Goodbye Peace Dividend

I got the following chart from Wikipedia, and it suggests that on a per capita inflation-adjusted basis we're spending more on defense today than we were during the Reagan build-up, or Vietnam! Is this for real?


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Uh... I must be missing a joke here.

America is fighting two wars and occupying two large countries, far from its homeland, while still maintaining military bases all around the globe. What "peace" are we talking about?

Also: perhaps a graph of military spending as a proportion of GDP would be more informative in terms of actual burden?

"fighting two wars and occupying two large countries"

i believe you live in the UK? might explain why you consider iraq or afghanistan "large countries."

anyway, yeah, sucks we're in these useless wars....

It's awfully convenient that you cut off that graph before the projected decreases Obama is assuming will occur as we start to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Here's a direct link to the original.

toto's point is spot on. I don't think anyone that lives in NY or knows someone who has or is currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan would say that we are at peace.

40th and 56th largest areas out of 257 countries, bigger than most European and South east Asian countries. Yes, these are large countries, just because they are not as big as the US doesn't make them small.

Good post. Two points

1. Real spending can be stable while proportion of GDP shrinks
2. We're substituting capital for labor. Fatalities are part of cost, but those are way down

Indeed--those numbers must include the off-budget direct war expenses, though it's hard to tell how this was compiled or what they're including. The 2009 DoD budget, including budgeted war expenses, is much less than shown here.

The eternal war against someone or another is unchallengeable in either party. (How will we know when Terror is defeated? Will Osama Bin Laden sign a treaty? Wil every Muslim be dead?) It's come close to being the national purpose, justified in part as Keynesian pump-priming and investment in new technology.

Same for the War Against Crime. We can never win that one. The war is its own purpose.

Unfortunately I didn't clip newspapers around the time of the fall of the USSR, but the military-industrial-intelligence complex was in a real panic when they realized that the enemy was gone. They were scrambling around figuring out how to repurpose for the world of the future. One suggestion was to wipe out ecoterrorists -- a few thousand wackos operating on a shoestring who haven't killed anyone after twenty-plus years. Narco-terrorism, whatever that is, was another suggestion. Islamic terrorism was probably always #1, and Osama clinched the deal for at least 20 years.

"Terrorism" was always going to be the brand name. They just didn't know which tendency it was going to be attached to.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 02 Feb 2010 #permalink

Reagan was pro-war and pro-military spending, but he didn't really fight many. There was a secret proxy war in Central America (started by Carter), the rather jokey Grenada and Panama actions, and support for Thatcher's Maldives / Falkland war. Things started to heat up with the Gulf War, Clinton generally stayed out of wars while maintaining spending (Somalia was a hot potato from Bush I), and then came Bush II.

The rule now seems to be that Democrats won't roll anything back, though they probably won't increase it as much as Republicans.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 02 Feb 2010 #permalink

The Pentagon projects a decrease back to 2007 levels in 2012, and slow increases after that.

In terms of WWII or the cold war, we're not at war. We're occupying two defeated countries and dealing with a rather weak terrorist enemy. Nazi Germany and the USSR were enormous threats, and even the Korea and Vietnam wars, while not of world war magnitude, each dawrfed our present war.

One of the many slippery things the Bush administration did was simultaneously plan for a decades long war, but keep it off-budget for planning purposes. Going off-budget makes sense when a finite war is forced on you by an enemy, but this is a lot different. It should have been budgeted, because war was planned to be the new normal state.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 02 Feb 2010 #permalink

@JasonTD said,
"It's awfully convenient that you cut off that graph before the projected decreases Obama is assuming will occur as we start to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan."

I tend to consider projections like that to be next to worthless. (Politicians have a habit of not telling the truth and changing their minds.)