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Four Percent or Bust

March 28, 2008—America is spending less and less on its national defense compared to that spent on entitlements, such as Social Security, Medicare, and other mandatory human resources programs. When measured as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product, national security spending has been declining fairly steadily since the end of the Korean War, apart from a slight upturn during the Reagan Years. From 1995 to 2004, it was below 4 percent and has hovered around 4.0 percent since. (Note: The data here covers DOD and defense-related activities of other departments.) The Congressional Budget Office projects the downward trend will continue beyond 2018, with national defense falling below three percent by 2025. Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey blames military leaders over the past seven years for attempting to make defense budgets provide the answers politicians want to hear. He advocates a minimum of 5.2 percent of the GDP for the next five years. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley says that stabilizing the defense share, and he’s talking strictly DOD, at 4 percent would provide the services as a whole an extra $80 billion or so annually, giving the Air Force the extra $20 billion it needs to fix its growing equipment woes.

Source: Congressional Budget Office and Office of Management and Budget historical budget documents.