War has a huge direct financial cost, the vast majority of which is in funds spent on the preparation for war — or what’s thought of as ordinary, non-war military spending. Very roughly, the world spends $2 trillion every year on militarism, of which the United States spends about half, or $1 trillion. This U.S. spending also accounts for roughly half of the U.S. government’s discretionarybudget each year and is distributed through several departments and agencies. Much of the rest of world spending is by members of NATO and other allies of the United States, although China ranks second in the world.
Not every well-known measure of military spending accurately conveys the reality. For example, the Global Peace Index (GPI) ranks the United States near the peaceful end of the scale on the factor of military spending. It accomplishes this feat through two tricks. First, the GPI lumps the majority of the world’s nations all the way at the extreme peaceful end of the spectrum rather than distributing them evenly.
Second, the GPI treats military spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) or the size of an economy. This suggests that a rich country with a huge military can be more peaceful than a poor country with a small military. This is not just an academic question, as think tanks in Washington urge spending a higher percentage of GDP on the military, exactly as if one should invest more in warfare whenever possible, without waiting for a defensive need.
In contrast to the GPI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) lists the United States as the top military spender in the world, measured in dollars spent. In fact, according to SIPRI, the United States spends as much on war and war preparation as most of the rest of the world combined. The truth may be more dramatic still. SIPRI says U.S. military spending in 2011 was $711 billion. Chris Hellman of the National Priorities Project says it was $1,200 billion, or $1.2 trillion. The difference comes from including military spending found in every department of the government, not just “Defense,” but also Homeland Security, State, Energy, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Veterans Administration, interest on war debts, etc. There’s no way to do an apples-to-apples comparison to other nations without accurate credible information on each nation’s total military spending, but it is extremely safe to assume that no other nation on earth is spending $500 billion more than is listed for it in the SIPRI rankings.
While North Korea almost certainly spends a much higher percentage of its gross domestic product on war preparations than the United States does, it almost certainly spends less than 1 percent what the United States spends.
Wars can cost even an aggressor nation that fights wars far from its shores twise as much in indirect expenses as in direct expenditures. Economists calculate the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan have cost, not the $2 trillion spent by the U.S. government, but a total of $6 trillion when indirect expenses are considered, including future care of veterans, interest on debt, impact on fuel costs, lost opportunities, etc. This doesn’t include the much greater cost of the increased base military spending that accompanied those wars, or the indirect costs of that spending, or the environmental damage.
The costs to the aggressor, enormous as they are, can be small in comparison to those of the nation attacked. For example, Iraq’s society and infrastructure have been destroyed. There is extensive environmental damage, a refugee crisis, and violence lasting well beyond the war. The financial costs of all the buildings and institutions and homes and schools and hospitals and energy systems destroyed is almost immeasurable.
It is common to think that, because many people have jobs in the war industry, spending on war and preparations for war benefits an economy. In reality, spending those same dollars on peaceful industries, on education, on infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people would produce more jobs and in most cases better paying jobs — with enough savings to help everyone make the transition from war work to peace work.
Recent cuts in certain areas to the U.S. military have not produced the economic damage forecast by the weapons companies.
So, in the short term, military spending is worse than nothing economically. In the long term it may be even worse. Military spending does not produce anything of use to people but depletes people’s supply of useful goods.
War Spending Increases Inequality:
Military spending diverts public funds into increasingly privatized industries through the least accountable public enterprise and one that is hugely profitable for the owners and directors of the corporations involved. As a result, war spending works to concentrate wealth in a small number of hands, from which a portion of it can be used to corrupt government and further increase or maintain military spending.
War Spending Is Unsustainable, As Is Exploitation it Facilitates:
While war impoverishes the war making nation, can it nonetheless enrich that nation more substantially by facilitating the exploitation of other nations? Not in a manner that can be sustained. The leading war-making nation in the world, the United States, has 5% of the world’s population but consumes a quarter to a third of various natural resources. That exploitation would be unfair and undesirable even if sustainable. The fact is that this consumption of resources cannot be sustained. The resources are nonrenewable, and their consumption will ruin the earth’s climate and ecosystems before supplies are exhausted.
Fortunately, greater consumption and destruction does not always equal a superior standard of living. The benefits of peace and international cooperation would be felt even by those learning to consume less. The benefits of local production and sustainable living are immeasurable. And one of the largest ways in which wealthy nations consume the most destructive resources, such as oil, is through the very waging of the wars, not just through a lifestyle supposedly permitted by the wars. What’s needed is greater ability to imagine a shift in spending priorities. Green energy and infrastructure would surpass their advocates’ wildest fantasies if the funds now invested in war were transferred there.