U.S. Defense Spending: Cost/Benefit Analysis.

April 8, 2013, Democratic Perspective’s own Bill Timberman presented a thorough cost/benefit analysis of U.S. military spending. Following are his notes for the program:

68 years ago, the U.S. stood alone in the wreckage of World War II as the only undamaged advanced industrial nation. Our politicians acted on what they saw as their responsibility to put the rest of the free world back on its feet, and to guarantee its future peace and prosperity. By most accounts, the U.S. was successful at both tasks. Germany and Japan were stripped of their military ambitions and restored to economic and political health, becoming staunch allies of the U.S. in the process. The ambitions of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China to replace the U.S.-sponsored world order with a communist-influenced order more friendly to their own interests were held in check by a containment policy which relied heavily on the American military superiority of the immediate post-war period.

Today the world situation is very different from what it was in 1945, but the U.S. government has been slow to recognize the changes that have taken place since then. Our claims to manage and police the world order that we were largely responsible for creating are now more suspect in the eyes of the rest of the world. Our increasing reliance on military power, and on the increasing budgets necessary to maintain that power are looking more and more like a liability rather than an asset.

In 1945, despite the sheer size of the armies of China and the Soviet Union, the U.S. was both the dominant military and economic power in the world. Today, while our military is still dominant, and our economy is still the single largest economy in the world, we no longer control and in fact, no longer can control the world’s economy. Evidence suggests that the U.S. government is trying its best to ignore this new reality, and to retain its post-war control over world events by substituting military power for the economic power it no longer has.

Democratic Perspective believes that it’s high time we did an honest cost-benefit analysis on our military posture, to see if our role as the world’s policeman is still appropriate, and to try to get a handle on whether or not our current military establishment is worth what we’ve been paying for it.


Military Budgets for 2011 according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI):
USA: $711 billion — 4.7% of GDP — 41% of world budget — $2,141 per person

China: $143 billion — 2.0% of GDP — 8.2% of world budget — $228 per person

World Total: $1 trillion, 738 billion — 2.5% of GDP — $1,562.3 per person

In the U.S. case, this includes only the basic Defense Department budget authorized by Congress — it doesn’t include funding for nuclear weapons, veterans’ affairs, homeland security, or interest on the debt for past wars. If that spending is included, the total budget comes to approximately $1.03-1.42 trillion.

U.S. Overseas Military Bases

No one seems to know precisely how many military bases the U.S. has outside its own borders, but the total number, counting everything from battalion-sized forward staging areas in Afghanistan to giant installations like the U.S. naval facilities in Diego Garcia or Yokosuka, Japan, seems to be well over 1,000, and this doesn’t count installations like secret CIA drone bases. This number is in addition to the 4,999 bases which the Pentagon lists within the borders of the U.S. itself.

The High Cost of High-Tech Weaponry

The principal way that the U.S. maintains its military superiority over the rest of the world is by spending whatever is necessary to maintain its lead in weapons technology. To some extent this makes sense, given the manpower advantage of our potential post-war enemies, China and the Soviet Union. Our intercontinental missiles, nuclear submarines, and our 11 nuclear aircraft carrier strike groups are without equal now, or in the foreseeable future, but the cost has been enormous, and our reliance on high-tech weaponry can, and in some cases has resulted in increased development times, substandard performance and reliability, decreased procurement numbers, and weapons which are ill-suited to defend against threats which have changed since they began their development cycles. To give just a couple of examples:

F-22 Raptor: Entered service 2005. Procurement 187 @ $678 million projected total lifetime cost. Without having flown a single combat sortie, there have been eight crashes. Problems with the oxygen system have never been completely fixed.

F-35 Lightning II: Not yet in service (2015 for F-35B, 2018 for F-35A.) Procurement 2,443 @ $618 million projected total lifetime cost. Poorer aerodynamic performance, weight, thermal and lightning protection, pilot visibility, and stealth capability than design specifications originally called for. After a decade of development, the high tech helmet displays still don’t work.

