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More than half of our income taxes this year will go to the military.

The charts below (click for larger versions) show how our income tax dollars were spent in the year just completed — FY2009 — which ended last September 30 (data from Budget of the United States Government: Historical Tables Fiscal Year 2011, Table 8.7). As you can see, the government sent $657 billion or 53.1% of all discretionary funds to the military. This represents an average of about $5,615 from each of the 117 million households in the US.

In the current year (FY2010), the government estimates that $714 billion will be spent on the military. This is more than twice as much as the $295 billion spent in FY2000 (73% more when adjusted for inflation). Despite these gigantic past increases, President Obama’s budget calls for further increasing the military budget in FY2011 to $744 billion.

These charts show the “discretionary” part of the federal budget — that is, the part that Congress and the President directly allocate each year (with the funds derived from our income taxes, corporation taxes, excise taxes, estate and gift taxes, and other miscellaneous taxes). These figures exclude expenditures for Social Security, Medicare, and federal highways since these programs are paid from dedicated taxes maintained in separate trust funds. They also exclude interest paid on the national debt since that spending is “mandatory,” not “discretionary” — though note that much of the national debt was caused by discretionary military spending in earlier years. Funding for Federal Employee Retirement Benefits, Unemployment Benefits, and means-tested entitlements like Veterans Benefits, Medicaid, SSI, and food stamps are mandated by on-going legislation and so are not included in these figures.

Increases for Nuclear Weapons
A detailed analysis (pdf) by Tri-Valley CARES finds:

The Administration’s budget... contradicts President Obama’s pledge to reduce the nuclear weapons threat by working toward their elimination... Instead, the spending plan boosts funding for nuclear weapons production facilities by $625 million from last year...

The FY2011 National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget includes huge funding increases for nuclear weapon “modernization” (like an additional $200 million for B-61 bomb’s “stockpile system,” and funding for the CMRR Nuclear Facility at Los Alamos and the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, both large scale nuclear weapons production facilities.)

U.S. Military Spending in the Past 70 Years

Military spending in inflation-adjusted dollars is now greater than at any time during the Cold War and even greater than during the peak spending years of the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the Persian Gulf War (see the chart below — data from Table 6.1).

Military spending has been a major contributor to the annual federal deficit. Compare the chart below with the one above.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities determined that during the Bush years, security and military programs (including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) were responsible for 34% of federal government deficits.

Arms Sales
The United States is now the largest supplier of weapons to the world. According to a Congressional Research Service report (pdf), in 2008, the US sold $37.8 billion in arms to other countries — nearly 70% of all weapons sales around the world. These weapons, often subsidized by the US government and sold to undemocratic countries and human rights abusers, may lead to future wars. Some of these weapons may end up being used against the US military or against civilians, as they have in the past (for example: Iraq 2004/5, The Philippines 2007, Afghanistan 2009, Israel 2009).

Is Massive Spending on the Military Needed?

The United States now has the most powerful military that has ever existed in the history of the world. We have more than enough firepower to obliterate any enemy. The nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal are powerful enough to destroy much of the planet and make our world completely uninhabitable. Moreover, U.S. conventional military force is mighty enough that we can wage two large wars simultaneously far from our shores. The U.S. has over 800 military bases around the world and 11 aircraft carrier battle groups circling the planet (and no potential adversary has more than 1). The U.S. spends almost as much on the military as all the rest of the world combined. The U.S. spends vastly more on its military than any possible enemies: roughly 6 times as much as China, 10 times as much as Russia, 99 times as much as Iran, and almost 55 times as much as the combined spending of the six “rogue” states (Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria).

Despite this massive amount of spending on the military, 47% of Americans are still fearful that our military is somehow inadequate. This may be because most mainstream commentary on the military is provided by pro-military retired generals, many of them on the payroll of military contractors.

President Eisenhower warned us in his farewell speech in 1961 to be wary of the military-industrial complex:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.

Rather than building a defense structure that protects us, Congress (especially the House and Senate Committees on Armed Services), the Department of Defense, and military contractors have forged an Iron Triangle that provides money and power for all of them — but at our expense. Military contractors spend enormous amounts lobbying and giving large campaign contributions to Congress and in turn Congress provides them with lucrative, often no-bid, contracts and weak oversight. Military contractors also lobby top DoD administrators and offer them high-paying jobs after they leave the government (revolving door syndrome) and in turn DoD administrators lobby Congress for more weapons and overlook contractor cost overruns.

