Opinion: The U.S. Spends Too Much on Defense

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

The United States has ranked first in military spending for years. In 2019, China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil—the countries ranking second to eleventh in terms of highest military spending—spent a total sum of $725.6 billion. The U.S. spent $732 billion.

In the last 20 years, the budget allocated for the Department of Defense, which oversees the military, has steadily increased, declining from 2011-2015 under the Obama administration, and increasing since then under President Trump. This pattern is normal; Democrats tend to decrease the military budget while Republicans tend to increase it. Despite this, members from both ends of the political spectrum have called to lower the military budget. Seeing as there are many other departments that have an equally significant—if not more significant—impact on American society that receive a laughable fraction of the military budget, the U.S. spends far too much on defense and should reallocate those funds elsewhere.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the U.S. has had major military operations in twelve wars, mostly in countries in the Middle East and Africa, and many of them have been long-winded and unproductive. These campaigns have lasted years, the longest being the war in Afghanistan, which began in 2001 and ended in 2014. Other ventures include the Iraq War, which spanned nearly a decade, and interventions in Syria and Libya. While the U.S. and Afghanistan have finally negotiated an agreement with the Taliban to finally withdraw some American troops, not all military skirmishes have resulted in favorable outcomes. General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, claimed he saw “no end date” for U.S. troops to leave Syria, and even though the dictatorial regime of former Libyan leader Muammar Al-Qadhafi has fallen as a direct result of U.S. support of rebel groups, Libya still struggles to implement a fair and just democratic political system.

Meanwhile, the Iraq War, one of the most consequential military conflicts of the last two decades, produced the infamous human rights abuses committed by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib—which included sodomy, rape, torture, and murder. Former president George W. Bush and his administration justified the war by claiming that Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was harboring Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the September 11th attacks, and that the U.S. government wanted to bring democracy to the nation. WMDs were, however, not found in Iraq, Hussein was not harboring Al-Qaeda, and the non-governmental anti-corruption organization, Transparency International, ranked Iraq 162/198 on its annual Corruption Perceptions Index in 2019.

It’s not just that the military has been misused, but that much of the money allocated for defense could be better spent elsewhere. This year, Congress allocated $738 billion for defense in its yearly National Defense Authorization Act. To cover all college tuition, the total cost would be $70 billion—9.5% of the defense budget. Senator Bernie Sanders has also proposed a plan in which the federal government would pay only $47 billion of the cost while the states cover the rest.

In 2012, the Department of Housing and Urban Development stated that chronic homelessness could’ve been eradicated for an annual budget of $20 billion, which is 2.7% of today’s defense budget. There were roughly 621,553 homeless people in 2012. Today, that number has dropped to 555,015, although this does not account for any new cases occurring after July 24th, the date on which the eviction moratorium dictated in the CARES Act expired.

The cost to completely reverse climate change would require an investment of $50 trillion by 2050; this amounts to roughly $1.67 trillion annually worldwide, meaning the U.S. would share this expense with other countries and would not have to pay this amount alone. Even so, this number may seem extreme, but seeing as the Department of Defense consumes more petroleum than any other institution in the world, along with the fact that the U.S. military frequently emits more greenhouse gases than entire countries, like Portugal, some might hazard a guess to say that the U.S. government is directly responsible for much of the climate change that has occurred, and should be held accountable at least monetarily.

In contrast to the huge military budget, this year, only about $76.3 billion was authorized for the Department of Education, $47.9 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (not all of this budget goes to eliminating homelessness), and roughly $9.1 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency. The first is about 10.3% of the defense budget, the second 6.5%, and the third 1.2%. Defense is important, but the amount the U.S. spends on its military is unjustifiable considering the scope of issues on the domestic front.

In an immediate release, the Department of Defense claimed that one of their main priorities for the fiscal year 2019 was to build a “more lethal force.” But why? Why does the U.S. need an even more lethal force when it already spends more on defense than any other country? Considering that throughout the past few months President Trump has called for the use of military force on American protesters on American ground, increasing lethality and expanding the purview of the U.S. military is not what Americans need.

Ultimately, what the U.S. should spend its money on is subject to much debate—some argue that the sacrifice made for environmental damage in the future will be far greater than any monetary expenditure the government pays today, and some think that acting on issues that affect Americans now is of greater priority. Even so, the U.S. government clearly has the funds to tackle and even eliminate certain problems but chooses not to do so—and when millions of citizens are suffering, this is absolutely unacceptable.