When right-wingers clamour for a smaller state, there is always one area which is exempt from budget cuts: the army. While the US is on the verge of bankruptcy, it still spends billions on imperialist wars.

Technology company Apple has more cash in the bank – $75.9bnbn – than the US government, which has just £73.8bn.

The figures underline why the US debt crisis has been making such headlines in recent weeks. That crisis appears to have been resolved – at least temporarily – at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable in US society, who will find their welfare cut, their job prospects worsened and their circumstances even more straitened following a deal which was inspired – if that’s the right word – by the right-wing Tea Party movement.

As ever, there is one area of spending which is exempted from these cuts: the US addiction to war and militarism. So while the US government is on the verge of bankruptcy, it can still afford $2bn a week for the war in Afghanistan, where the air-conditioning alone for US troops is costing $20bn a year.

A study by the Eisenhower Research Project calculates the cost of the wars launched under the “war on terror” since 2001 could total $4 trillion, when future medical care and disability for war veterans is included. How is this possible? Through debt. America’s wars are financed almost entirely by borrowing. And interest has to be paid on all the war-related debt. $185bn in interest has already been paid. But between now and 2020 interest payment alone could reach $1 trillion.

Wars waged on borrowed money have been launched in an air of abandon with ever escalating spending and a belief that air strikes and troop surges can solve any of the political problems caused by US and British foreign policy over the past years.

Ending the wars would at a stroke transform the economic situation, but is not on the Tea Party agenda, which has its sights firmly on tax breaks for the rich.

It all shows how closely the economic, political and military are linked in this globalised world. Just as the living standards of the ever richer top earners are regarded as sacrosanct, so too is the military spending and the whole apparatus that goes with it. The corporations and elites need the back up of military might to enforce their rule round the globe.

Here in Britain war spending is a fraction of that in the US but it is just as sacrosanct. This, as in the US, flies in the face of public opinion. A Yougov poll carried out last year (11.2.2010) showed that 68% of respondents thought that British financial support for US wars was too high; only 5% percent thought it wasn’t. On nuclear weapons, 36% thought that too much was spent on nuclear deterrents as opposed to 13% who thought the government didn’t spend enough.

So cuts in wars and weapons expenditure would be popular as well as releasing enormous sums to spend on housing or health. Britain is spending $5bn a year on the war in Afghanistan, added to which we now have Libya, where the costs are anticipated to top £1bn if the war lasts till the Autumn. Add these sums to the £2.2bn the government spends each year on the Trident nuclear missisle system. The accumulated war costs between now and the likely date of the next general election in four years time will be approaching £30bn, which is around half of the total debt the government is aiming to reduce by implementing the deepest cuts in public services since before the Second World War.

No wonder the government is so vague about these costs. In June treasury minister Danny Alexander said the costs of the Libya war would run into ‘hundreds of millions’, just three months after the chancellor George Osborne told us it would only be “tens of millions”.

While the sick and disabled are subject to tests which try to get them off benefits and into work, while hospital waiting lists grow longer and there is a shortage of schools in many areas, the financial vagueness is used to deflect attention from the one area of public spending that is safe from cuts — the endless sums spent on fighting wars that most people in Britain do not support.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.