2009 Proposed Defense Spending Less than Peacetime Average

By Josiah Ryan | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The $515 billion requested by President Bush for non-war related defense spending for FY2009 equals a smaller percentage of the Gross Domestic Product than what the U.S. has usually spent per year on defense during the last 60 years.

According to numbers taken from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the FY2009 Bush budget proposes spending only 4.5 percent of the year's projected GDP. The historical average since 1946 has been 6.7 percent per year. In peacetime, the U.S. spent an average of 6.3 percent per year.

While reporting "record spending" and "landmark levels," media sources including The Washington Post (Feb. 5, 2008) and The New York Times (Feb. 3, 2008) pointed out that the $35.9 billion spending increase from projected 2008 spending would push defense spending to the highest amount in inflation-adjusted dollars since the end of World War II but only briefly mentioned the numbers as compared to the GDP.

Dr. Loren Thompson, a chief operating fellow at the conservative Lexington Institute, told Cybercast News Service that defense spending compared to GDP should be considered an important gauge for explaining the issue. "There are essentially two ways to measure defense spending. Real dollars and percentage of GDP," he said. "The latter is an important measure of how much sacrifice a country is willing to make."

At the height of World War II, the United States dedicated 37.5 percent of the GDP to national defense, which is the equivalent of $5.5 trillion of the projected GDP for 2009, according to OMB data. This is more than 10 times the amount requested by Bush for 2009.

But Scott Lilly, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, told Cybercast News Service he does not consider defense as measured against GDP an important figure.

"I don't think there is a relationship between GDP and defense," said Lilly. "There are many people in the defense community who argue that point, but I think our threats are what they are and our economy is what it is.

"Those two things do not particularly have a relationship with one another. The fact that our economy has grown makes it easier to afford the spending, but I think the correct way to look at defense is in terms of the real dollar cost," he added.

Lilly said it is not the economy but the enemy that determines appropriate defense spending. "It could be appropriate to spend 50 percent of GDP, which is about what we spent after World War II, or it could be appropriate to spend 3 percent, which is about what we were spending after the fall of the Berlin Wall," he said.

When viewed in terms of GDP, the proposed budget is an increase when compared to the last 16 years under the Clinton and second Bush administrations - but not for the 46 years prior to that. The last time spending reached 4.5 percent was 1992, the year before Clinton took office.

Annual defense spending during the Clinton and G.W. Bush years hovered at a record low average of 3.6 percent of GDP. In the years prior to 1992, defense spending did not dip below the proposed 4.5 percent of GDP a single time.

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