Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


The Military Budget Grows Bigger and Bigger

William H. Wiist

By approving the FY2019 military budget not only did the U.S. Congress and President continue the long history of massive budgets for the military, they exceeded even their past largesse.  In June of 2018 the Senate voted 85-to-10 to give the military one of the largest budgets in modern U.S. history. The bill signed by the president on August 13, 2018 provides a $639 billion baseline budget for the military (total of $717 billion), an increase of $16 billion over the current year (Gearan, Sonne, and Nakamura 2018; Stein 2018). Among other things, funding was authorized for 77 new F-35 fighter jets, costing $7.6 billion, development of the B-21 bomber, increases in the size of the military active duty forces by 15,600 and a 2.6% pay raise for the military. In addition, the budget includes $5.2 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund and $850 million to train and equip Iraqi forces (Garamone 2018).

A variety of arguments can be made that the U.S. ought to reduce its military spending, including that the large military budget diverts funding from other societal needs. For example, the National Priorities Project estimates that the annual military budget would fund alternatives such as 6.48 million elementary school teachers for one year, provide healthcare for 220.82 million children for one year, or solar electricity for a year for 364.26 million households (National Priorities Project nd). The amount spent to date in the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would bring every person in the U.S. who lives below the poverty line to above the poverty line for the next thirty years (White 2017).

In addition, $1 billion in military spending creates approximately 11,200 jobs in contrast to the 26,700 that that amount would create in education, 16,800 in clean energy, and 17,200 in health care (Watson Institute 2015)., Although for health professionals our primary concern is ending the effects of war itself including deaths,  physical injuries and mental health and social problems, spread of contagious disease, destruction of infrastructure, damage to the natural environment, and famine, this one benefit, increased funding for health, education, etc. is sufficient reason to reduce spending on the military.

$1 billion in military spending creates approximately 11,200 jobs in contrast to the 26,700 that that amount would create in education, 16,800 in clean energy, and 17,200 in health care (Watson Institute 2015).

The forces opposing reductions to the military spending are strong, organized and entrenched in U.S. society. Congress has been “captured” by the large and wealthy military industries through their lobbying, election campaign donations, and the Pentagon-industry revolving door (Pemberton 2017). Military contractors also spread their facilities across congressional districts so that members of the House of Representatives fear that cuts to the military budget would affect local economies and their chances of reelection (Thorpe 2014). One facet of the military budget that Congress ignores is its impact on the federal deficit.

Shortly before the 2019 budget was approved the announcement was made that in the first 10 months of the 2018 budget year the budget deficit was $684 billion, a 20.8% increase over the same time last year, revenues had increased by only 1%, and there is a projected deficit of $1 trillion in 2019 (Associated Press 2018). Frequently when Congress discusses the deficit there are calls for cuts to programs like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Highway Administration, and other domestic programs  even though the military budget is larger than the budget for non-military programs (Koshgarian 2018).

Although spending on “defense” (including Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy—responsible for nuclear weapons, the CIA, Coast Guard, and other agencies) is massive (about $1 trillion/year), there is little discussion among federal policy-makers about reducing spending for the military and directing more funding to the pressing and growing domestic problems such as public health, deteriorating infrastructure, etc. All health professionals (including psychologists) need to make research and policy advocacy for federal budgets that emphasizes domestic programs a priority in their work.

Reviews and endorsements for Preventing War and Promoting Peace

“This is a book that needs to be read, particularly, now that the sounds of war are appearing again in the chambers of power. It’s important to inform the public about the dangers of war and health professionals have a major responsibility in this task.” – Vicente Navarro, The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Chief Editor of the International Journal of Health Services

“This pathbreaking book provides an enlightening and inspiring analysis of the connections among war, empire, and health. Especially during this historical period of what has been called ‘permanent war’, as resistance to war as a tool of the failing capitalist economic system is growing around the world, the contributions in this book become essential reading in understanding our current situation and struggling to change it.” – Howard Waitzkin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico, and Director, Civilian Medical Resources Network.

Find out more about: Preventing War and Promoting Peace: A Guide for Health Professionals – Now available in Paperback!




Associated Press. 2018. “US Budget Deficit Totals $76.9 Billion in July.” New York Times, August 10. Accessed August 17, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2018/08/10/us/politics/ap-us-budget-deficit.html.

Garamon, Jim. 2018. “President Signs Fiscal 2019 Defense Authorization Act at Fort Drum Ceremony.” DoD News, August 13. Accessed August 17, 2018. https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1601016/president-signs-fiscal-2019-defense-authorization-act-at-fort-drum-ceremony/

Gearan, Anne, Paul Sonne, and David Nakamura. 2018. “Trump signs defense bill but snubs the senator the legislation is named after — John McCain” New York Times,  August 13. Accessed August 17, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-to-sign-defense-bill-named-after-one-of-his-leading-critics–john-mccain/2018/08/13/8dc4c1d8-9f07-11e8-8e87-c869fe70a721_story.html?utm_term=.a778273b578a.

National Priorities Project. “Trade-offs: Your Money, Your Choices. Last updated March 2018. https://www.nationalpriorities.org/interactive-data/trade-offs/

Koshgarian, Lindsay.  2018. “House GOP Budget Calls for Drastic Cuts to Domestic Programs”
June 21. https://www.nationalpriorities.org/blog/2018/06/21/house-gop-budget-calls-drastic-cuts-domestic-programs/.

Pemberton, Miriam. 2017. “The War Profiteers: Defense Contractors Driving the Permanent War Economy.” In Preventing War and Promoting Peace: A Guide for Health Professionals. Edited by William H. Wiist and Shelley K. White, 116-128. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Stein, Jeff. 2018. “U.S. military budget inches closer to $1 trillion mark, as concerns over federal deficit grow.” Washington Post, June 19. Accessed August 17, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/06/19/u-s-military-budget-inches-closer-to-1-trillion-mark-as-concerns-over-federal-deficit-grow/?utm_term=.907e901b582b

Thorpe, Rebecca. 2014. The American Warfare State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. “Costs of War: Employment Impact.” Last updated  February 2015. https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/economic/economy/employment

White, Jonathan. 2017. “A Gluttonous Military Budget Leaves Our Social Welfare in Poor Health.” In Preventing War and Promoting Peace: A Guide for Health Professionals. Edited by William H. Wiist and Shelley K. White, 205-216. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


1 William H. Wiist holds a Courtesy Faculty appointment in the School of Biological and Population Health Sciences at Oregon State University. Prior to formal retirement he was a Professor of Health Science and a Senior Scientist in the Interdisciplinary Health Policy Institute at Northern Arizona University, where his policy work focused on the influence of corporations on health, policy and democracy.

About The Author

William H. Wiist

William H. Wiist holds a Courtesy Faculty appointment in Global Health at the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University. He previously served as Profes...

View profile >

Latest Comments

Have your say!