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Trends in U.S. Military Spending

Author: Dinah Walker

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.

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Primary Sources

Department of Defense: Quadrennial Defense Review Report

The Quadrennial Defense Review is mandated by Title 10, Section 118 of the US Code, which states that every four years, the Secretary of Defense, with input from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, must conduct "a comprehensive examination ... of the national defense strategy, force structure, force modernization plans, infrastructure, budget plan, and other elements of the defense program and policies of the United States with a view toward determining and expressing the defense strategy of the United States and establishing a defense program for the next 20 years."

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Foreign Affairs Article

Accepting Austerity

Author: Cindy Williams

Instead of hoping that a political miracle will spare the Pentagon from the budget ax, American defense officials need to start preparing for the inevitable. That means bringing personnel costs under control, getting on with strategic planning, and reshaping the forces for today's missions.

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Must Read

Reuters: Behind the Pentagon's Doctored Ledgers, a Running Tally of Epic Waste

Author: Scot J. Paltrow

"At the DFAS offices that handle accounting for the Army, Navy, Air Force and other defense agencies, fudging the accounts with false entries is standard operating procedure, Reuters has found. And plugging isn't confined to DFAS (pronounced DEE-fass). Former military service officials say record-keeping at the operational level throughout the services is rife with made-up numbers to cover lost or missing information."

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Ask CFR Experts

Why can’t the United States cut military spending?

The United States has cut defense spending in the past, and it is doing so again today. In 1989, for example, the Defense Department spent $295 billion; seven years later it spent $253 billion, or about 14 percent less in nominal dollars. When inflation is taken into account, defense spending dropped by more than 25 percent during the 1990s. U.S. defense spending will likely follow a similar trajectory over the next decade with the Afghanistan war ending and pressure mounting to cut government spending.

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