In a speech last July, defense secretary Robert Gates defended his plan to terminate or trim dozens of major weapons programs by noting that, according to some estimates, the United States currently accounts for nearly half of all global military expenditures. Gates presumably was referring to a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released the previous month, that pegged global defense outlays at $1.5 trillion. The Pentagon says that U.S. defense spending in fiscal 2009 — the year that ended September 30 — totaled $662 billion. The latter amount is 44% of SIPRI’s estimated global total.
Some experts think that such comparisons exaggerate the level of U.S. spending by failing to take into account the actual purchasing power of defense budgets in other countries. That’s undoubtedly true with regard to China, but matters less in comparing our military expenditures with those of Britain, France and Japan — the other three countries rounding out the list of top-five global spenders. What’s more interesting is that despite the fact the federal government is running budget deficits of $4 billion per day and has to borrow money from China to sustain its current rate of spending, U.S. defense and other security outlays continue to rise.
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) stated in May that U.S. military expenditures would total $542 billion in fiscal 2011, not counting the cost of overseas contingencies. The military services subsequently requested $137 billion for overseas contingencies in 2011, raising the combined amount to $679 billion — about $700 billion when Department of Energy nuclear-weapons programs are included. More recently, though, President Obama has proposed increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by 30,000. Also, insidedefense.com reported last week that OMB has given the Pentagon an additional $15 billion for fiscal 2011 to cover anticipated cost increases in military healthcare and weapons programs. These new items would raise total military outlays for the year to around $740 billion.
A lot of so-called experts like myself have been predicting for years that receding threats, budget deficits and competing domestic priorities would force the government to rein in its spending on national security. So far, that hasn’t happened. The composition of spending is shifting — it is becoming less technology-intensive and more labor-intensive — but the amount keeps rising. So there is a real possibility that U.S. security outlays will soon exceed 50% of the global total. That’s quite a burden for the 5% of the world’s population that call themselves Americans.
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