WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump complained Monday about how much the U.S. spends on weapons in an “uncontrollable” arms race with Russia and China, though he vastly overstated how much is spent on actual weapons, even under a budget his administration has increased.
The president said in a tweet that the U.S. has spent $716 billion this year, an amount he called “Crazy!” He said he expects to discuss the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I am certain that, at some time in the future, President Xi and I, together with President Putin of Russia, will start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race,” he said on Twitter.
His statement appeared to confuse the total Defense Department budget with America’s investment in the nation’s missile defense systems and the strategic nuclear weapons usually associated with the arms race.
The Pentagon’s budget for 2019 totals about $716 billion, but that includes everything from health care and pay for service members to the costs of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The arms race is just a fraction of that amount, totaling about $10 billion this year for a wide range of missile defense and nuclear weapons programs.
It was unclear what prompted the tweet. Trump was at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina with both leaders on Friday and Saturday but only met with Xi.
Putin said he hoped to meet with Trump to discuss U.S. plans to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which some fear could spark a new nuclear arms race. Trump canceled a planned meeting with Putin in Argentina over Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian naval ships near Crimea.
Trump’s comment on Twitter was also a change of tone when it comes to the U.S. military budget.
Until recently, the president has bragged about his increase in military spending, railing about previous administrations’ neglect of America’s armed forces. He has boasted that his administration is “rebuilding our military.” He has occasionally complained about specific programs such as Air Force One and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but his criticism was leveled at the defense contractors and focused on demanding savings.
He has been far more supportive of the broader defense increases, and specifically has endorsed hikes for missile defense in line with a U.S. defense strategy that targets China and Russia as key adversaries.
In a March tweet about the Pentagon budget, Trump declared that, “Because of the $700 & $716 Billion Dollars gotten to rebuild our Military, many jobs are created and our Military is again rich.”
The White House more recently announced that all Cabinet secretaries would need to cut their budgets by 5 percent for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, 2019. He said he wanted to keep defense spending at $700 billion, which would be a cut compared with the 2019 total.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned against Pentagon budget cuts in a speech Saturday in California.
Referring to a recent opinion piece written by congressional leaders, Mattis said that “cutting defense will not close the deficit, and I would suggest doing so would be a disservice to troops and the American people they serve and protect, because we all know here today that America can afford survival.”
Asked about the president’s Monday tweet, Mattis told reporters he hadn’t seen it.
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