Using our method, actual U.S. military spending doubled acknowledged military spending for the year 2022. Between 2007 and 2022, the gap between our measure and mainstream estimates averaged around 3 percent as a share of GDP.

By Gisela Cernadas and John Bellamy Foster, Monthly Review

For decades, it has been recognized by independent researchers that actual U.S. military spending is approximately twice the officially acknowledged level.1 In 2022, actual U.S. military spending reached $1.537 trillion—more than twice the officially acknowledged level of $765.8 billion. Data on U.S. military spending reported by the U.S. government, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI, generally considered the definitive source on international military expenditures), and NATO all primarily rely on the figures of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB).2 These data, however, are subject to two major shortcomings.First, the numbers provided by the OMB with respect to “defense spending” are substantially lower than those provided in the U.S. National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA), the most complete and definitive source on U.S. national income and expenditures as a whole, constituting an input-output approach to the whole economy, and the basis of all analysis of the U.S. economy.

Cartridges with bullets in a bandolier, dollar bills

Second, as is well-known, key areas of U.S. military spending are included in other parts of federal expenditures and do not fall under the OMB’s “defense spending” category. Although SIPRI and NATO adopt wider definitions of “defense spending” than the U.S. government and claim to increase their estimates using the OMB figures as a base, in practice, they do so only marginally and in ways that are not entirely transparent, with the result that their figures are only slightly above those of the officially acknowledged U.S. figures.3

If the reality is that actual U.S. military spending has been consistently around twice the acknowledged amounts—something demonstrated repeatedly in independent studies—the methodology for approaching the question of actual military spending on a consistent, statistically conservative, and incontestable basis has only developed over time. Most attempts have sought simply to add components of actual military spending appearing in other parts of federal spending and not included under OMB figures for “national defense.” Although these studies helped to set the stage, they often appeared to have a scattered and arbitrary character, rather than employing a truly consistent methodology.

A breakthrough in this respect was first achieved by Jurgen M. Brauer at Augusta State University’s College of Business Administration in 2007. Brauer introduced an approach that took the NIPA data on U.S. military consumption and investment expenditures as the base for U.S. military spending, and then added in other military expenditures outside of official defense using the NIPA accounts, creating a methodology for detailing U.S. military expenditures that not only surmounted the limitations of the OMB data with respect to accounting for “defense spending” itself, but adopted an entirely consistent approach, based on NIPA data, to adding in unacknowledged expenditures.4 Brauer’s approach was then developed further by Hannah Holleman, John Bellamy Foster, and Robert W. McChesney in an article in Monthly Review in 2008 that provided detailed estimates of actual U.S. military expenditures, as opposed to those officially acknowledged by the OMB, for 2007.5

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