Author and Page information
- This page: http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending.
- To print all information e.g. expanded side notes, shows alternative links, use the print version:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
— James Madison, Political Observations, 1795
This web page has the following sub-sections:
- World Military Spending
- Increased spending before and even during global economic crisis
- Spending for peace vs spending for war
- US Military Spending
- In Context: US Military Spending Versus Rest of the World
- In Context: US military budget vs. other US priorities
World Military Spending
Increased spending before and even during global economic crisis
Spending for peace vs spending for war
US Military Spending
The United States has unquestionably been the most formidable military power in recent years. Its spending levels, as noted earlier, is the principle determinant of world military spending and is therefore worth looking at further.
Why are the numbers quoted above for US spending so much higher than what has been announced as the budget for the Department of Defense?
Unfortunately, the budget numbers can be a bit confusing. For example, the Fiscal Year budget requests for US military spending do not include combat figures (which are supplemental requests that Congress approves separately). The budget for nuclear weapons falls under the Department of Energy, and for the 2010 request, was about $25 billion.
The cost of war (Iraq and Afghanistan) has been very significant during George Bush’s presidency. Christopher Hellman and Travis Sharp also discuss the US fiscal year 2009 Pentagon spending request and note that “Congress has already approved nearly $700 billion in supplemental funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and an additional $126 billion in FY'08 war funding is still pending before the House and Senate.”
Furthermore, other costs such as care for veterans, health care, military training/aid, secret operations, may fall under other departments or be counted separately.
Nonetheless, compared to the rest of the world, these numbers have long been described as “staggering.”
In Context: US Military Spending Versus Rest of the World
Generally, compared to Cold War levels, the amount of military spending and expenditure in most nations has been reduced. For example, global military spending declined from $1.2 trillion in 1985 to $809 billion in 1998, though since 2005 has risen to over $1 trillion again. The United States’ spending, up to 2009 requests may have be reduced compared to the Cold War era but is still close to Cold War levels.
In Context: US military budget vs. other US priorities
Although some of the issues discussed here are about US spending, they are also relevant to a number of other nations.
Should spending be tied to GDP?
US high military spending means others do not have to?
US military budget vs. other US priorities
Furthermore, “national defense” category of federal spending is typically just over half of the United States discretionary budget (the money the President/Administration and Congress have direct control over, and must decide and act to spend each year. This is different to mandatory spending, the money that is spent in compliance with existing laws, such as social security benefits, medicare, paying the interest on the national debt and so on). For recent years here is how military, education and health budgets (the top 3) have fared:
In this new era, traditional military threats to the USA are fairly remote. All of their enemies, former enemies and even allies do not pose a military threat to the United States. For a while now, critics of large military spending have pointed out that most likely forms of threat to the United States would be through terrorist actions, rather than conventional warfare, and that the spending is still geared towards Cold War-type scenarios and other such conventional confrontations.
[T]he lion’s share of this money is not spent by the Pentagon on protecting American citizens. It goes to supporting U.S. military activities, including interventions, throughout the world. Were this budget and the organization it finances called the “Military Department,” then attitudes might be quite different. Americans are willing to pay for defense, but they would probably be much less willing to spend billions of dollars if the money were labeled “Foreign Military Operations.”
— The Billions For “Defense” Jeopardize Our Safety, Center For Defense Information, March 9, 2000
And, of course, this will come from American tax payer money. Many studies and polls show that military spending is one of the last things on the minds of American people.
But it is not just the U.S. military spending. In fact, as Jan Oberg argues, western militarism often overlaps with civilian functions affecting attitudes to militarism in general. As a result, when revelations come out that some Western militaries may have trained dictators and human rights violators, the justification given may be surprising, which we look at in the next page.