Not only is this wasteful and corrupt, but it provides no real benefit. For example, the government wastes money on complete boondoggles like the “Star Wars” missile defense program:

According to the Pentagon, since its inception in 1983, missile defense has cost $150 billion. Twenty years after proponents of the system could no longer justify its purpose by the Cold War, missile defense still does not work. It is the single most expensive weapons program, (after nuclear weapons) and has never yielded a significant result. It is the military equivalent of throwing money, in tens of billions of dollars, down the toilet.

The program provides a case study in political corruption. A story by the New York Times, “Insider’s Projects Drained Missile-Defense Millions” revealed that missile defense spending has been driven by insider lobbying with the sole intention of making money, at times even at odds with actual Department of Defense procurement objectives.

Massive military spending, especially if it is corrupt and wasteful, does not provide security. The 9/11 terrorist attacks demonstrated that 19 guys (mostly from Saudi Arabia, an ally) armed with box cutters can attack the United States more effectively than massive armies. Huge expenditures on military personnel and weapons (especially on weapons designed for use in the Cold War) are ineffective in protecting us. It is also clear — as all the U.S. intelligence agencies have warned us — that the Iraq war and the “War on Terrorism” have actually made us less safe.

Real Security

Real security does not come by threatening or bullying, but by respecting and working together with others.

  1. The best security is provided by not having enemies, and the best way to achieve this is to treat other countries and their people well. Invading and occupying other countries, supporting dictators, and torturing people who disagree with us are great ways to make lots of long-lasting enemies. As New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer documented in his book Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, in the past 110 years, the United States has used military force in dozens of places around the world to gain access to oil and other natural resources, secure cheap labor, stifle dissent, and crush the efforts of opposition political movements. For example, the United States has obstructed independence movements in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Nicaragua. It has staged covert actions to overthrow democratically-elected governments in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Chile in 1973. And it has invaded the Dominican Republic (most recently in 1965), Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Afghanistan in 2001, and Iraq in 2003. Moreover, the U.S. has supported and helped to arm dozens of dictators including the Shah of Iran (Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi), P.W. Botha in apartheid South Africa, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, General Suharto in Indonesia, Francois “Doc” Duvalier and Jean Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc) in Haiti, George Papadopoulos in Greece, Anastasio Somoza, Jr. in Nicaragua, King Fahd bin Abdul of Saudi Arabia, and General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan.
  1. The second best way to provide security is to have large numbers of strong allies around the world and to build trust by negotiating treaties and then adhering to them. Repudiating treaties like the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, ignoring important initiatives like the Kyoto Treaty on climate change, and launching crazy, unilateral military adventures based on lies (ike the Iraq war) are great ways to lose friends and allies. Providing development aid to poor countries — aid that improves health, education, and civil justice — wins friends and reduces grievances.
  1. The third best way to provide security is to build strong domestic support. Spending most of our tax money on the military instead of on important domestic needs is a great way to impoverish our country and undercut domestic support for our government and society.
  1. The best way to provide security against terrorist organizations is to address their political grievances or to use police and intelligence agencies to stop their leaders. A recent Rand Corporation research study (“How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida”) found:

All terrorist groups eventually end. But how do they end? The evidence since 1968 indicates that most groups have ended because (1) they joined the political process (43 percent) or (2) local police and intelligence agencies arrested or killed key members (40 percent). Military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups...

But What About Toppling Repressive Regimes?

Don’t we need a strong military to save people from oppressive and genocidal regimes? Actually, the most effective and most ethical means to overthrow vicious dictators and undermine horribly repressive regimes is nonviolent action carried out by civic groups within those countries. For example, in the last three decades, nonviolent action has toppled the apartheid regime in South Africa, deposed the dictatorships of Slobodan Milosevich in Yugoslavia, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and brought down the former Soviet Union and its communist satellite states (including Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania). Overthrowing those regimes incurred relatively few casualties and wrought relatively little destruction. The nonviolent overthrow of these regimes has mostly left these countries stronger, more civilized, and much more free and democratic.

