The devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout provide ample reason to reconsider what truly constitutes national security.
Such a reassessment is long overdue. Despite the trillions of dollars Congress and successive administrations have lavished on the Pentagon since the turn of the century, the massive U.S. arsenal and fighting force deployed worldwide are powerless against grave, nonmilitary threats to national security—from a raging pandemic to the fact that tens of millions of Americans breathe foul air, drink tainted water, and struggle to pay for food, housing and health care.
When it comes to U.S. spending priorities, the numbers seem especially misguided in an era of tight budgets to come. By the Department of Defense’s own accounting, taxpayers spent $13.34 trillion on the U.S. military from 2000 through fiscal year 2019 in inflation-adjusted 2020 dollars. Add to that another $3.18 trillion for the Veterans Administration, and the yearly average comes to a whopping $826 billion.
No other country’s military outlays come close. In FY 2019, the Pentagon’s budget was nearly three times bigger than China’s defense spending and more than 10 times larger than Russia’s. All told, the U.S. military budget in 2019 exceeded the next 10 countries’ defense budgets combined and singlehandedly accounted for a hefty 38 percent of military spending worldwide.