Celebrate our mad trillion dollars in national security spending!

Summary: Celebrate another trillion-dollar defense budget! Much of that spending is irrelevant to the wars we are actually fighting and disproportionately large vs. the spending of our potential foes. Yet our geopolitical experts scream for “more”! While we burn money on defense our infrastructure rots. It’s the fast path to national decline. Only more public involvement in America’s politics can reform DoD. Click on the graphs to see the sources.

First, look at core military spending in 2016 (62% of total defense spending).

World Military Spending

A broader picture: the US share of world military spending

The US produces 22% of the world’s GDP and has 4% of the world’s population. But our military spending is 36% of the world’s total.

World Military Spending

Trends in core military spending

America’s direct spending on the military is below peak levels of the WOT (but the other kinds of defense spending have increased). See the following graph from “Analysis of the FY 2017 Defense Budget and Trends in Defense Spending” by Katherine Blakeley of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. OCO = Overseas Contingency Operations.

US real military spending over time

The above graphs show the size of national spending. The following graph shows the relative magnitude of each nation’s effort — as a percent of GDP.

World Military Spending Over Time

Where does the money go?

See America’s trillion-dollar National Security Budget, slightly revised from an article by Mandy Smithberger at POGO (the Project On Government Oversight). This includes all form of federal spending on national security, both domestic and foreign.

From Table 25-1 of Analytical Perspectives and Table 26-1 Budget by Agency and Account in the 2018 OMB Budget. All figures are $ billions of current dollars.

National Security Program 2017 as Enacted 2018 as Requested Comments
DoD Base Budget (Discretionary) 523.0 574.5 The “base” budget purportedly contains all routine, peacetime expenses; however, DOD and Congress have loaded tens of billions of such “base” spending into the Overseas Contingency Operations fund for declared wartime expenses. See below.
DoD Base Budget (Mandatory) 7.5 7.8 DOD often does not count this “mandatory” spending in its budget presentations to the public; however, being for military retirement and other DOD-only spending, it is as much a part of the DOD budget as military pay and acquisition.
DoD Base Budget (Total) 530.5 582.3 “Total” spending is discretionary and mandatory combined.
Overseas Contingency Operations 82.4 64.6 The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account operates as a slush fund for various pet projects for Congress and the Pentagon.
DoD Subtotal (Total) 612.9 646.9  Core military spending.
DOE/Nuclear (Total) 20.1 21.8 For nuclear weapons activities.
“Defense-Related Activities” (Total) 8.8 8.4 This spending is usually just for international FBI activities, Selective Service, the National Defense Stockpile and other miscellaneous defense-related activities.
National Defense (Total) 655.1* 677.1 This is the OMB budget function “National Defense” (also known as “050”) which is sometimes confused as Pentagon-only spending. *Available information did not include all FY17 enacted.
Military Retirement Costs Not Scored to DOD 7.0 11.5 This category shows funds paid by the Treasury for military retirement programs, minus interest and contributions from the DOD military personnel budget. The data for the amounts shown here are in functions 600, 900 and 950. As DOD‐unique spending they should be displayed as part of the DOD budget, but they are not by either DOD or OMB.
DOD Retiree Health Care Fund Costs -7.7 -6.7 These are net costs to the Treasury for this DOD health care program. See functions 550 900 and 950. As DOD‐unique spending, they should be displayed as part of the DOD budget, but they are not either by DOD or OMB.
Veterans Affairs (Total) 177.1 183.5  This will be growing for many years.
International Affairs (Total) 54.8 41.5  International narcotics control and law enforcement; Nonproliferation, antiterrorism, demining, and related programs; Other security assistance; and Assessed contributions for international peacekeeping.
Homeland Security (Total) 51.0 49.4  This includes Customs, ICE, the Border Patrol, Secret Service, and the Coast Guard.
Shares of Interest on the Debt 108.2 112.7 Total On‐Budget Federal Authorities are $4.1 trillion in 2017 and $4.3 trillion in 2018. Total gross interest paid (outlays) on Treasury debt is $474.5 billion in 2017 and 505.6 billion in 2018. The calculable shares of defense-related spending relative to the federal totals at 22.8% in 2017 and 22.3% in 2018.
National Defense (Total) 996.0 billion
1,033.0 billion

The POGO article included all International Affairs (mostly State Department) funding as for National Defense ($54.8B and $41.5B). I include only that which is directly relevant to national defense.

Mandy Smithberger

About the author and POGO

Mandy Smithberger is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

Founded in 1981, POGO is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. It investigates corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest. POGO originally worked to expose outrageously overpriced military spending. In 1990, after many successes reforming military spending, including a Pentagon spending freeze at the height of the Cold War, POGO decided to expand its mandate and investigate waste, fraud, and abuse throughout the federal government.