A 2005 study (2.3 MB pdf) by Freedom House found that in the 67 cases since 1972 in which dictatorial systems fell or new states arose from the disintegration of multinational states, “civic resistance was a key factor in driving 50 of 67 transitions” — over 70%. In 32 of the 67 countries (nearly 48%),

strong, broad-based nonviolent popular fronts or civic coalitions were highly active, and in many cases central to steering the process of change... Now, years after the transition, 24 of the countries (75 percent) where a strong nonviolent civic movement was present are Free and democratic states and 8 (25 percent) are Partly Free states with some space for civic and political life.

In contrast, only one transition to freedom (Panama, 1989) was brought about by an outside military force. They also found that

the stronger and more cohesive the nonviolent civic coalition operating in societies in the years immediately preceding the transition, the deeper the transformation in the direction of freedom and democracy.


Spending on military force, in inflation-adjusted dollars, has grown to a level about 26 times as high as it was in 1940. Much of these expenditures have been used, not to protect our citizens from harm, but to invade and occupy other countries, support dictatorships, topple democratically-elected governments, and otherwise “project power” and secure our “national interests” by controlling the rest of the world. In reality, this has undermined our security and bankrupted our country. We could drastically reduce our military budget by focusing strictly on defense of our territory, which could probably be easily accomplished with $50-100 billion/year. Then we could devote more resources to efforts that would actually make us safer: collaborate with our allies, negotiate with our opponents, provide support to international bodies like the United Nations and the World Court, build up our own economy (especially local, renewal energy), protect the environment, provide aid to impoverished countries, support human rights throughout the world, and provide support to civic movements that use nonviolent action to challenge and undermine repressive regimes.

Six Things You Can Do

  1. On Tax Day (Thursday, April 15), distribute leaflets to people dropping off their tax returns at your local Post Office. Write your own leaflet, or use ones prepared by the War Resisters League or FCNL.
  1. Write to your members of Congress and urge them to cut the military budget. FCNL provides an easy form.
  1. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. FCNL makes it easy.
  1. Make a presentation to a church or civic group based on the “Out of Balance” materials prepared by the National Priorities Project.
  1. Support an organization working for peace.
  1. Join the local chapter of a national peace organization like Peace Action or Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

Some other resources:

Budget Charts

“Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes” — War Resisters League (WRL) budget pie chart

“Where Do Our Income Taxes Go?” (pdf) — Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)

“Policy Basics: Where Do Our Federal Tax Dollars Go?” — Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)

Recent Budget Commentary

“New Defense Strategy Envisions Multiple Conflicts” by Matthew Berger, Inter Press Service, February 2, 2010.

“Undisciplined Defense: The Problem With the QDR” by Gordon Adams, Huffington Post, March 7, 2010.

“In Lean Times, Military Spending Still Gets a Pass” by Mark Thompson, Time Magazine, February 24, 2010.

“The Sanctity of Military Spending” by Glenn Greenwald,, January 26, 2010.

“Bush-Style Military Spending Not Over Yet” by Miriam Pemberton,, November 24, 2009.

“Too Much Bang-Bang: The Need to De-Militarize U.S. National Security” by Melvin A. Goodman, BuzzFlash, March 3, 2010.

“Trillions to Burn? A Quick Guide to the Pentagon Budget Surge”The Project on Defense Alternatives, February 15, 2010.

“Is Military Keynesianism the Solution?: Why war is not a sustainable strategy for economic recovery” by Heidi Garrett-Peltier, Dollars & Sense, March 2010.

“Decline of a Great Power?” by Robert Brent Toplin, History News Network, March 8, 2010.

Commentary on Arms Sales

“America’s Global Weapons Monopoly” by Frida Berrigan,, February 18, 2010.

“Arms control advocates try to slow exports” by Jen Dimascio, Politico, January 15, 2009.

Previous Editions of this Series: 2009  2008

Originally posted to RandomNonviolence on Mon Mar 08, 2010 at 11:14 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Military is also bad for jobs (7+ / 0-)

    I also want to highlight this study from two economists at UMass Amherst.

