NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Looking At Military Spending

December 8, 1998

Military strategists today focus on an indefinite number of possible conflict scenarios when calculating and justifying their budget requests. These include another Gulf War, another Korean War, another Bosnia and another terrorist bombing. Critics say, however, that the military's mission seems poorly defined.

And military spending in recent years has focused less on strategy than it has on resolving competing political goals: for the U.S. to save money while remaining the world's preeminent superpower.

  • For fiscal 1999, the U.S. will spend $270.6 billion on defense -- or 3.1 percent of gross domestic product, compared to 6.2 percent in 1986 at the peak of the Reagan buildup.
  • The military budget accounts for 15.1 percent of total federal spending -- down from 27.6 percent in 1986.
  • The Joint Chiefs have told Congress they will need another $17.5 billion a year to fix short-term readiness problems -- like the lack of spare parts -- and to pay for long- term modernization plans.
  • The Pentagon could ask for a $25 billion increase in its next budget.

But analysts say that spending limits set in the 1997 budget by Congress and President Clinton make a much smaller figure likely.

Source: Brian Mitchell, "How Big a Military Do We Need?" Investor's Business Daily, December 7, 1998.


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