Military budgets are only one gauge of military power. A given financial commitment may be adequate or inadequate depending on the number and capability of a nation’s adversaries, how well a country invests its funds, and what it seeks to accomplish, among other factors. Nevertheless, trends in military spending do reveal something about a country’s capacity for coercion. Policymakers are currently debating the appropriate level of U.S. military spending given increasingly constrained budgets and the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The following charts present historical trends in U.S. military spending and analyze the forces that may drive it lower.
These charts draw on data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Both data sets include spending on overseas contingency operations as well as defense. This distinguishes them from data used in the U.S. budget, which separates defense spending from spending on overseas operations.
- In inflation-adjusted dollars, SIPRI’s measure of U.S. military spending rose sharply after the terrorist attacks of 2001.
- In calendar year 2013, military spending declined from $671 billion to $619 billion, in constant 2011 dollars.
- In dollar terms, this was the largest decline since 1991.
- The reduction in U.S. operations in the Middle East and the sequester mean this figure is likely to fall again in 2014.