Does America Spend More Money on its Military Than Any Other Country?
Total Military Spending Versus Spending Compared to GDP
When considering just total spending for 2014, the U.S. spent more on its military than the next 10 countries combined (2015 was similar). However, when compared to the gross domestic product, or GDP, the U.S. was only #4 in military spending for 2014.
In both cases the spending on Military is impressive, but the distinction is an important one to put things in perspective.
Below we look at official government spending on military, private contracts, the military industrial complex and Eisenhower, Citizens United, all the jobs created by the military and other benefits, and a host of other related topics that put America’s military spending in perspective.
A video discussing military spending as compared to GDP.
What is the U.S. Military?
In order to understand military spending, you have to understand what the U.S. military actually is.
The U.S. Military is the United States Armed Force, which is run by the Department of Defense, it includes:
- Five armed service branches: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy.
- Three general categories of military people: active duty (full-time soldiers and sailors), reserve & guard forces (who usually work a civilian job, but can be called to full-time military duty at any time), and veterans and retirees (past members of the military).
- Family members of military
- The President of the United States (the Commander in Chief, responsible for all final decisions).
- The Secretary of the Department of Defense (DoD) has control over the military and each branch – except the Coast Guard, which is under the Dept. of Homeland Security.
- Plus, although not officially military in regards to spending, all combat and non-combat contractors employed by the military should be considered as included in this budget.
The Department of Defense is the World’s Largest Employer
The Department of Defense is actually the largest employer in the world, with between 2 million and 3.2 million employees, depending upon how you break down the numbers. (2.13 million active duty servicemen and women as well as their support staff of civilian workers. Adding to the total are over 1.1 million National Guardsmen and Reservists, bringing the total to just over 3.2 million employees.)
How Much of the U.S. Budget is Military Spending?
Source: OMB, National Priorities Project
The military budget accounts for more than half of U.S. discretionary spending (29% of total spending), but no mandatory spending (65% of total spending). In 2015 numbers that means about $600 billion of the $3.8 trillion spent by the U.S. will go towards the defense spending. Comparatively nearly a trillion will go to Medicare and health and $900 billion to social security. The important thing to understand is that Social Security and healthcare collect taxes (revenue), healthcare provides jobs and health, while the military provides protection and jobs.
Is Military Spending a Problem for America?
Some argue that we spend too much on military, others argue healthcare, others argue Social Security (some oddly argue other things, mostly for ideological reasons judging by the charts).
Looking at the charts above we can see that it’s hard to compare the top three spenders to each other since they are all so different. In truth, most experts would argue that none of the top three spenders are the “real” problem, rather the “real” problem according to the Congressional Budget Office is the interest from debt.
For instance in 2015, despite revenue, we will need to borrow about $583 billion. That $583 billion will grow with interest each year we don’t pay it back. The current economic outlook shows our spending increases faster than GDP indicating that the debt will grow as we maintain a deficit rather than a surplus. By 2024 we will have gained $710 billion in interest, of which we will probably have to borrow more money to pay back.
How Does Military Spending Break Down
The military spends money on a wide range of things. Military spending includes: all regular activities of the Department of Defense; war spending; nuclear weapons spending; international military assistance; and other Pentagon-related spending. In general it includes everything from pensions, to healthcare, to housing, to education, to paying off its own interest, to contractors, and more. You can see a full breakdown of spending and further explanations here.
Defense Contract Spending Versus Military Spending
There are two major divisions to look at in regard to defense spending. On one hand we have the service divisions of the US, their salaries, and benefits. On the other hand we have private military contractors (or companies) (PMCs). Payment to PMCs accounts for a large chunk of a military spending, and that percentage has been growing at a much faster pace then other spending over the past 20 years. Combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan account for a large share of current DoD contract awards.
Defense contracts account of a large portion of all revenue of many private military companies, which supply American jobs. Some of America’s biggest private companies are primarily defense contractors.
Citizens United and The “Military Industrial Complex”
To complicate everything, Citizens United has given the recipients of contracts (private American companies) a larger voice in elections, and their lobbyists account for some of the most active in politics, which creates a compounding, cyclical, and potentially problematic relationship. A dependence on a war economy, PMCs, and increased lobbying poses issues not just for the American people, but for the military itself. This complex was famously dubbed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as the “military industrial complex”.
The military industrial complex: the policy and monetary relationships which exist between legislators, national armed forces, and the arms industry that supports them.
President Eisenhower warns America about the military industrial complex on national television via his exit speech on Jan.17,1961.
Military Industrial Complex Versus Military and American Companies
When Dwight D. Eisenhower warned American of the military industrial complex in his exit speech on Jan.17,1961 he didn’t say the military was bad or private contractors were bad, rather he said:
“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. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” – Read the full speech here.
In other words Eisenhower (34th President of the United States, five-star general in the United States Army during World War II, and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe) said that the people had to be knowledgeable and alert to ensure the proper meshing of industrialism and our military “with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together”.