Research: Publications

The Military Budget and the Costs of War: The Coming Trump Storm

April 12, 2017 | Report

By William D. Hartung

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Donald Trump’s recent decision to launch a cruise missile strike at a Syrian air base in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed at least 70 people is the latest sign that his administration is rapidly departing from his campaign pledges to pursue a policy of military restraint in the Middle East. One question raised by the bombing is how it will impact upon the prospects for getting his proposed military buildup through a deeply divided Congress.

“The recent missile strikes in Syria and stepped up military activity in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq suggest that Donald Trump is not pursuing the policy of military restraint that he nodded towards in some of his campaign rhetoric,” said William D. Hartung of the Center for International Policy, a coauthor of the report. “This stepped up military activity suggests that he will fight all the harder for his proposed buildup in national security spending.”

“The Trump administration’s military-first budget will starve diplomacy and domestic programs that are essential for the safety and security of the American public,” notes co-author Catherine Lutz of the Watson Institute’s Costs of War project. “In the meantime, the administration is wasting money on big ticket weapons systems like a new generation of nuclear weapons that will make the world a far more dangerous place.”

In short, says Hartung, “President Trump is overspending on defense, and the hundreds of billions he proposes to spend represent misguided priorities that are more likely to lead to more misguided wars while undermining the basic security of the United States and the world.  We can and must do better.”

Major findings of the report include:

-- Trump's proposed increase in Pentagon spending of $52 billion is almost as large as the entire military budget of the United Kingdom, and larger than the military budgets of France, Japan, or Germany.

-- The Trump increase comes on top of a budget for Pentagon spending and nuclear weapons of roughly $600 billion. That figure exceeds the military budgets of the next eight countries in the world combined, and is larger in inflation-adjusted dollars than the peak expenditure of the Reagan buildup.

-- This administration has been extremely slow to fill major national security posts, but the few that have been filled are heavy with retired generals and former arms industry executives – a resurgence of the military-industrial complex.

-- A full accounting of national security related spending – including spending on nuclear weapons, Veteran's Affairs, military aid contained in the State Department budget, and Homeland Security – pushes the total figure to more than $730 billion per year.

-- Under the Trump plan, the Pentagon's share of the discretionary budget – which includes all major government spending programs other than entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security – will increase from 63 percent to 68 percent.

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