Defense Spending

The U.S. Military Budget Is Bigger Than the 10 Next Biggest Military Budgets Combined


Next week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to present a military budget that will reduce the size of the Army to pre-9-11 levels and end service on several elderly weapons programs, including the A-10 and the U-2 spy plane. If enacted, the plan would trim military spending by about $75 billion over two years. Defense Department officials are already suggesting that the budget trimming is potentially risky, and the move is likely to generate pushback from hawkish Republicans. 

It's important to put this in context. There's simply no international rival that spends even close to as much money on its military as America does. As this graph from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation shows, the U.S. already spends more on defense than the next 10 countries combined:

Peter G. Peterson Foundation

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  1. Didn’t Kmele make this point on last night’s Independents?

    Military spending: the social welfare and entitlement program with the badass name!

    1. That is actually not true. It is becoming the Congressional pork program with a bad ass name. Welfare implies the money is going to people other than cronies. Dream on.

      1. Big military vendors are 1) big businesses that support Republicans and 2) heavily unionized businesses whose labor supports Democrats.

        It’s the perfect storm of crony-capitalism.

      2. It’s welfare, just look at the news when they try to close a base somewhere…

      3. The GI Bill isn’t welfare? The bases that never close because their local politicians go apeshit when it’s proposed? Give me a fucking break.

        1. The GI Bill isn’t welfare?

          No. It is differed compensation. If you think compensation is too high, well mabye. But that is a different debate. But the GI bill is no more welfare than any other form of pay is. If that is welfare, your 401K is as well.

          The bases that never close because their local politicians go apeshit when it’s proposed?

          The bases have closed all over the place. And they closed based on which ones could provide the best crooked land deal to the local gentry.

          And military bases are pork. A military base is no different than any other form of pork.

          Give me a fucking break Episiarch.

            1. just a reserve center now, my unit works out of the old px

        2. They just closed a bunch of bases. Brunswick Naval Air Station immediately comes to mind.

          1. Myrtle Beach AFB closed a couple decades ago…the horror

  2. And we spend more in inflation adjusted dollars now than we did at the height of the Reagan buildup. Yet, we have nowhere near as large of a military.

    The question is not “should we cut the military”. The question is how did your military get so bloated and inefficient. No one is asking that question. And if we don’t start, we are going to end up with a military full of generals and contractors and not much else.

    1. Well, the US is the only country where it is not a crime to be a mercenary. So we just need a few more private defense companies to provide actual on-ground expertise at better efficiencies than the current setup.

      Only problem is trying to keep them from becoming government contractors.

      1. Private contractors cost a hell of a lot more than the military. Blackwater charges a fortune. The military benefits from people giving it a patriotic discount. People will risk their lives for small pay in the name of patriotism. Take that away and you have to pay commiserate with the risk. And that is a lot more money.

        1. It’s a government contractor and those contracts are not compeditive.

          Besides, I’m not talking about the government hiring mercenaries. A lot of other groups need their services.

          1. Then how do you control them? Europe used mercenaries for centuries. It worked great right up until the private army decided that the war being over shouldn’t mean they are now unemployed and started extorting and looting their former employers.

            1. And that stopped with state armies? There are an awful lot of military-led governments that spawned after the guys with guns wanted more of the share.

              If you really wanted to end the post-war looting, the key would be a compensation schedule that made successful completion of the conflict more profitable than prolonging it. Sure, some will go to look for more work in the same field (being more or less insatiable), that is what gave us Blackwater in the first place, after all.

              1. And that stopped with state armies? T

                Largely it did in Europe at least. One of the biggest drivers in the rise of stronger central governments was the need to create centrally controlled armies and stop the roving companies of mercenaries from terrorizing the country side.

                And no amount of compensation is going to keep armies from looting. So what if you pay me more? That just means I get the pay plus looting. The only thing that stopped looting was regular pay taking away the need and strong discipline making it risky and painful to do so. Take away either of those and Armies will go back to looting.

                1. So all mercenary companies are undisciplined? No option of industry self-regulation? Only a government army can reign in it’s own people?

                  The free companies of europe were a problem because war there had grown so endemic that there was little chance of repercussions for abuse, since the perpetrators would simply switch sides and find another employer. At todays records levels of peace, there’s more room for sanctioning of bad actors.