The Increasing Dominance of the Military Over Foreign Policy

The total discretionary budget for the U.S. State Department in 2010 was $51.7 billion. The actual expenditure was $21.4 billion — approximately 3% of the Defense Department budget for that year, and 2% of its actual expenditures. If this is a valid indicator of the relative importance of traditional diplomacy in the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy objectives, it’s pretty clear that military considerations take precedence. Another interesting indicator: as of 2009, the State Department had a total of 22,000 employees, slightly more than enough people than it would take to crew 3 of our 11 aircraft carriers.


Europe and the NATO Alliance

U.S. attempts to extend NATO eastward, despite promises to the Gorbachev regime not to do so, combined with the U.S. insistence on stationing anti-ballistic defense systems in Eastern Europe, and our support for Georgia’s intervention in Abkhasia and South Ossetia, have arguably poisoned what might have developed into a more open and mutually productive relationship with the Putin government. The second Iraq war, which was opposed by a majority of the citizens of Western Europe, and the unqualified U.S. support for Israel’s policies toward Gaza and its expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, has weakened European support for U.S. foreign policy in general.


The Vietnam War killed 58,282 Americans, and left behind a Vietnam unified under the very communist government we went to war with at the outset. The two wars in Iraq have killed over 4,480 American soldiers and at least 110,000 Iraqis, destroyed the country’s modern infrastructure, displaced 6 million of its 32 million people, set off a bloody sectarian war, and left behind a majority Shi’ite government closely allied with Iran. The war in Afghanistan has resulted in a country ruled in the South by the Taliban, and in the North by warlords of with unknown allegiances. The U.S. supported government controls only the capital city of Kabul. The fragile political situation in neighboring Pakistan has at least in part been undermined by unilateral U.S. drone attacks in the tribal areas, the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, and the insistence that Pakistan act against its former Islamist allies in Afghanistan.

Nuclear Proliferation

A number of strategists think that the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea, and the potential for developing them in Iran has been encouraged rather than deterred by the open U.S. threats of regime change by military action against both countries. After what happened in Iraq, the governments of both countries have reason to take these threats seriously, especially when it’s clear that the U.S. is much more circumspect about making such threats against countries which do have nuclear weapons.

The Middle East

Unqualified U.S. economic and military patronage of Israel, and its refusal to act against Israel’s repression of Palestinians, or to mediate even-handedly between the two parties, coupled with its support for autocratic regimes in the Arab countries and in Iran prior to the Khomeini revolution, has contributed to the instability in the area. This instability has led directly to the destruction of Lebanon, the upheavals of the Arab Spring, and the resulting chaos in Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, as well as the civil wars in Syria and Libya.

The Effects on Our Military Veterans

As of February, 2013, a total of 6,648 U.S. service members have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 50,000 have been wounded. In 2012, suicides of active duty and recently discharged military personnel totaled 325, or slightly less than 1 per day.

The Effects on Our Civil Liberties

Warrantless wiretapping and increased surveillance of U.S. political dissidents, including the operation of the CIA within U.S. borders, which is supposedly forbidden by law, is part of the domestic price we are already paying for the increased militarization of our foreign policy. If this trend is not reversed, it’s likely to have negative consequences for our civil liberties that at present are hard to foresee in detail, but in the future may be even harder to reverse.


These are some of the details of current U.S. Defense spending and what we see as some of its unintended consequences. The question we have for our listeners is this: Is this what you thought you were paying for? If not, what should we do about it? In a democracy, after all, that’s supposed to be up to us.

Sources: Stockholm International Peace Research InstituteWikipedia (Military Expenditures); Wikipedia (US Military Budget); Tom Dispatch; Wired.com; Atlantic Sentinel; Wikipedia (F-35); Wikipedia (US State Dept.); Wikipedia (New Carrier); Wikipedia (Russia-Georgia); BBC (EU Against Iraq War); BBC (Europeans Against Iraq War); Wikipedia (Vietnam War); Global Research (NATO); Wikipedia (Iraq War); Washington Post; HuffPost; The Guardian; Wikipedia (HSA); CNet; Wikipedia (Surveillance Act)

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