US Military Spending Trends


US military spending trends between end of Korean War and present day


US Military Spending Trends

The US military spending was at its peak during World War II, where it comprised about 41 percent of the entire GDP (Oatley, 2015). At the end of World War II, US military spending experienced a dramatic fall to about 7 percent of the country’s GDP. At the onset of the Korean War, military spending increased slightly to about 15% of the country’s GDP. It is clear that the nature of ongoing war significantly affects the budget set aside for military operations. In wars that are closer home, the US spends significantly more compared to a situation where the US is protecting its allies. This paper examines the US military spending trends since the end of the Korean War to the present day

At the end of the Korean War, US military spending declined significantly in the years to come. For instance in 1953, military spending was at its highest at about 15% of GDP, and falling to about 13% of the GDP in the following year (Oatley, 2015). From 1955 to 1965, the US reduced its share of military spending to an average of 10% of the GDP. The reason for the over 10% of GDP military spending is due to tension between the Western Bloc comprising of US and its’ allies and the Eastern Bloc comprising of the Soviet Union and its’ allies. Tension between these blocs led to the Cold War, which lasted until the early 1990s. Between 1966 and 1968, there was a slight spike in the US military spending from about 7% of GDP to about 10% of GDP. The slight increase in military spending was triggered by Vietnam War buildup (Higgs, 1988). Another factor was growing tension between the US and Germany.

From 1968, US military spending declined significantly over the coming years. The US military spending averaged 5% of GDP between 1972 and 1978 (Oatley, 2015). From 1982, a buildup began, which involved increasing the military arsenal of the US. The increase in military spending coincides with Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The increase resulted to a spending of about 7% of the GDP. The US government maintained the large spending up to 1988 when it declined. The slight increase in this period is not associated with any major war, and was perhaps President Reagan’s personal decision to prop up the US military in case of war or an attack on American soil (Higgs, 1988). It is also worth noting that the government could have been considering the possibility of responding to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Between 1988 and 2001, US military spending declined considerably, going as low as 3.5% of GDP in 2001. The low spending in this period is attributed to the relative peace and stability that prevailed (Oatley, 2015). From 2002, US military spending increased significantly, attaining a peak of about 5.7% of GDP in 2010. By the end of 2001, it became apparent that US military spending would increase. This was after the September 11, 2001 attacks and the subsequent declaration of the war against terror (Chantrill, 2016). Following the terrorist attacks, the US invaded Afghanistan in an effort to capture Osama bin Laden and dismantle the Al-Qaeda group operating in the country. The involvement of the US in this war contributed to a spike in US military budget. The US received support from key allies such as the United Kingdom and NATO. The Afghanistan War and the subsequent invasion in Iraq became the longest wars that the US had become involved in, spanning for an entire decade up to 2010.

From 2010 to 2015, the US military spending has been on the decline. From as high as 5.7% of GDP in 2010, the US military spending has significantly declined in the last five years (Chantrill, 2016). For instance, spending fell to about 4.5% in 2011 and 4.2% in 2012 (Chantrill, 2016). The decline in spending is occasion by the US government withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq. In the recent past, the government, having capture Osama bin Laden, has embarked in an effort to withdraw all troops from the two countries and prop up new governments. In Afghanistan, the United Nations has stepped up efforts to end the conflict between the government and Taliban. In 2014, the US announced its plans to stop all combat operations in the country and to withdraw its presence from the country. In Iraq, the US withdrew its military in 2011, although there were still private contractors backed by the US government. In 2014, the US became re-involved in military operations in Iraq following an eruption of violence. However, this did not have a significant impact on the budget.

The US military spending is projected to decrease in the coming period. This due to relative peace and stability lack of imminent threats to US interests. It is worth noting that most of the spikes in spending are triggered by foreign events that threaten the sovereignty of the country or of allied nations. Relative peace and stability will thus result to lower military spending.


Chantrill, C. (2016). A century of defense spending. Retrieved from   

Higgs, R. (1988). Policy analysis. Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 114. Retrieved from   

Oatley, T. (2015). A political economy of American hegemony. Cambridge: Cambridge   University Press.

Explain how and why the United States got into the Vietnam War