Rethinking America

Why Does the U.S. Maintain Its Bellicose Level of Defense Spending?

A former U.S. budget director asks why the United States continues to gear up for global war.

U.S. troops in Afghanistan (Credit: Artur Shvartsberg-U.S. Department of Defense)


  • The US should explain why its military spending rises even as the big conflicts decrease.
  • The US defense budget has nearly doubled since 1991. The Cold War ended - but the US keeps running in the arms race.
  • The US war machine already outsizes every threat. Why do the budgets get higher each year?

Flask in hand, Boris Yelstin famously mounted a tank outside the Soviet Parliament in August 1991. That was the moment when the fearsome Red Army stood down — an outcome which 45 years of Cold War military mobilization by the West had failed to accomplish.

At the time, the U.S. Warfare State’s budget — counting the Pentagon, spy agencies, DOE weapons, foreign aid, homeland security and veterans — was about $500 billion in today’s dollars. Now, a quarter century on from the Cold War’s end, that same metric stands at $900 billion.

This near doubling of the Warfare State’s fiscal girth is a tad incongruous. Let us remember that the U.S. war machine was designed to thwart a giant, nuclear-armed industrial state. Alas, Americans now have no industrial state enemies left on the planet.

The world has changed

Russia, the much-shrunken successor to the Soviet Union, has become a kleptocracy. It is run by a clever thief who prefers stealing from his own citizens rather than his neighbors.

Likewise, the Chinese threat consists militarily of a re-conditioned aircraft carrier bought second-hand from a former naval power, namely Ukraine.

Its bubble-ridden domestic economy would collapse within six weeks were China to actually bomb the 4,000 Wal-Mart outlets in the United States. After all, its mercantilist export machine utterly depends on tapping the U.S. consumer market deeply.

On top of that, in case anyone hasn’t noticed yet, the United States has been fired as the world’s policeman. Al Qaeda has essentially vanished and, during last September’s Syria war scare, the American people even took away the President’s keys to the Tomahawk missile batteries. In short, the persistence of the United States’ trillion dollar Warfare State budget needs some serious explaining.



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About David A. Stockman

David A. Stockman is an author, former U.S. politician and businessman. He served as Ronald Reagan's budget director from 1981-1985.

Responses to “Why Does the U.S. Maintain Its Bellicose Level of Defense Spending?”

Archived Comments.

  1. On June 25, 2014 at 5:22 pm usetheguillotine responded with... #

    The title of this opinion piece asks a hypothetical question. But Mr. Stockman does not attempt to answer his own question. The commenters are left to offer their own opinions.

    In my opinion, there are strong business and financial interests in support of unnecessary defense spending. At the same time, the press and the majority of the US public are easily duped into allowing a growing wastefulness of military spending. Meet the “Military Industrial Complex”!

    Are there any other explanations?

  2. On June 26, 2014 at 12:26 pm panasian responded with... #

    This is a real juvenile article, not worth a rebuttal. I don’t understand why the Globalist lowers it’s standard by printing garbage like this.

  3. On June 27, 2014 at 10:42 am Mauro Vaiani responded with... #

    Well, are you so arrogantly dismissive, because you too have realized that nobody wants to invade the U.S., their allies? It’s time to dismiss the useless and ineffective empire of bases.

  4. On June 27, 2014 at 6:33 pm panasian responded with... #

    What I have problem with him is his childish way of analyzing China. Also I’m not sure Al Qaeda has essentially vanished. But I do agree on that America should be more careful about intervening in other countries’ affairs.

  5. On June 28, 2014 at 5:56 am james smithers responded with... #

    Follow the money! The obese American Warfare State is now swallowing $100 million an hour in a world were the enemies are largely of our own making. America’s arms merchants are now so prodigiously productive and have so thoroughly occupied the our centers of policy decision-making and budget control, that stuffing the US military to the gills, and arming the American public to the teeth does still not satisfy them, such that they now are determined to arm the rest of the world, so that we will have real enemies! Consider, for example, that the US is now arming all sides in the internecine destruction of the post-Ottoman state system across the Middle East. The cesspool of corruption masquerading as the state of Ukraine, a drastically diminished Russia, the implosion of the Middle East –thank you CheneyBush-BushCheney–, together with the hallucination that China is about to swallow California alive are all invoked to justify still more arms, more senseless spending, more death, and in the feedback loop, more blowback, which requires still more spending on more arms. Just wait until Canada steps out of line! Can’t you already hear the hyenas screaming, “Who lost Canada”? Isn’t that what Stockman is saying? Follow the money! If you want to understand anything, that is usually a good place to start! Follow the money!

  6. On June 28, 2014 at 9:29 am originalone responded with... #

    It seems there’s no end to the pundits writing about what is & isn’t going on in the “Empire”. That said, Stockman lives in a bubble himself, but of course, he doesn’t realize it. Didn’t he preside over the Military buildup when the “Gipper” was in office? I guess he & his cohorts, especially Chenedy/Rumsfield played in the sandbox too, so they profit from WAR too.