POGO is an investigative organization with an expertise for working with sources inside the government and whistle-blowers. Its staff takes leads and information from insiders and verify the information through investigations using the Freedom Of Information Act, interviews, and other fact-finding strategies. They then disseminate our findings to the media, Congress, and public interest groups through alerts, statements, studies, and journalistic reports.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about military spending, and especially these…

  1. The ultimate 21st Century cage match: Titanic Government vs. the National Security Iceberg — By GI Wilson.
  2. Do you know how DoD will spend a trillion dollars this year? by Winslow Wheeler.
  3. DoD is flush with cash, but running empty of ideas — By Chuck Spinney.
  4. Martin van Creveld looks at our military white elephants.
  5. While America’s infrastructure rots, we build the most expensive weapon ever.
  6. Stratfor looks at the arms race in hypersonic missiles: burning billions to accomplish nothing.

A great book about our mad military spending.

The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It
Available at Amazon.

From the pubisher…

“The Pentagon Labyrinth aims to help both newcomers and seasoned observers learn how to grapple with the problems of national defense. Intended for readers who are frustrated with the superficial nature of the debate on national security, this handbook takes advantage of the insights of ten unique professionals, each with decades of experience in the armed services, the Pentagon bureaucracy, Congress, the intelligence community, military history, journalism and other disciplines.

“The short but provocative essays will help you to identify the decay moral, mental and physical in America’s defenses; understand the various tribes that run bureaucratic life in the Pentagon; appreciate what too many defense journalists are not doing, but should; conduct first rate national security oversight instead of second rate theater; separate careerists from ethical professionals in senior military and civilian ranks; learn to critique strategies, distinguishing the useful from the agenda-driven; recognize the pervasive influence of money in defense decision-making; unravel the budget games the Pentagon and Congress love to play; understand how to sort good weapons from bad and avoid high cost failures, and; reform the failed defense procurement system without changing a single law.

“The handbook ends with lists of contacts, readings and Web sites carefully selected to facilitate further understanding of the above, and more.”

8 thoughts on “Celebrate our mad trillion dollars in national security spending!”

  1. Dear FM,

    Could there be a more wasteful and inappropriate jobs program than what we’ve constructed with the Military Industrial Congressional Complex? The thing that people have a really hard time wrapping their mind around, whether it’s defense or education or health care or whatever, is that we can spend far less and have much better outcomes in most, if not all, of our federal efforts. Why is there such a thing as the air force in the 21st century? Why do we have brown shoes in the navy any more? Why do we have a standing army? A black-shoe navy half the size with a marine corps with half the bird or better officers and no involvement in any of our current foreign wars is where we should be. If we want to beef something up, let’s beef up the Coast Guard, not because I think we’re being invaded and we need a sea wall (uuuge, big, beautiful, amazing, tremendous), but the Coast Guard, God love them, provides a service to our seagoing citizens day in and day out. Have you seen those guys board a boat? It’s beautiful! All those cuts, and we’d still be the preeminent military bar none. Nope. We gotta make sure a fifties 3-2 ranch outside Herndon fetches a million bucks or more. It’s not all for no reason, it’s just that the reason is it’s welfare for the already well-to-do. Who gives a flying flip if some Houthis have to bite it or we let the Syrians blend themselves up in a blender with blades made in America? Iran! Oh, right. Yeah. Russia! The last unpredictable thing Russia did was… Oh. Right. Never. China! Free Tibet! South China Sea! Those dastardly Chinese are going to prevent Chinese container ships sailing with Chinese goods to US ports, thereby mucking up free trade in the world. Just wait and see! As you can tell, I am resolutely unconvinced.

    Thanks for the post. Even so-called journalists have a hard time wrapping their minds around what actually constitutes the defense budget, but this lays it all out nicely.

    With kindest regards,


      1. Neil,

        About the article: it’s quite nuts.

        To believe that the nations of Europe should pay their share of US military expenditures is mad. There is little evidence that much of this spending improves US security, let alone improves Europe’s security. Russia is barely a developed nation, quite weak at $50 oil (which price shows no signs of rising anytime soon). They probably see low odds of Russian tanks charging across Europe.

        That so many Americans think we’re the world’s policeman is as odd as belief that we’re “exceptional”. Other nations probably don’t pay us for police services because they consider them worthless.

  2. Maybe a dumb question, but after a brief skimming of the linked article, couldn’t see whether our vast intelligence apparatus is included. I think that a goodly part of this expense could also be considered defense spending, as we continue to try to impose our will on the whole world, thus necessitating data from every backwater on the planet.

    1. Steve,

      “couldn’t see whether our vast intelligence apparatus is included.”

      That’s understandable. It’s buried in the DoD funding. For the first few decades, it was literally buried. Only the most senior members of Congress knew about it. Here is a 2013 WaPo article about the “black budget.”

      There is a story that the original funding for the CIA building was found by some appropriations staff and deleted — it wasn’t documented, so they thought it was a mistake.

  3. Pingback: Russian Federation SITREP — March 14, 2019


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: