Working towards peace and sustainability

U.S. Military Spending in Global Context


As you likely have heard, the U.S. has, by far, the world’s largest military budget. In fact, U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill for a military budget that is larger than the next 11 biggest spenders combined. And the majority of these countries are close U.S. allies or major trading partners. None has approached the U.S. with belligerence or threated to attack us. Moreover, we have vast oceans to the east and the west and friendly neighbors to the north and south. So, what exactly is this so-called “defense spending” defending us against?

When considering the massively bloated military budget we need to recognize that we are not just expending dollars. The real economy is an economy of human-made things—goods and services—labor and physical resources. Thus, we are not just spending money. We are also using raw materials, energy—most of it polluting and climate-altering fossil fuels—and the labor of our skilled workforce to make, maintain and operate all these bases, weapons, weapons systems, etc. The resources we are expending, in excess of legitimate defense, are wasted and not available to address real threats to our security.

We have to start by asking why we are spending such enormous amounts on the military, while we fail to attend to human and environmental needs? It should be clear that, unlike in the buildup to World War II, the U.S. is not responding to a militarily powerful adversary that is threatening us.

The best source of military spending information comes from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). They report that world expenditures for 2020 total $1.981 trillion, an enormous sum, with just five nations doing 62% of the spending. Both China and Russia have significant military budgets, but they pale in comparison to that of the U.S. which spent $778 billion, or 39% of the total. China, the second largest spender, spent $252 billion, one-third as much as the U.S. did (13% of the total), while Russia spent $61.7 billion, 3.1% of the total. The combined spending of these two supposed adversaries is $314 billion, less than half of what the U.S. spends.

Other big spenders were India ($72.9 billion), the United Kingdom ($59.2 billion) Saudi Arabia ($57.5 billion), Germany ($52.8 billion), France, ($52.7 billion), Japan ($49.1 billion) and South Korea ($45.7 billion).  Please note that all seven of these countries are U.S. allies, and their combined spending, $389.9 billion, significantly exceeds the combined total of China and Russia. No other country accounted for 2 percent or more of overall military expenditure in 2020.

Given the profound imbalance in spending, one can conclude that the U.S. military, unlike the other major militaries, has been charged with a very different mission than the others. That mission is sometimes referred to as Full Spectrum Dominance. The U.S. has forces based across the globe, on land, at sea, in the skies, and now in space as well as the cyber-realm. The mission seems to be American Empire and the ability to keep governments with agendas the U.S. ruling elites are not fond of from coming to power, or staying in power. Add to that the profit motive of the Military-Industrial Complex, and you get a recipe for massive and very dangerous misdirection of resources.

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