                  1. So all mercenary companies are undisciplined? No option of industry self-regulation? Only a government army can reign in it’s own people?

                    Yes. When the people in the industry are armed and make war for a living, those sorts of controls that normally work don’t work anymore. What happened was the cities were defenseless. So they had no choice but to pay off the companies or get looted. No amount of “we will never hire your kind again” was going to stop that.

                    Only the state can step into control this because we are talking about violence. To control an army, you have to have well control and that means a monopoly of force. Only states have that.

                    You could say that other mercenary companies could come in and control them in the name of the guild. Sure. Most people call that a war. And moreover, if there were some world mercenary association with enough force and power to control the various mercenary forces, what would stop that association from just becoming a world government? They would have all of the guns wouldn’t they?

                  2. I suggest looking at the recordof Executive Outcomes a mercenary organization that was active in Africa in the 90s. They actually did pretty well, and had an enviable reputation in Africa for success and discipline… of course, they also faced the same challenges that any mercenary company would face, particularly the fact that the troops can simply quit of they do not like the situation.

    2. I think they have a lot of things exactly backwards. Take the A10 program. It gets cut so we can buy F-35s.
      The only reason you need an F-35 is to clear the skies for A-10’s to go to work.
      There is no sense using a 100 million stealth fighter to fly in low to strafe tanks and bomb Taliban.

      1. The Air Farce people didn’t get into flying to fly low and strafe ground targets. They see aireal combat as jousting, and the plebs on the ground are beneath notice. (SAMs are just unsporting arrows fired at their betters, hense the AGMs)

        1. Just wait, ten years from now we’ll be hearing how the Air Force needs a new attack bomber because F-35’s are too vulnerable to small arms fire and don’t fly slow enough to remain on station.

          1. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but it’s been the Attitude of the people who stay Air Force that they don’t exist to serve the ground pounders. The Army forced the A-10 on them, and they still hate it.

            1. And the Army would be more than happy to take the entire fleet of them off the Air Forces hands if the Air Force didn’t throw a hissy fit every time they suggest it.

              They’d even happily mothball as many Apache’s/Abrahams as they had to for every A-10 they got their hands on to keep the move budget neutral.

              1. Still consistent with the arrogance above. it’s a “how dare you try to encroach on my dominion, peasant”

              2. not the apaches, but abrams are pretty much useless on the modern battlefield, there are just to many weapons that can kill a MBT. an IED can waste a tank as easily as an MRAP so we might as well just use the MRAP’s since they are way cheaper.

        2. As one of the guys who chose to fly low and strafe ground targets in the A-10 and on behalf of the hundreds of Battlefield Airmen who live with the Army so we can better integrate with their operations, I disagree with your gross over-generalization.

  3. But, but, if the government cuts back on military spending any more, my year end bonus will be cut way back.

  4. end service on several elderly weapons programs, including the A-10 and the U-2 spy plan[e].

    This is shortsighted. Surely DHS could use A-10s and U-2s.

    1. Surely DHS could use A-10s and U-2s.

      Fuck that. The real money (and political paybacks) are in making new drones.

      1. Well, of course.

        I meant they could warehouse them along with their scanners and other, um, surplus.

        1. You mean the surplus they grant to the local yokels who want to play soldier in the WoD? How long until the NYPD has A-10s?

    2. lol how long before your local swat gets its own A-10?

  5. on the “bigger than the next 10 combined” part – how much of the actual burden for the next 10, 20, etc does the US functionally provide. Seriously, there is a German military and a South Korean version, at least on paper, but who is expected to do the heavy lifting?

    Make it a profit center – start charging the nations where bases are located for the security blanket instead of paying them to be there. That said, no one here is going to advocate against a reduction.

    1. Well, some of us will argue against some of the specific choices in cuts, like the upthread discussion of the A-10, by far the most effective airframe we have for fighting in the low intensity conflicts we are likely to experience over the next few decades in favor of the F-35 which can’t do any of the jobs it was designed for well enough to be worth buying and each one costs more than it would take to keep 5 A-10’s flying for the next decade.

    2. I’d rather reduce than be at the mercy of the Bundestag passing enough compensation.

      Other than Ramstein and Landstuhl, we need little to nothing else in all of Western Europe. And the Sorks and Germans can defend themselves.

