In the past decade, global defense
spending has grown 45 percent, to over $1.3 trillion. That's about 2.5 percent
of global GDP. After the Cold War ended in 1991, defense spending declined for
a few years, to under a trillion dollars a year. But by the end of the 1990s,
it was on the rise again. The region with the greatest growth has been the
Middle East, where spending has increased 62 percent in the last decade. The
region with the lowest growth (six percent) was Western Europe.
third of global defense spending is in weapons and major items of equipment.
The rest goes largely for payroll and maintaining troops and equipment. Western Europe, for the most part, maintains
armed forces more to keep people employed, than to provide any credible
military forces. Britain is an exception, and still maintains a fairly large
force on a skimpy budget. Some European nations can scrounge together a small
expeditionary force for overseas operations, but even that's a strain. Most of
NATO's military power comes from the United States, while most of the criticism
of what the United States should do with their forces comes from the nations
that can't provide much themselves.
U.S. defense budget accounting for over half the military spending on the
planet, you'd think that records were being broken. Well, they aren't. As a
percentage of GNP, military spending continues a decline that has been going on
since the 1960s (when, because of the Vietnam war, defense spending was 10.7
percent of GNP). That went down to 5.9 percent of GNP in the 1970s and, despite
a much heralded "defense buildup" in the 1980s, still declined in the 1980s (to
5.8 percent.) With the end of the Cold War, spending dropped sharply again in
the 1990s, to 4.1 percent. For the first decade of the 21st century, defense
spending is expected to average 3.4 percent of GNP. Most of the current defense
budget is being spent on personnel (payroll and benefits), and buying new
equipment to replace the Cold War era stuff that is wearing out and to pay for
operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
needs are heavier than usual now because, during the 1990s, procurement was cut
to about 15 percent of the defense budget, instead of the usual 25 percent.
This was to be part of the post-Cold War "peace dividend." But then September
11, 2001 came along and the peace ended. Since then, U.S. defense spending has
increased about 60 percent. Not only that, but the remaining post-Cold War
forces would have to get their decrepit gear replaced anyway, and now that is
being done, although with a smaller (than during the Cold War) armed forces.
reason the defense spending, as a percentage of GNP, keeps going down, is
because the economy keeps growing at a fast rate. Since 1991, global GDP has
more than doubled, while defense spending has increased by about 34 percent.
Americans, like the rest of the world, are spending more money on more things,
but less of it on defense.