US military spending

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United States Democrats and liberals are frequently criticized as being anti-military, with the correlation between military spending and presidential party affiliation being offered as evidence. There is clearly a correlation, and further analysis is needed, but it should be noted that (for example) military spending declined significantly under George H.W. Bush and grew under Jimmy Carter. Overall, there has been a mostly-steady decline in military spending since the end of World War II, rather than a clear oscillation between low Democratic spending levels and higher Republican ones.

Measures of Support

These criticisms are generally founded on the premise that a president should be supportive of the military, which seems reasonable. It should be noted, however, that sheer monetary spending is not the only measure of a president's support for the military; it is also important to note:

  • how effectively the president, as military commander-in-chief, uses the military (if such is needed)
  • the president's views on various proposed items of legislation which might affect the military
  • the president's outward attitude regarding the military

For example: although military spending declined steadily under Clinton, it is evident that the troops were in quite good shape and were well-prepared to respond in the event of at least one emergency – as evidenced by the Balkan Intervention and then later by the US 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, which was planned during Clinton's presidency. In general, Clinton seems to have taken the military much more seriously and treated them much better than Bush has done since the endless US occupation of Iraq began, regardless of the story told merely by looking at the budget.

Military budgets by president

Changeover years are credited to both outgoing and incoming presidents. GDP = Gross Domestic Product; DS = Discretionary Spending. Source:

President Years Party % of GDP % of DS
Bill Clinton 1993-2001 D 3.4444444444444
(4.4, 4.0, 3.7, 3.5, 3.3, 3.1, 3.0, 3.0, 3.0)
(54.2, 52.1, 50.2, 49.9, 49.6, 48.9, 48.2, 48.0, 47.1)
George H.W. Bush 1989-1993 R 4.92
(5.6, 5.2, 4.6, 4.8, 4.4)
(62.2, 60.0, 59.9, 56.7, 54.2)
Ronald Reagan 1981-1989 R 5.8444444444444
(5.1, 5.7, 6.1, 5.9, 6.1, 6.2, 6.1, 5.8, 5.6)
(51.3, 57.0, 59.4, 60.1, 60.9, 62.4, 63.6, 62.6, 62.2)
Jimmy Carter 1977-1981 D 4.84
(4.9, 4.7, 4.6, 4.9, 5.1)
(49.5, 47.8, 48.7, 48.7, 51.3)



Filed Links

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  • "Republics have large paid standing armies at their peril. The peril may be adventurism and imperialism ("What's the use of having this powerful army if we can't use it?") or something worse, but the result is never very good. When recruitment becomes an important military activity there's something wrong." – Jerry Pournelle [1], conservative author