This March, when the Biden administration presented a staggering $813 billion proposal for “national defense,” it was hard to imagine a budget that could go significantly higher or be more generous to the denizens of the military-industrial complex. After all, that request represented far more than peak spending in the Korean or Vietnam War years, and well over $100 billion more than at the height of the Cold War.
It was, in fact, an astonishing figure by any measure — more than two-and-a-half times what China spends; more, in fact, than (and hold your hats for this one!) the national security budgets of the next nine countries, including China and Russia, combined. And yet the weapons industry and hawks in Congress are now demanding that even more be spent.
In recent National Defense Authorization Act proposals, which always set a marker for what Congress is willing to fork over to the Pentagon, the Senate and House Armed Services Committees both voted to increase the 2023 budget yet again — by $45 billion in the case of the Senate and $37 billion for the House. The final figure won’t be determined until later this year, but Congress is likely to add tens of billions of dollars more than even the Biden administration wanted to what will most likely be a record for the Pentagon’s already bloated budget.
This lust for yet more weapons spending is especially misguided at a time when a never-ending pandemic, growing heat waves and other depredations of climate change, and racial and economic injustice are devastating the lives of millions of Americans. Make no mistake about it: the greatest risks to our safety and our future are non-military in nature, with the exception, of course, of the threat of nuclear war, which could increase if the current budget goes through as planned.
But as TomDispatch readers know, the Pentagon is just one element in an ever more costly American national security state. Adding other military, intelligence, and internal-security expenditures to the Pentagon’s budget brings the total upcoming “national security” budget to a mind-boggling $1.4 trillion. And note that, in June 2021, the last time my colleague Mandy Smithberger and I added up such costs to the taxpayer, that figure was almost $1.3 trillion, so the trend is obvious.
To understand how these vast sums are spent year after year, let’s take a quick tour of America’s national security budget, top to bottom.