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U.S.: Bush Signs Huge Military Budget For New Fiscal Year

The United States has a new budget for its military. The amount is about six times greater than that of its closest competitor, Russia. The appropriation is designed to modernize America's military forces to fight the war against international terrorism and to meet the other challenges of the 21st century.

Washington, 24 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Signing his name to a bill passed by the U.S. Congress, President George W. Bush gave the American military more than $355 billion to conduct its operations over the next 12 months.

Bush said this money, plus a more modest construction budget included in separate legislation, will keep the country strong as it pursues its war against international terrorism.

"These bills, passed with bipartisan support, send a message: America is united, America is strong, and America will remain strong."

The U.S. military budget for the fiscal year 2002 -- which began on 1 October -- is $34 billion more than the Defense Department spent the previous fiscal year. Even so, it is $12 billion less than Bush had sought.

The spending plan includes a leading Bush priority: more than $7 billion for research and development of a national missile defense system. This proposal has yet to be proven feasible, although recent tests have shown promise. But the system is opposed by Russia and China, as well as by many U.S. allies, who say they fear it will spark a new arms race reminiscent of the Cold War.

America's military budget also includes $3.3 billion for special transport aircraft, $3.2 billion for Navy fighter jets, $3.5 billion to develop a new fighter jet, $2.3 billion for two Navy destroyers, and $249 million for the cruise missiles that were used so extensively in 1991 during the Gulf War.

America's defense budget dwarfs that of any other country. And as Bush's comments suggest, he intends to keep the country's armed forces the most powerful in the world.

The Center for Defense Information, or CDI, an independent Washington-based research center, says Britain, for example, spent only $34 billion at most in 2001. And France, another major European power, spent $25.3 billion last year, according to the CDI.

After the United States, the country that spends the most on defense is Russia, although firm numbers of its military spending are not made public. However, the CDI says Russia is believed to have spent about $60 billion in 2000 -- the most recent year in which reliable information is available. This is about one-sixth of what the United States will be spending in the coming year.

During the Cold War, Washington and Moscow had a kind of parity in spending on defense, according to Christopher Hellman, a CDI analyst.

"The assumption had always been and always was that during the Cold War, they (the Soviet Union) were putting about the same percentage of their resources into the military that we (the United States) were."

But in 1981, Ronald Reagan became the U.S. president. Reagan greatly increased defense spending, to a degree that Moscow could not match. Many observers credit this tactic with helping end communist rule and hastening the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Declassified documents of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, say a key element of Reagan's willingness to outspend the Kremlin was a project known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI, a more elaborate version of Bush's missile-defense proposal.

The CIA papers, which were released in early 2001, say that in the mid-1980s, the intelligence agency anticipated that the Soviet Union could not afford to match SDI because its high cost would cripple Moscow's effort toward industrial modernization. Instead, it said, Gorbachev would try to talk Reagan out of pursuing SDI.

In fact, at the summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986, Gorbachev did try to persuade Reagan to abandon SDI if Russia agreed to a plan to scrap ballistic missiles. Reagan refused. Since then, Russian defense spending has declined dramatically, and the United States became -- and remains -- the world's sole military superpower.