Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Death, Taxes, and the Continued Insanity of US Military Spending

John Feffer

Military spending combines the two certainties in life: death and taxes. U.S. taxpayers are paying more than anyone else on Earth to support an industry devoted to death.

Tuesday, Tax Day, Americans were treated to the news that our nation has increased its overall spending on the military. In 2011, the United States spent approximately $740 billion on the military, an increase of more than $40 billion from the previous year, and this doesn't include parts of the intelligence, Homeland Security and State Department budgets devoted to military activities.

The United States accounts for approximately 43 percent of all global military expenditures. The world now spends, according to new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, more than $1.7 trillion on war and preparing to wage it. This total for 2011 marks a nearly $100 billion increase over 2010.

This news comes at a time of continued global economic uncertainty. Even more paradoxically, violence between states has become increasingly rare.

Some countries, of course, are bucking the trend. Military spending declined in Europe last year for the third year in a row. Europeans have quite sensibly applied their austerity measures to what matters least: militarism.

The rest of the world is being less sensible. Military spending is significantly rising in the Middle East and Africa and modestly growing in Latin America and Asia.

The United States stands at a historic crossroads. As the world's largest military spender, we can literally bite the bullet and follow through on the essential task of balancing the budget on the Pentagon's back. Toward this end, Sen. Tom Coburn - a conservative Oklahoma Republican - has proposed a $1 trillion cut in military spending over the next decade. There's bipartisan support for his plan.

Mitt Romney, by contrast, wants to increase military spending to 4 percent of the overall GDP. He'd like to add, among other things, 100,000 troops and 15 Navy warships. Over the next decade, his spending increases would amount to $2.5 trillion over the Pentagon's current projections. A nation could buy a lot of education and health care just with that projected increase.

At the moment, the Obama administration is seeking a middle path of reducing military spending largely by drawing down the war in Afghanistan and scrapping one or two obviously anachronistic weapons systems like the stealth F-22 Raptor, which costs $143 million a pop. Obama's approach, although less damaging than Romney's blueprint, doesn't go far enough to save our economy or our country. We need to reduce military spending at least as much as Eisenhower or Nixon did after the Korean and Vietnam wars. They trimmed the Pentagon's budget by 27 percent and 29 percent respectively.

The problem isn't just about the production of weapons and war machines. It's also about their sales. As they brace for some Pentagon cuts, U.S. military contractors hope to cover their losses by selling overseas, reinforcing the U.S. position as the world's No. 1 arms exporter. Just like Philip Morris, arms merchants are merchants of death. If they don't die in conflicts sustained by U.S. weapons, the victims die from inadequate health care, lack of food and potable water, unregulated environmental pollution, and all the other problems their governments should have been addressing instead of buying weapons.

On Tuesday, people in 40 countries and more than 100 cities around the world participated in the second annual Global Day of Action on Military Spending. One of the demands of the people who took part was to treat weapons just like cigarettes and tax them as a social ill. This new death tax could both reduce the arms trade and generate revenue for critical human needs.

After all these years of paying taxes to support war, it's time we used taxes to build peace. The stakes have never been higher. If we don't get global military spending under control, it will be the death of us all.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Feffer

John Feffer

John Feffer is the author of the dystopian novel "Splinterlands" (2016) and the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. His new novel, "Frostlands" (2018) is book two of his Splinterlands trilogy. Splinterlands book three "Songlands" will be published in 2021. His podcast is available here.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Billionaires 'Had a Terrific Pandemic' While Inequality Killed Millions: Oxfam

A new report explains how inequality contributed to the death of 21,000 people each day of the pandemic while the wealthiest collectively got $1.2 billion richer every 24 hours.

Jon Queally ·

Biden Urged to Fire Covid Response Chief Over 'Damning' Failures

"Zients has failed to provide the materials necessary to improve the U.S. response, or the guidance necessary to keep the pandemic under control," argued one critic.

Jake Johnson ·

As Sinema Defends Filibuster, Progressives Say 'Vote Her the Hell Out'

"The filibuster is a meaningless Senate rule. It's a remnant of slavery used to block civil rights for generations."

Jake Johnson ·

Poor People's Campaign Readies 'Massive, Nonviolent' Effort to Save Democracy

"We are not in this for a moment, but for a movement," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. "Our deadline is victory."

Jake Johnson ·

Tsunami Triggered by Huge Volcanic Eruption Hits Tonga

The undersea volcano's eruption also sparked tsunami warnings for Fiji, Samoa, New Zealand, and the West Coast of the United States.

Common Dreams staff ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo