December 18, 2022

US War Machine Gets Larger and Larger

Vijay Prashad

EACH year, the United States government passes a military budget that gets larger and larger, obscene really given the cost-of-living crisis that afflicts the world and the enormous challenges of climate change and environmental destruction. So many better ways to spend the massive social surplus extracted from living labour, and yet the US Congress – in an act of bipartisan enthusiasm – chose to allocate for the US military an annual amount of $858 billion, $45 billion more than requested by US President Joe Biden. A close look at the US budget reveals, however, that this figure in the formal budgetary request is only a part of the total US spending on its war machine. A more accurate total is $1.64 trillion absorbed by the US military. Given that the total global military spending was $2.1 trillion in 2021, this new figure from the US budget will certainly lift the already record-breaking numbers and heave humanity further from being able to solve our common problems. What a remarkable waste of resources.

The $2 trillion figure comes from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which collects national figures on military expenditure. Each year the SIPRI list reveals that the United States spends far more than the next nine top spenders combined. The top five spenders – the United States, China, India, the United Kingdom, and Russia – together account for 62 per cent of global expenditure, the lion’s share by the United States (China, the second largest spender, accounts for $293 billion, India, the third largest, is at $76 billion). These are well-known numbers. What is given less attention is that the increase in this year’s US military budget by $80 billion is higher than the entire military budget of close to every country in the world (for instance, Germany spent $56 billion on its military in 2021, while Japan spent $54 billion). The sheer scale of US military spending requires careful consideration because after a certain amount of spending it is not just the size or the quantity of the US military establishment that distinguishes it from other military forces, but its quality and therefore its ability to do things that no other military force is capable of doing.


No other country in the world has the kind of global footprint established by the United States, which has nearly a thousand military bases and forward operating posts in more than half the countries in the world. Add to that the almost 500 military ships (including carrier strike groups) and the over 5000 aircraft that the US military has in deployment as well as the 5,500 nuclear warheads and the 1,800 methods of delivery of bombs, and you get a sense of the scale of the military imprint that the United States has on the planet. No other country’s armed forces come near the size and range of the United States military. There is not one country in the world that is far enough from this war machine to be certain that it cannot be pummelled by the immense force of the United States military.

It is difficult to imagine that this vast arsenal of destruction is merely for defence or for decoration. Indeed, since 1776 – when the United States was founded – it has been at war with one adversary or another, from the wars against the native peoples of the continent (the Chickamauga War of 1776-1794) to the current war it provoked and is now funding in Ukraine (2014-2022). There has never been a time when the United States was not using its increasingly powerful military forces against somebody, somewhere on the planet. Not only does the fact of the US wars provide evidence that it uses its weaponry and does not merely showcase it, indeed the strategic documents of the United States use extraordinarily belligerent language against those that Washington believes are adversaries. In the National Security Strategy (2022) and in the Nuclear Posture Review (2022), the United States argues that it will use its military to contain or weaken Russia and China (with some modest distinctions between the two countries, although both are treated as adversaries). The language is chilling, because the Nuclear Posture Review talks about the right of the United States to use a nuclear bomb to ‘deter strategic attacks’, not nuclear attacks but any strategic attack. This, combined with Washington’s refusal to adopt a ‘no first use’ strategy, with Washington’s modernisation of its nuclear arsenal, and with Washington’s withdrawal from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Missile Treaty, has meant the fear by many countries – certainly by China and Russia – that the United States might position intermediate-range missiles in their vicinity and arm them with nuclear warheads. It does not settle nerves that the Japanese government has put on the table a nuclear weapon sharing agreement with the United States, which mimics the agreement that the US has with NATO – to allow US nuclear weapons to be stationed and controlled by US commanders. The language in these texts speaks of the US seeking to ‘prevail’ in these conflicts, which is a deadly word that hints at the possibility of nuclear annihilation in order to stubbornly maintain US hegemony.


To thwart the ‘threats’ of China and Russia, the United States has identified two frontline states – Ukraine and Taiwan, both of which are beneficiaries of military funding in this budget (as well as in previous disbursements). The new military budget provides $10 billion to Taiwan in military aid, while it adds to the several billion dollars of military equipment that the US has provided to Ukraine this year (for weapons systems that are being tested on behalf of private US military corporations such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon). The massive expansion of military weaponry to Ukraine can be gauged from the fact that till now, the US has publicly provided Ukraine’s military with only 1,400 Stinger missiles but it will now receive a much expanded 20,000 such anti-aircraft missiles. The weapons to Taiwan and the build-up of the US’s Indo-Pacific fleet as well as the deal to move nuclear-weapons carrying B-52 and B-1 bombers to Australia has deepened the alarm in Beijing, which will be forced to take defensive measures. Meanwhile, the weapons to Ukraine prevent the possibility of an immediate ceasefire and peace deal since these weapons allow the government of Ukraine to see their maximum demands (such as Russia withdrawing from all parts of what had been the Ukraine, including the Crimea, a demand that Moscow will not meet, and therefore will result in the continuation of this war).

Part of the reckless manoeuvre to conduct simultaneous conflicts with Russia and China has meant that the United States has had to increase troop levels for its European Deterrence Initiative (against Russia) by 120,000 troops to be stationed in Europe and increased its spending for its Pacific Deterrence Initiative (against China) by $11.5 billion. As part of this two-front war, the US military industrial complex has pledged to bring new weapons systems online, such as the submarine-launched tactical nuclear weapon (a key part of the nuclear triad). These bolstered European and Pacific Deterrence Initiatives produce conflicts rather than find ways to manage disputes.

Meanwhile, the US military-industrial complex continues to shatter records in its profits: thus far in 2022, Lockheed Martin made $4.2 billion, while Raytheon made $3.9 billion. They are legacy beneficiaries of the US defence spending, expenditure which receives barely any oversight and when it is investigated, it fails every audit. In the madness of war, there is money to be made – which is good for private corporations – and there is instability to be sown in the world – which is bad for humanity and for nature.