      1. They won’t let us keep Ramstein without defending them totally.

          1. Nein.

        1. Maybe we could pay them sufficient rent?

    3. Spending is not a great metric for comparing militaries, there is even a TED talk where the speaker shows how misleading the spending graph can be. Additionally, it also assumes that a dollar spent in the US buys the same relative combat power as a dollar spent in China or Russia.

      Secondly, other nation’s militaries are getting much smaller. The United States has the 2nd largest active-duty military in the world. For a sense of scale of what this means, the smallest US service, the Marine Corps, is larger than the entire British or German militaries. Further, the Marines are larger than the entire militaries of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, combined. That should give a sense of just how large the US Military is.

    4. Exactly. Everyone hates the Imperial Americans until they are starting down the barrel of their neighbor’s guns, there is genocide in progress against an ethnic group, a world wide terrorist organization’s local affiliate gassing their public transportation system, or the North Koreans test a nuclear device. Then governments quietly ask the US for troops, or “advisors”, or airlift support, or air cover….. because as was proved recently by the French, no one else can project force by themselves. I think the British were the lady to do it during the Falkland War.

  6. And take a look at the next tier of big-spending countries. UK, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, Italy and Germany are all protected by US military. If we closed all our bases in those countries you’d see a immediate, massive increase in the military spending by those countries.

    1. ^^THIS^^

      And the resulting arms race would probably produce a war within a generation.

      It is not as simple as Reason likes to believe.

      1. There’s some possibility that our divestment could make these countries think more pragmatically, as happened in southern Africa at the end of the Cold War. Firmly saying that we won’t help would be as good as a threat of force.

      2. Asking in a non-confrontational manner because I’m interested in your response, Could you please provide some support for that statement?

        1. Germany would cross the Marne again within 10 years if the US cuts military spending and withdraws troops from Europe


          1. The Germans are sort of doing that already with their banking leverage.

            Meanwhile, I don’t see Polish troops massing to take back their former territory in Ukraine. They might be hesitant to absorb that population, anyway, if, as someone asserted to me last night, a majority of them really are sympathetic to fascist movements.

        2. The Chinese and Japanese hate each other. If the Japanese rearmed and the US were not there to keep them apart such that a war against Japan might not mean a war against the US, they would most likely finish what they started in the 1930s.

          Arms races usually, though not always end in war. The presence of the US as a universal peace keeper and the resulting disarmament of a lot of what should be major powers, has done a lot to prevent major wars.

          1. I can at least see the case for your argument with regards to Japan and China. I don’t see that as a particularly likely scenario, nor do I think it’s the US government’s job be Team America: World Police.

            However, that scenario is pretty ridiculous with regards to Western Europe, which accounted for 4 of the 6 countries mentioned by Tonio.

          2. uhh no China is actually itching to have a go at Japan, not the other way around.

      3. John’s back to neocon?

    2. Not once they realized it was their own money they were wasting.

    3. exactly my point upthread. The “more the next ___” is a hollow argument.

    4. If we closed all our bases in those countries you’d see a immediate, massive increase in the military spending by those countries.

      Yeah right. Maybe Japan, if they’re sufficiently scared of China. But none of those countries have any extra money to spend, and if they did, it would go to fund their welfare/police states.

      1. Japan really ought to just take its chances in the World Court for its island disputes. The Chinese know full well that fighting their best trade partners would be economically catastrophic, and it would undermine their insistence that their military exists for purely defensive purposes. I suspect they’re really only using their new ADIZ as a learning exercise. As for the Kuril islands, Russia hasn’t really made any threats, but they’re probably not moving their submarine base anytime soon, either, and whatever “principle” drives the dispute isn’t worth escalating, certainly not with our assets.

        1. Oh, I agree. The notion that China is some warmonger kept only in check by the threat of military force is ludicrous.

      2. I agree that in most cases, this effect is overstated. What these pressing conventional threats are there to most of these countries? Despite the recent squabbles with Russia, this isn’t the Cold War, and Russia is not the USSR. They would get their asses handed to them if they tried to invade Western Europe, even if the US didn’t provide troops.

