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In the current fiscal year (FY2013), the government estimates that $660.0 billion will be spent on the military. Adjusted for inflation, this is 53% more than the amount spent in FY2001 (the first year of the Bush administration). As the chart below shows, President Obama plans to reduce military spending in coming years, mostly by reducing forces in Afghanistan, but his proposed spending will still be 27.1% higher in FY2017 (inflation adjusted) than the amount spent in FY2001.

This chart (click for a larger version) shows “national security” (050) spending which consists of the full Department of Defense budget, spending for nuclear weapons in the Department of Energy, and “Defense-related activities” in other departments. It does not include Veterans Benefits or interest on the national debt attributable to prior military spending. Data source: Budget of the United States Government: Historical Tables Fiscal Year 2014, Table 6.1.

The charts below show how our income tax dollars were spent in the year just completed — FY2012 — which ended last September 30 (data from Table 8.7). As you can see, the government sent $670.5 billion or 52.1% of all discretionary funds (those allocated by Congress in appropriation bills) to the military (“National Defense”). This represents an average of about $5,538 from each of the 121.1 million households in the US.

These two 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.” Funding for Federal Employee Retirement Benefits, Unemployment Benefits, and means-tested entitlements like Veterans Benefits, Medicaid, SSI, and food stamps are also mandated by on-going legislation and so are not included in the discretionary budget.

Winslow T. Wheeler added up all the spending in every part of the budget related to national security ("Which Pentagon Budget Numbers Are Real? You Decide!") and found it totalled $986.1 billion in FY2012.

U.S. Military Spending in the Past 70 Years

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

Arms Sales

The United States is now the largest supplier of weapons to the world. According to a Congressional Research Service report (pdf), in 2011, the U.S. sold $66.3 billion in arms to other countries — 77.7% of all weapons sales around the world. These weapons, promoted by the U.S. government and often sold to undemocratic countries and human rights abusers, may lead to future wars. Some of these weapons may end up being used against the U.S. military or against civilians, as they have in the past (for example: Iraq 2004/5, Afghanistan 2009, Israel 2009).

Is Massive Spending on the Military Needed?

Since the demise of the Soviet Union over twenty years ago, the United States has no significant military adversaries. The only countries or groups that express hostility towards the United have small military capabilities.

This contrasts with the period just before World War II when Germany and Japan had massive military forces and the United States had relatively few, many of which were destroyed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Now, the United States has the most powerful military that has ever existed in the history of the world. The United States has 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 the U.S. can wage two large wars simultaneously far from our shores. The U.S. has over 1,000 military bases around the world and 10 aircraft carriers circling the planet (and no potential adversary has more than 1). The U.S. spends more on the military than the next 14 countries combined and vastly more than any possible enemies: roughly 5 times more than China, 10 times more than Russia, and 95 times more than Iran. The United States and its strongest allies (the NATO countries, Japan, South Korea, and Australia) together spend about $1.2 trillion on their militaries, representing 70 percent of the world’s total.

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