    Researcher Heidi Garrett-Peltier writes:

    In a recent paper that I co-authored with Robert Pollin, we show that dollar per dollar, more jobs are created through spending on clean energy, health care, and education than on the military. Further, we show that more middle-income and well-paying jobs are created in all of these areas. For each $1 billion of spending, over 17,000 jobs would be created in clean energy, close to 20,000 in health care, and over 29,000 in education. That same $1 billion would create only 11,600 jobs as a result of military spending. If we look at well-paying jobs, those that pay over $64,000 per year, these alternative domestic spending areas also outperform military spending. The same $1 billion would create 1,500 well-paying jobs in clean energy and just over 1,000 in the military—clean energy creates 50% more good jobs than military spending. Education, which is labor-intensive and creates many well-paying jobs per dollar of expenditure, creates close to 2,500 jobs paying over $64,000—that’s 2.5 times as many as the military.

    The complete study is here.

  •  What makes it even scarier... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jhop7, princesspat

    ... is that we both use the military our humanitarian aid distributions to places like Haiti, while hiring mercenaries like Xe at the same time.

    I think that too many listened to Eisenhower's warnings, and said, "Hmmm.  Now that sounds like a good way to make a shit ton of money."

    The inadequate is the enemy of the necessary.

    by JRandomPoster on Mon Mar 08, 2010 at 11:56:53 AM PST

  •  Thank you for putting this together (5+ / 0-)

    Why could our government possibly need to maintain 800 bases world-wide? It is absolutely mind-boggleing. We talk about "bringing the troops home" from Iraq and Afghanistan, but no one ever mentions that we still keep 30,000 troops in Korea, almost 60 years after the cessation of hostilities. How many other countries have US troops (at taxpayers expense)? The fact is we maintain troops in some of the most prosperous countries on earth (Japan, Germany,Great Britain etc. etc. etc.) is an insanity ONLY practiced by the US. Why don't the Democrats sieze this as an issue? We ned 800 bases to be "secure"?  

    I learned French because I like the language. I'm learning Spanish because I like the people who speak it.

    by Vengeur on Mon Mar 08, 2010 at 12:02:03 PM PST

  •  We need to cut the military budget by half, or we (6+ / 0-)

    are going to end up savaging the Social Securit, Medicare, and Medicaid budgets.

    Why are we still paying for Europes defense?  We are still keeping massive troops, and equipment to defend Europe against a tank invasion from the USSR which collapsed over two decades ago.  

    At at a time when the collective EU GDP is greater than the US.

    When do we ever declare defense emergencies over?

    Thanks for keeping us informed RandamNonviolence.  This should be a top rec diary.  We're getting sad feedback about our own priorities and lack of awareness here.

    The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

    by HoundDog on Mon Mar 08, 2010 at 12:14:16 PM PST

  •  we could do (0+ / 0-)

    with a 99% cut in defense spending. In all seriousness the military has done nothing since 1945 to keep us safe and in most cases has put us in more danger. The best anti-terrorism policy would be to stop acting like terrorists (paraphrasing Noam Chomsky)

    Of course Repubs have no problem with tax dollars being used to murder people but do with them being used to save people. What a bunch of sociopaths.

  •  Excellent piece, Random (3+ / 0-)

    bow, how to get this into the hands of those who would change how we look at things...

    A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.

    by Timroff on Mon Mar 08, 2010 at 12:52:02 PM PST

  •  Great diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RandomNonviolence, princesspat

    This is a terrific collection of facts that I think everyone should know.

    I recently ran across this chart, which shows military spending and military headcount since 1790.  Before WWII, U.S. military spending was essentially nil except during major wars.  Since WWII, though the overall trend in military spending has been downward (as a percentage of GDP but certainly not in absolute terms), we have essentially had a permanent war state.  Each year since 1945, during peacetime or wartime, we have spent a vastly greater percentage of GDP on the military than we ever did during any war other than the Civil War, WWI and WWII.

    •  Great chart! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chicago Lawyer

      The founders of the country did not want to create a militaristic society like those of Europe so they made little provision for a regular army. Instead, they called for militias that could be mustered if the US were attacked. 200 years later and a series of "red" scares led the US to create a massive, on-going military which quickly evolved into the military-industrial complex.

      Professor Seymour Melman wrote a book called The Permanent War Economy. Here is a 2003 commentary by Melman in which he reiterates his main points.

      We need to recreate the civil society that the founders envisioned and relegate the military to a very subordinate position. But this will require a lot of work.

