The U.S. Military Budget Is Getting Close to $1 Trillion. Is That Too Much?

U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier
March 21, 2024 Topic: military Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Defense SpendingU.S. MilitaryEuropeSaudi ArabiaMilitary

The U.S. Military Budget Is Getting Close to $1 Trillion. Is That Too Much?

The United States has a vested interest in upholding a respectable defense budget and a respectable fighting force. But defense spending has become disproportionate to our goals and needs.

Is the U.S. defense budget, by far the world’s largest and approaching nearly $1 Trillion, appropriate?

An argument persists, with opposing viewpoints claiming the defense budget is too high, or too low, or just right. Where one’s viewpoint aligns depends on strategic priorities. Of course, the strategic priorities of the federal government dictate the defense budget—and those priorities include being able to fight wars on multiple fronts simultaneously, upholding nuclear deterrence, protecting the homeland, deterring North Korean aggression, maintaining the War on Terror, supplying Ukraine; and hypothetically defeating both Russia and China in conventional combat. But are U.S. strategic priorities prudent?

And are the methods used for achieving those priorities efficient? Arguably, with adjustments to U.S. grand strategy, Washington could maintain its unique level of safety while reducing defense expenditures—which currently account for nearly half of all discretionary spending.

The Blessings of Geography

The United States exists in the safest geographic location of any nation on Earth. The entire Western Hemisphere is bereft of a potential rival—no nation on the North American or South American continent poses a legitimate security threat. What’s more, America’s most immediate neighbors, Canada and Mexico, are exceedingly friendly and easy to manage in terms of security.

Granted, instability in Latin America (Central America, Venezuela, Haiti) has caused friction, especially concerning immigration. Still, in terms of general safety, the Western Hemisphere is nearly ideal. Moreover, the world’s two largest oceans buttress the United States on the eastern and western borders, rendering a conventional invasion from a foreign adversary nearly impossible. Essentially, the nation has the world’s most providential geography and could likely afford to relax its defensive posture while maintaining an enviable standard of domestic security.

Everything, Everywhere, All At Once

The United States continues to insist on a very “hands-on” approach to upholding its security objectives. For example, the United States occupies about 800 foreign military bases. To put that number in perspective, consider that China occupies only two. The U.S. military is everywhere, all at once, from Japan to Australia to Germany to Nigeria to Bahrain. No other nation insists on maintaining a global footprint like the United States. But is the sprawling network of military bases necessary? Does the military need bases in Diego Garcia, Okinawa, and Crete?

Ironically, our presence abroad, while meant to bolster security, has inflamed international tensions and engendered Anti-American resentment indeed degrades U.S. security. The prime example is Saudi Arabia.

When Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait, the United States staged a counterattack (Operation Desert Storm) from bases in Saudi Arabia. After ousting Saddam from Kuwait, U.S. forces lingered in Saudi Arabia, maintaining a perpetual troop presence in a country home to Islam’s holiest sites. The occupation enraged Osama bin Laden, culminating in the September 11 attack.

Outsourcing the Burden

Washington has a habit of undertaking outsize responsibility for the well-being of allied nations (as the network of military bases suggests). Can the White House not implore its allies to shoulder more of the burden for their own defense, hence lowering U.S. commitments and defense spending?

The most obvious example is Europe, where the United States serves as the de facto leader in providing European security. But, interests in Europe aside, should the Europeans not be chiefly responsible for providing European security? If allies abroad shouldered more responsibility for their own defense, the United States could likely afford to reduce its defense spending or at least reallocate that spending to higher-priority areas.

Room for Reduction

The United States has a vested interest in upholding a respectable defense budget and a respectable fighting force. But defense spending has become disproportionate to our goals and needs.

A reduction in spending could inspire a more restrained foreign policy while maintaining unique American security advantages—and freeing up resources to invest in other priorities like infrastructure, welfare, and education.

About the Author: Harrison Kass 

Harrison Kass is a defense and national security writer with over 1,000 total pieces on issues involving global affairs. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the U.S. Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.

Images are all from U.S. DoD Flickr.