A trillion dollars+ per year

Putting aside the sleight-of-hand accounting that results in defense programs actually costing many hundreds of billions of dollars each year more than the budget calls for, the fact is that the United States spends more on defense and armaments than the next six big spenders combined. 

Why do we do this? Is it to promote democracy? Is it to protect the American Way against all comers? Is it to enforce our political and diplomatic will on others?

Some might argue, usually waving a flag or two, that all three are the reason for such large spending. In the same way, Victorian Britain justified spending an equally disproportionate sum on the Royal Navy as Britain expanded and then protected their Empire. And we all know how that ended up. What are the remnants of that empire building? Well, many nations became democratic with a parliamentary system and many of those nations stand as allies or at least non-reluctant members of the Commonwealth. And have the British people, in the last 100 years, seen a proportionate return for its investment? The very wealthy might respond “yes,” while the working class surely disagree.


The problem the United States is facing — in a direct parallel — is that our Congressional defense budget is about to hit $1 trillion a year. That’s $7,042 for every U.S. taxpayer. Every year. Trump almost got us there ($900 billion this year) but things are about to become much more serious. 

The National Defense Strategy Commission recently posted their findings. The commission was made up of some very serious and well-informed military and defense officials. Their conclusion? The policy of policing and containing events around the world will require an increase in 2020 and beyond of $200,000,000,000 to $300,000,000,000 a year. 

In addition, the current administration’s general treatment of allies as simple objects of U.S. patronage overlooks that they should be regarded as key strategic assets with which to promote aims and abate risks — and share costs.

Share costs. It has been a Trump message to berate NATO partners for not spending 2 percent heir desire to act as partners. Yet, when accounting is done properly, the NATO HQ in Bruxelles and outlying offices are not part of defense budgets, nor are German airfields and HQ of American forces outside of NATO — like the Central African Command (AFRICOM) at Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart or Ramstein Air Base near Frankfurt. Cost of property lease in Germany for such an expansive US footprint? Probably 1.5 percent of German GDP. Yet that is not accounted by the United States. Same for Italy (Aviano), Spain (ROTA) and host of others. And Trump berating Asian countries is no better: Our oldest and largest forces are part of the Indo-Pacific Command (PACOM) with bases at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, Japan, Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, South Korea, and Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. 

The problem we’re facing is that simple-solution increase annual defense budgets will deflect rather than focus attention onto the hard analytic and political work needed to make defense affordable and, more importantly, force diplomacy to prevail instead of enforcement. Think of it this way: Is it better to police, arrest, prosecute and incarcerate an offender at a cost of $75,000 per prisoner per year or is it better — and cheaper — to prevent the criminal tendencies in the first place? The way we’re proceeding on defense spending currently is all about enforcement, not prevention. In the end, like the Royal Navy empire defense, it will become too expensive, sinking under its own bureaucracy and budgeting.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.