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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.

June 25, 2014

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

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.




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?