      •  What shocks me... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Orinoco, RandomNonviolence

        more and more as I think about this issue is the contrast between the willingness---the eagerness---of our country to spend its resources to fight, destroy and kill foreigners, when we don't really stand to benefit much at all (seriously, even if we were able to eradicate Al Qaeda, is that worth anywhere near what seeking that goal is costing us?), and our collective reluctance to spend a similar amount to help our own people when we fall into a period of deep unemployment, during which our own people are hurting, or during good times to build public goods that we can all enjoy, like high-speed rail, an improved power grid, better roads and bridges, etc.  

  •  Late stage empire (0+ / 0-)

    And Americans are the last know.  But I think that an empire's citizens are always the last to know.

  •  This is a sobering diary. The graphs and charts (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    present a disturbing picture. Thank you for writing....and thanks, as always, to Diary Rescue.

    Love is the lasting legacy of our lives

    by princesspat on Mon Mar 08, 2010 at 08:55:22 PM PST

  •  Clearly, we need to cut taxes and entitlements. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Seriously this is a tour de force.  It's so great to have this at my fingertips. I'll be saving this diary for future reference for sure.  Heartfelt thanks for putting it together.

    Is there a reason to comment?  What more can be said.  This is discussed by a few people.  This brilliant, irrefutable diary, highlighting an enormous elephant in the room, gets 19 comments.  I tend to get depressed.

    Thank you rescue rangers.  Thank you diarist.  I'll be sending around the link to this.

    Hope has never trickled down. It has always sprung up.

    by geomoo on Mon Mar 08, 2010 at 09:21:26 PM PST

  •  two points to keep in mind . . . (0+ / 0-)
    1.  US military forces, throughout history, have NOT been used to "topple dictators" -- they have been used to prop them up and try to keep them in power.
    1.  The entire rest of the world, combined will spend a little over $500 billion on their militaries. Yes, the US not only spends more money for war than ANYBODY, it spends more money for war than EVERYBODY.

    And since the US has no credible military threat from anyone anywhere on the planet, our huge bloated military society (we have around 700 acknowledged military installations in some 135 countries around the world) is NOT intended to "defend" us from anyone.

  •  the bankers are eating all the money (0+ / 0-)

    the DoD is small now compared to them

    George Bush is Living proof of the axiom "Never send a boy to do a man's job" E -2.25 S -4.10

    by nathguy on Mon Mar 08, 2010 at 09:42:27 PM PST

    •  speaking of the money . . . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Here are some more figures we might want to ponder over:

      Political Contributions to 2009-2010 election cycle
      (All data from a nonprofit nonpartisan group that tracks campaign contributions by party, by year, and by industry)

      Defense industries:

      Total contributions   $8,777,667
      Percentage to Dems   57
      Percentage to Repugs   42

      Defense Aerospace:

      Total contributions   $3,858,141
      Percentage to Dems   58
      Percentage to Repugs   41

      Defense Electronics:

      Total contributions   $2,895,255
      Percentage to Dems   56
      Percentage to Repugs   44

      Political Contributions in Previous Election Cycles:

      Industry: Aerospace Defense
      1994 Elections (Dems in power):
      Percentage to Dems   59
      Percentage to Repugs   41

      2004 Elections (Repugs in power):
      Percentage to Dems   39
      Percentage to Repugs   60

      2010 Elections (Dems in power):
      Percentage to Dems   59
      Percentage to Repugs   41

      Industry: Defense Contractors
      1994 Elections (Dems in power):
      Percentage to Dems   59
      Percentage to Repugs   41

      2004 Elections (Repugs in power):
      Percentage to Dems   38
      Percentage to Repugs   62

      2010 Elections (Dems in power):
      Percentage to Dems   58
      Percentage to Repugs   42

      Industry: Defense Electronics
      1994 Elections (Dems in power):
      Percentage to Dems   60
      Percentage to Repugs   40

      2004 Elections (Repugs in power):
      Percentage to Dems   39
      Percentage to Repugs   61

      2010 Elections (Dems in power):
      Percentage to Dems   57
      Percentage to Repugs   43

      Many of us would like to believe that the Repugs are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the big defense corporations.  They're not.  The defense industries are ruthlessly nonpartisan--they give their cash to both sides in every election, with the lion's share varying according to which party happens to be in power.

      I.e., the defense industries own Dem ass just as much as they own Repug ass.

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