A Century of Defense Spending In The United States

USA EconomyMy Comments:  With deal with Iran now in play, the focus is increasingly on the choice between war and peace. We either come to terms with some kind of negotiated settlement, or we accept the idea of sending young men and women off to die once again.

I read recently that of the 239 years since 1776, the US has been involved in an armed conflict during 222 of those years. Yes, some of those have been to protect our friends, but too many happened with no direct physical threat to the homeland. So with all the money spend on defense, are we actually safer for it?

The chance that Iran, in and of itself, can mount an attack on the territorial integrity of the US is very remote. Israel is another question, but they have atomic weapons of their own and there are those in charge who are prepared to use them. In my judgement, that alone greatly diminishes any threat from Iran. But it does explain to some extent why Iran would like to have their own weapons.

by Genevieve LeFranc,  July 22, 2015


“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes… known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
—James Madison, Political Observations, 1795

The U.S. military accounts for a staggering 40% of global military spending, but this isn’t anything new, folks. The United States has been experiencing a century of extreme defense spending, and if we don’t slow down soon, this military spending could prove to be our country’s downfall.

The World Bank defines military expenditure as:

…All current and capital expenditures on the armed forces, including peacekeeping forces; defense ministries and other government agencies engaged in defense projects; paramilitary forces, if these are judged to be trained and equipped for military operations; and military space activities.

Such expenditures include military and civil personnel, including retirement pensions of military personnel and social services for personnel; operation and maintenance; procurement; military research and development; and military aid.

So it’s pretty clear military expenses cover quite a wide range of stuff. But just how much has our country spent on defense over the last 100 years?

Before WWII, and in times of peace, the U.S. government really didn’t spend that much on defense — only about 1% of GDP.

After the war, America found itself smack-dab in the middle of a global fight against Communism, and defense spending was more than 41% of GDP.

Since then, defense spending has never returned to anything less than 3.6% of GDP.

There have been four major spikes in U.S. defense spending since the 1970s. USgovernmentspending.com reports:

It spiked at nearly 12 percent of GDP in the Civil War of the 1860s (not including spending by the rebels). It spiked at 22 percent in World War I. It spiked at 41 percent in World War II, and again at nearly 15 percent of GDP during the Korean War.

Defense spending exceeded 10 percent of GDP for one year in the 19th century and 19 years in the 20th century. The last year in which defense spending hit 10 percent of GDP was 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War.

The peak of defense spending during the Iraq conflict was 5.66 percent GDP in 2010.