Falling behind in the global arms race

"If we know anything, it is that weakness is provocative." – Donald Rumsfeld

The Pentagon's proposed budget for FY2016 has been released, and over at the Washington Post, they are proposing that "Obama's new defense budget looks like Reagan's."

No, it does not.

The U.S. defense budget has declined continually in real dollar terms since Obama took office.  In 2008, the budget was US $760 billion in constant 2016 dollars.  The FY2016 budget is proposed at only US $585 billion – a 23-percent reduction in just eight years.

By the time Reagan left office, the Pentagon's budget was more than 30 percent higher than before he took office.  Obama's budget is the exact opposite.

But more importantly, the U.S. is starting to fall behind in the global arms race.

Reasonably reliable global military spending data begins in 1988 – the last full year of the Reagan administration.  The following chart shows the share of global military expenditures by the United States since this time.

During the last year of Reagan's administration, the United States defense budget constituted 32.7 percent of global military expenditures.  By 2013, this was down to just 26.8 percent – the lowest percentage on record and falling fast under Obama's watch.

The rise – and subsequent decline – in the U.S. share of global defense spending during the early to mid-1990s did not come about from an increase in U.S. expenditures, which were declining throughout the Bush 41 and Clinton years.  Rather, global expenditures were declining more rapidly than those of the U.S.

That pattern has ended.  Defense spending in the rest of the world is rising rapidly – notably in adversaries throughout Eurasia and the Middle East – while American expenditures are dropping fast.

With the Pentagon's proposed FY2016 budget lower in real dollar terms than the FY2013 budget and projected to fall through 2020, and with global defense spending consistently headed upward since the mid-1990s (it increased more than 12 percent in real terms from 2008 to 2013), the U.S. share of global defense spending is almost certain to fall even more dramatically in the coming years.

Perilous times lie ahead in the West.

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