Brad Plumer @ Wonkblog:
1) The United States spent 20 percent of the federal budget on defense in 2011.
All told, the U.S. government spent about $718 billion
on defense and international security assistance in 2011 — more than it
spent on Medicare. That includes all of the Pentagon’s underlying costs
as well as the price tag for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which
came to $159 billion in 2011. It also includes arms transfers to foreign
(Note that this figure does not, however, include benefits for
veterans, which came to $127 billion in 2011, or about 3.5 percent of
the federal budget. If you count those benefits as “defense spending,”
then the number goes up significantly.)
U.S. defense spending is expected
to have risen in 2012, to about $729 billion, and then is set to fall
in 2013 to $716 billion, as spending caps start kicking in.
2) Defense spending has risen dramatically since 9/11.
Here’s a historical chart
of U.S. defense spending since World War II in inflation-adjusted
dollars. There’s a big spike for the Korean and Vietnam wars. There’s
another big ramp-up during the 1980s under President Reagan. Then
defense spending got cut significantly during the Clinton years until
soaring to historically unprecedented levels after 9/11.
U.S. defense spending is set to fall again in 2013, though it will
still be as high in real terms as it was at the height of the Reagan
build-up for the foreseeable future.
3) The Pentagon’s budget mostly consists of personnel pay, weapons procurement, and operations.
In 2011, the Pentagon spent
about $161 billion on personnel pay and housing, $128 billion on
weapons procurement, and $291 billion on operations and maintenance— the
last largely in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those three items made up the
bulk of the budget.
Smaller amounts also were spent on R&D (about
$74 billion) and nuclear programs ($20 billion), as well as
construction, family housing and other programs ($22 billion).
My colleague Dylan Matthews created the graph above to show how these
portions have changed over time. Personnel spending has stayed constant
over the years, even as the number of soldiers in the U.S. military has
shrunk (pay and benefits have increased). Weapons procurement can vary
wildly. And operations spending has soared during the wars in Iraq and
4) The United States spent more on its military than the next 13 nations combined in 2011.
Needless to say, the United States remains the world’s dominant military power. The graph above comes from the Pete G. Peterson Foundation, which compiled data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
5) The U.S. defense budget is poised to shrink in 2013 and
beyond, although this won’t be the biggest downsizing it has ever faced.
Two big things are about to happen to military spending. The wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down. And, thanks to the 2011 Budget
Control Act, the Pentagon is facing both hard budget caps and a looming
sequester that would cut defense spending by about $1 trillion over the
next decade (compared to what was expected).
That’s a serious cut. Although, as the graph above from the Center for Strategic and International Studies shows,
even if the sequester is fully implemented, which no one expects, the
drawdowns after Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War were far more drastic in