Otherwise how will it pay for all those advanced jet fighters? The U.S. Army is far more modest, requesting a mere $3.9 billion above the massive sum allotted to it.) According to Steve Kosiak, vice president of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, "The fiscal year 2009 budget may be about as good as it gets for defense contractors." When all is said and done, this will probably be a trillion dollar "defense" budget.

As it happens, military budgets like this have a multiplier effect globally. After all, there’s no such thing as a one-nation arms race. It’s just that no one thinking about what we’re about to feed the Pentagon here pays much attention to such things. Fortunately, John Feffer, an expert on military policy in Asia and co-director of the website Foreign Policy In Focus has been doing just that. In a new piece, "Asia’s Hidden Arms Race," he points out that in Northeast Asia, where largely sunny headlines are all about the Six Party Talks over the North Korean nuclear program and the Beijing Olympics, five of the six nations in those talks–the U.S., China, Russia, South Korea, and North Korea–have, in this new century, increased their military budgets by 50% or more. (The sixth Japan spends hefty amounts on its military and is intent on keeping pace.)

Yes, Virginia, there is indeed an arms race underway; it’s taking off in Northeast Asia; and it’s dangerous. It’s good news only for the burgeoning global military-industrial complex. Too bad, no one’s paying attention. As Feffer concludes:


"Given the sums that would be necessary to address the decommissioning of nuclear weapons, the looming crisis of climate change, and the destabilizing gap between rich and poor, such spending priorities are in themselves a threat to humanity. The world put 37% more into military spending in 2006 than in 1997. If the "peace dividend" that was to follow the end of the Cold War never quite appeared, a decade later the world finds itself burdened with quite the opposite: a genuine peace deficit."