current affairs

Is the American military underfunded?

This week Donald Trump announced that he was going to increase the US military budget by an extra $54 billion. The money for this will come from ‘dollar for dollar’ cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, foreign aid and other government departments. According to Mr Trump, this will redress the apparent decline of US military power, and make the country safe again.

So it seems like a good time to post this graph, which I’ve featured before. This is from the 2016 SIPRI report, and it shows military spending by country.


The US has under 5% of the world’s population, but 36% of the world’s defence spending. It holds the top spot for military spending by such a distance that you could fit the next eight biggest spenders inside its vast and cavernous defence budget.

US military spending had been falling for good reason – for the first time in a while, it wasn’t fighting a major war. While not exactly a time of peace, the big operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were winding down. You’d expect spending to fall.

In short, no, the US military is not underfunded. If Trump is throwing cash at the armed forces, it is for political and cultural reasons. Should have listened to Eisenhower.


  1. Whether the US military is underfunded depends on what you want it to be able to do and the threats it faces. You are being simplistic to say ‘look at this chart, they already spend loads’. You do seem to have chosen the chart that seems to make US defence seem overly large. As a share of GDP Russia spends far more.

    The threats the US faces are clearly asymmetric. Suicide bombers cost next to nothing, stopping them is expensive. Russia or China only need to be strong in one area, America has to be strong everywhere. The US is a global power that can quite conceivably face threats in more than one region at one time.

    They clearly are carrying our security. We spend 2% GDP and our armed forces are incredibly thin, Germany spends just over 1%. America makes up the difference. Putin’s willingness to use force to me suggests a more dangerous world than we have had for a long time. More spending is not unreasonable. You want the US to spend less. In which case do you agree we European NATO countries should spend more on defense so the US can spend less?

    1. Well that’s a good question isn’t it – what does Trump want to do with it? A move to a war footing without a current war could turn out to be a good way to start one.

      1. I do hope you haven’t fallen into Trumpitis where mildly left wing people think crazy things because Donald Trump announces something.

        He is not looking to put the US on a war footing. The international strategic environment has changed and the US is facing great power challenges for the first time since the end of the Cold War. China’s maritime challenge in the Pacific and South China Sea needs answering doesn’t it? That needs more ships and men that cost extra.

        This isn’t an area of your expertise and you just sound like a head in the clouds pacifist.

      2. I also see that Sweden is bringing back military conscription. Are they trying to start a war or is it one rule for evil Trump and another for Scandinavian socialists in your book?

          1. Rational: based on logic or reason. Yet you are just relying on assertion with no evidence.

            As I said defence spending depends on the strategic situation which you don’t address at all. It was reasonable for Germany to spend 1.3% GDP on defence 15 years ago when Russia was in a state of collapse. Not so much now Putin is on the March with a renewed Russian army. US defense spending has been falling for 5 years while the Chinese military has been growing in sophistication and assertiveness.

            You can debate that or you can retreat in to comforting sloganising. Still you will get plaudits from the echo chamber

          2. Today China announces a 7% increase in defence spending. As I say US defence spending is not in a vacuum.

            1. And which came first? Trump has said he wants an arms race, which would be great for the US economy and a disaster for just about everything and everybody else.

              Among the dozens of reasons why the US might want to spend more on diplomacy rather than military power, is the fact that the US doesn’t know where it’s military budgets even go. The military can’t account for trillions of dollars. So throwing more money at it is all about politics and jingoism, and nothing to do with what will actually make America safer.

          3. You reckon no other huge government organizations had money they can’t account for. DFID has huge problems. Under your logic we should be cutting their budget.

            You are not addressing the fact our world is becoming less secure and more unstable. Raising defence spending is one way to deal with that. Increasing Russian and Chinese assertiveness has coincided with declining US defence spending.

            Until you address the strategic situation you are just ranting about money and Trump. You don’t deal with defeat well, you took ages to get over Brexit and now Trump is sending you to crazyland.

            1. Don’t patronise me. If it were Obama or Clinton in charge of this decision, it would be just as stupid. It’s doubly stupid for taking dollar for dollar from the State department and climate change programmes – two things that contribute directly to US security. See the 120 retired generals that immediately told Trump he’s got it wrong.

              If America isn’t safe with a military budget of $600 billion, what makes you think it will be safe with $650 billion? If America’s military over-reach is one of the main reasons why people hate America, then more military power makes it worse.

          4. Well ‘patronising’ you appears to be the only way for you produce any evidence for your assertion.

            The fact remains this isn’t your area and you are forgetting the old rule that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt

            1. I think it’s stunningly obvious that the US military isn’t underfunded.

              If you think otherwise, that’s your prerogative. Nobody sits you down at gunpoint and makes you read this blog.

          5. It is astounding how many times in history ‘amazingly obvious” turns out to be completely wrong.

            1. Sure, and sometimes obvious is exactly what it looks like. Time will tell. For what it’s worth, I do genuinely hope that I’m wrong, and that Trump ushers in a new age of global peace and security.

  2. If the United States wants to continue on the path that it’s on–more or less constant war, enforcing a Pax Americana–we should bring back military conscription. NO deferments. We love singing G-d Bless America at the seventh inning stretch because it makes us feel pious enough to use our soldiers as insensate tools.

  3. Yeah, it’s a total waste funneling money to the military unless they really need it. I remember going to battle in Iraq back in o4 with sheet metal welded to our doors. Makes you think where all the billions are going? Bomb and ammunition yes, to the troops, never

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