      3. Sure they do. Germany found money for an army in the 1930s didn’t it?

        1. Yep that’s socialism for you, always someone to loot money from.

  7. Does that mean I can start referring to foreigners as “civilians”?

  8. All this, and we don’t know that we could win against another great power. Pre-1991 Iraq had a large military but not a good one, and the last edition of Yugoslavia managed to drag out the Kosovo campaign with $300 decoy tanks, and even took down a stealth fighter with old technology.

    1. Yes we do.

      As long as you take Nukes off the table even the Chineese and Russians wouldn’t stand much chance of beating us in a full scale war. They could make it hurt and hurt bad if the fighting was on their home turf rather than in a 3rd party country but as long as our political resolve held we’d win.

      The place where our military starts to break down is when we are prevented from going all in for political reasons or trying to “nation build” once the fighting is over.

      1. Any war with China would probably end like the last one, they couldn’t invade us (no navy worth mentioning) but we don’t have the manpower to invade them either. So we would probably fight over some 3rd party country to a draw.

        Just like in Korea.

  9. In my not-really-that-libertarian but-a-sensible-compromise dream world a Congressman would propose a law that : Unless we are in a declared state of war, the total millitary budget shall be capped at the sum of the top 9 other countries millitary spending, according to some official estimate.

    It’d be fun to watch that get spun as some extremist, racist, doomsday-begging idea.

    1. Screw that, too easy to get around.

      Since more than half of the top 9 are close allies Congress could just cut a backdoor deal for those countries to increase their military budgets and we’d pay for it with foreign aid and then we could raise our spending correspondingly

      I’d rather see military spending capped at 1% of GDP (about 1/4 of where it is now) unless there was a declared war

  10. Not the A-10’s?! The reliability, cost effectiveness – and what are you going to substitute for the 30mm Gatling cannon?? Hmm?? I thought so…

    1. Please go and discuss your hobbies on another forum.

  11. Of course, without a clear and coherent policy that could in turn inform a strategy, that in turn would give you an idea of what the US military actually needs to do, all discussions of end strenght, force mix, and equippage are vaporous. What I would give for a coherent policy…

  12. Our military spending should be cut significantly, but due to purchasing power parity and geography we will likely spend more to defend this country than any other until China’s standard of living approaches ours.

    The department of defense should be such, it should not act as the department of war. It is also possible to maintain a quality advantage while letting go of a quantity advantage. Quantity can be increased far easier than quality(soldiers vs technology) in a time of need.

  13. I think the assessment that we focus on defense vs. war is a fun semantic quibble. However, the big question I think is to define what a libertarian Defense policy actually looks like… what are the interests we seek to defend, and under what conditions would we seek to use force to exert our will. Without answering these questions, we are just spewing bromides.

  14. Apples and Oranges.
    Those next 10 Nations – combined – couldn’t carry the jock-straps of the Marines, let alone deal with the humanitarian issues that our military regularly deals with.

    1. Do you have both hands on it, or just one? And I _love_ the humanitarian part. You covered the entire gamut of justifications for military *ssholery in one sentence!

  15. OH BUNK!

    Which one of you geniuses thinks we have access to China’s books?
    Freakin morons!!!!

    1. that actually wouldn’t surprise me, China does not have to spend much on its military because it is a totalitarian state and the dollar goes a lot farther there, they have about 2.5 million active duty personnel and 22.5 million more reservists all wielding knock-off AK’s made by the state-owned arms company, all of that is pretty cheap, the portion of troops equipped with modern weapons is rather small hence small expenditure.

      This is fine for China since the primary purpose of the Chinese army is to keep its populace in line, not actually fight a conventional war.

      1. Yeah, and the US needs to p*iss away 756 bn of the taxpayers’ money on dinosaur and Buck Rogers weapons systems and create “enemies” to justify it to support the lifestyle of it elite. But in fact, if you’ve been paying attention to the evolution of NORTHCOM in recent years and to the erosion of _Posse Comitatus_ and to the militarization of police all over they US, you’ll see that the primary purpose of the two “armies” (a touchingly quaint expression) is about the same. Except that the US has about a third of China’s population, which fact alone would bring US military p*issing away down to Chinese levels.

    2. ..and every penny spent for the “defense” of the US is accounted for, right?

  16. They could start by finding the 18 bn that was sent to Iraq on pallets and then lost:…..8-billion/
    Or cutting the 450$ hammer to 200$.

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