Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Peace through Strength? Excessive US Military Spending Encourages More War

Posted by M. C. on May 31, 2022

The surge in US military spending over the last two decades mirrors a dramatic increase in the number of US military interventions.

Mihai Macovei

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought America’s foreign policy interventions under the limelight once again. Ryan McMaken argues that the US administration’s claim that countries should not have the right to a sphere of influence, implicitly addressing Russia, is hypocritical. The US opposes a sphere of influence for Russia and other regional powers, while at the same time has steadily expanded its own global outreach. Among other, one can judge how true this is by looking at the amount of US military spending and size of its foreign military interventions.

The USA not only spends a disproportionately high amount of money on military relative to the rest of the world, but has also continued doing so when the Cold War was over and it could have set in motion a virtuous cycle of international disarmament. The USA has also multiplied its foreign military actions and engaged in controversial and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, harming both international peace and the global economy. From this point of view, Lew Rockwell’s scathing criticism of the US military interventions in Iraq and global hegemonic ambitions in general, appears still relevant after almost twenty-five years.

US Military Spending in Perspective

The US spends about 11 percent of its federal budget on defense, which is the third largest item after Social Security and Health, and costs almost twice as much as education. The US defense budget was $754 billion for the financial year 2022, before President Biden increased it by another $29 billion following the war in Ukraine.

However, this is not the full picture, because other federal spending is also closely tied to defense. The budgets of Department of Veterans Affairs ($113 billion), Homeland Security ($55 billion), the State Department ($64 billion), and the FBI and Cybersecurity in the Department of Justice ($10 billion) add another $242 billion to the base budget of the Department of Defense (DoD). By adding it all up, defense spending is set to exceed $1 trillion in 2022—i.e., 14 percent of the federal budget and 4 percent of gross domestic product.1

The US defense budget represents not only a significant burden on the domestic economy, but looks completely disproportionate relative to other countries’ military outlays. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) the US military spending is greater than those of the next ten largest military expenditures combined. At around $800 billion in 2021, the US military budget was almost three times higher than China’s ($293 billion) and twelve times larger than Russia’s ($66 billion).

Except for China’s military budget which has increased about ten times over the last two decades, albeit from a very low level, the steady increase in the US military spending has widened the gap with the rest of the World (graph 1). Together with its allies in Western Europe, the US spent on military three times more than Russia and China combined in 2021. As the annual spending differential between the US and other countries took place over many years, it means that the United States’ overall military supremacy in terms of stock and quality of military equipment is undisputable.

Graph 1: Annual military spending


Mahai Picture 1
Source: SIPRI

The key question is why the USA has not decreased dramatically its military spending when the Cold War was over and the main threat to its security disappeared. In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union’s military spending was very high at about $220 billion and almost in the same ballpark with the $300 billion spent by the US. However, when the Soviet Union disintegrated and its economy collapsed in the early 1990s, Russia’s military spending shrunk to a puny $10 billion on average during that decade. Yet, despite being a nuclear superpower, the US kept its military spending at the Cold War level of around $300 billion and later increased it exponentially during the War on Terror.

Endless Foreign Military Interventions Post–Cold War

The surge in US military spending over the last two decades mirrors a dramatic increase in the number of US military interventions. Monica Duffy Toft shows that US military interventions—i.e., the deployment of US armed forces to other countries—intensified over time, in particular after the Cold War.

See the rest here

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