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The US Military Budget in International Perspective



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The US Military Budget in International Perspective


However it is calculated, the US military budget is by far the highest in the world and in fact accounts for 43 percent of the world’s military spending. In 2010, the US official military budget (defense outlays only) was $698 billion. China ranked a distant second at $119 billion, followed by the United Kingdom at $60 billion and France at $49 billion (see Figure 16.3 "International Military Spending, 2010").

Figure 16.3 International Military Spending, 2010

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig16_003.jpg

Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (2011). Background paper on SIPRI military expenditure data, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex/factsheet2010.



Lessons from Other Societies


Guns or Butter?

“Guns versus butter” is a macroeconomics phrase that illustrates the dilemma that nations face in deciding their spending priorities. The more they spend on their military (guns), the less they can spend on food for their poor and other domestic needs (butter).

In making this very important decision, Europe has chosen butter over guns. The wealthy European countries that compose the bulk of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international consortium, spend 2.5 percent of their total economy (gross domestic product, or GDP) on their militaries. In contrast, the United States spends 5.1 percent of its economy on its base military budget, which does not include costs for veterans’ benefits, for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and military spending that falls outside the Pentagon’s budget.

The European nations’ decisions to limit their military spending allows more spending for social needs. As a result, observes one economics writer, most Europeans have “universal health care, deeply subsidized education (including free university tuition in many countries), modern infrastructure, good mass transit, and far less poverty” than the United States has. Perhaps worse, the United States ranks last among the world’s twenty wealthiest democracies in life expectancy and infant mortality and also ranks worst in the risk of dying before age 60. In addition, half of American children need food stamps at some time before becoming adults, while this problem is far rarer in Europe.

Compared to Europe, then, the United States has chosen guns over butter, leaving far less money for its social needs. As an economics writer wryly noted, “So remember to take pride in American power, and remember that it comes at a very high price.” In making this classic macroeconomics decision, the United States has much to learn from the wealthy nations of Europe.

Source: Holland, 2011 [48]

US Arms Exports


Another dimension of militarism involves arms exports by both the US government and US military contractors. Combining data on both types of exports, the United States sent $12.2 billion in arms deliveries to other nations in 2010. This figure ranked the highest in the world and constituted almost 35 percent of all world arms exports. Russia ranked second with $5.3 billion in arms deliveries, while Germany ranked third with $2.6 billion (Grimmett, 2011).[49] Most arms exports from the United States and other exporters go to developing nations. Critics say these exports help fuel the worldwide arms race and international discord. They add that the exports often go to nations ruled by dictators, who then use them to threaten their own people (Feinstein, 2011; Shah, 2011). [50]

“A Theft from Those Who Hunger and Are Not Fed”


Oscar Arias, a former president of Costa Rica and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, echoed these famous words from President Eisenhower when he wrote a decade ago that US military spending took money away from important domestic needs. “Americans are hurt,” he warned, “when the defense budget squanders money that could be used to repair schools or to guarantee universal health care” (Arias, 1999, p. A19). [51]

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig16_x008.jpg

The $300 million cost of each F-35 fighter aircraft could pay for the salaries of 10,000 new teachers.

Source: “First F-35C Flight,”Wikipedia, Last modified on November 20, 2011, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:First_F-35C_Flight.ogv.

Since Arias wrote these words, the United States has spent more than $5.5 trillion on defense outlays in constant dollars (see Figure 16.3 "International Military Spending, 2010"), including $1.3 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cost equivalencies illustrate what is lost when so much money is spent on the military, especially on weapons systems that do not work and are not needed.

For example, the F-35 fighter aircraft has been plagued with “management problems, huge cost-overruns, [and] substantial performance shortfalls,” according to a recent news report (Kaplan, 2012).[52] Each F-35 costs about $300 million. This same sum could be used to pay the salaries of 10,000 new teachers earning $30,000 per year or to build twenty elementary schools at a cost of $15 million each. In another example, the Navy is designing a new series of nuclear submarines, with construction planned to start in 2019. The Navy plans to purchase twelve of these submarines. Each submarine is projected to cost more than $8 billion to build and another $21 billion in constant dollars in operation and maintenance costs over its lifetime (Castelli, 2012). [53] This $29 billion sum for each submarine during its lifetime could provide 5.8 million scholarships worth $5,000 each to low- and middle-income high school students to help them pay for college.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan provide additional examples of “a theft from those who hunger and are not fed.” These wars cost the United States about $1.3 trillion through 2012, for an average of more than $100 billion annually (Harrison, 2012). [54] This same yearly amount could have paid for one year’s worth (California cost figures) of all of the following (National Priorities Project, 2012): [55]



  • 146,000 police officers

  • million children receiving low-income health care (Medicaid)

  • 1.7 million students receiving full-tuition scholarships at state universities

  • 1.6 million Head Start slots for children

  • 179,000 elementary school teachers

  • 162,000 firefighters

  • 2.5 million Pell Grants of $5,550 each

All these figures demonstrate that war and preparation for war indeed have a heavy human cost, not only in the numbers of dead and wounded, but also in the diversion of funds from important social functions and needs.

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