Image CreditDoes the United States spend too much money on defense?
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- Yes? But have you considered...
- No? But have you considered...
… how the U.S. defense industry benefits our economy?
People often talk about the military and defense industries as if they existed in a bubble outside our everyday lives. The truth is that our armed forces and the businesses and infrastructure that support them play a central, integrated and vital role in our society.
Millions of Americans are employed in helping to defend our country: Not only are there 1.3 million members of the armed services currently on active duty, but the Department of Defense employs a further 700,000 civilians in support roles. Add to these an estimated 2 million people who are employed to manufacture and design military equipment, and you have a total of more than 4 million Americans and their families whose income relies directly on the federal defense budget.
And that’s before you consider the many more jobs that exist in communities around every military factory or base that would also disappear if there were defense cutbacks. These are American jobs: Contrary to what you might think, more than three-quarters of the 2 million armed personnel and civilian support staff employed by the Department of Defense are currently stationed here in the United States, not overseas. And then there are the 1.1 million men and women who make up the National Guard and reserve forces, the 2 million veterans and their families who receive military benefits … the list goes on.
Military exports are also big business in America: In 2004 (the most recent year for which Department of Defense figures are available), arms sales were worth a massive $18.3 billion, or a third of the total value of global arms sales that year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Federal investment has made the U.S. arms industry a global leader on military technology, and our defense kit is sought after by foreign governments the world over, from the basic M16 rifle (made by Colt and now used by armed forces in 80 different countries) to the latest F35 Lightning II “joint strike fighter,” which nine foreign governments have already placed several hundred preliminary orders for, a number that’s eventually expected to grow to about 2,000 after the first aircraft are delivered in 2010.
Our military also plays a vital role in protecting the U.S. economy both here and abroad. When we hear talk of defending “American interests” around the world, this doesn’t just mean sovereign territory or political power, but also the businesses, economic investments and trade routes this nation’s industries and prosperity rely on.
Our armed forces don’t just benefit the U.S. economy, they defend it with their lives.
… that we simply can’t afford it?
The numbers are almost too outrageous to be believed, but the hard truth is that these days the United States spends as much on its military as every other country in the world combined does. This is despite the fact that Americans account for less than 5 percent of the world’s population.
As of mid-2008, the defense budget is estimated at $623 billion, but this may yet increase if more emergency funding is requested for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Already it accounts for more than half of the federal government’s discretionary funds and is the biggest single expense in the federal budget, costing more than mandatory spending programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
With dollar amounts adjusted to allow for inflation, the United States is now spending more on its military than at any time since World War II, including at the peak of both the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The increase in defense spending in the past year alone (a leap of at least $50 billion) is almost the same size as the entire $62.6 billion federal budget for education. And, unlike in the past, the government hasn’t levied a war tax to pay for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, relying instead on deficit financing. It is no surprise, then, that the projected deficit for 2008 is more than $400 billion.
Amazingly, this $623 billion total doesn’t even account for all our military spending. You can add to it a large proportion of the Department of Homeland Security’s $46.4 billion budget, a comparatively small $9.4 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration (which is responsible for America’s nuclear weapons and naval nuclear reactors, but is financed through the Department of Energy’s budget) and $86.7 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which looks after our troops after the Defense Department is finished with them. Plus there is extra funding for certain secret services, other military medical expenses and so on.
Even without these additions, our defense spending dwarfs that of our friends and foes alike, in terms of both total cash amounts and per-capita spending. For example, our nearest competitors in terms of dollar amounts — the United Kingdom, France, China and Japan — each spend about a 10th of the U.S. total on defense. And the difference in per-capita spending is often even more striking, with the United States spending more than $2,000 per head of population in 2008, compared with Russia’s $262, Iran’s $110 and China’s official total of just $30. Even if you subscribe to the view that this last amount is an underestimate, doubling or quadrupling it doesn’t make much difference when compared with the U.S. figure.
And the numbers keep going up. The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already cost us $850 billion (as of June 2008) in direct funding, but that figure is likely to be only a fraction of the final bill. One recent study, which factored in additional expenses such as long-term medical and disability bills for returning veterans, the price of replacing military equipment (which is used up and worn out much faster during active operations), and other costs to the U.S. economy, such as the growing budget deficit and the surges in oil prices the war in Iraq has caused, put the figure at closer to $3 trillion. That adds up to $26,200 for every single American household — and the study’s authors also say that their figure is an extremely conservative estimate.
Can you afford it?
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