Sandra Ewing of the “National Defense Magazine” proves how ignorant she is

One would expect that as a correspondent for the “National Defense Magazine, Sandra Ewing would get the facts right, and that the NDM would review her articles and correct them.

But one would be wrong.

Writing for the NDM recently, Ewing, who is a fierce critic of the DOD and an opponent of robust funding for defense, proved how ignorant she is by claiming that even with the sequester, the military budget will remain “gigantic by historical standards” – and for the next several years. Here’s the relevant quote:

“The defense budget, however, still will be gigantic by historical standards. It is expected to stay above $600 billion (including war funding) for the next several years.”

Where does Ewing get that false data from? In any case, Ewing doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She’s completely wrong.

The military warchest for the current fiscal year, $662 bn[1], amounts to just 4.5% of America’s GDP (which is $14.66 trillion[2]) and less than 19% of the total federal budget. The core defense budget is $526 bn, which equals just 3.59% of GDP and less than 15% of the total federal budget. Those are small figures by themselves, but they’re also tiny by historical standards, which Ewing invoked.

this is a historically record low level of defense spending, the lowest since FY1948, excepting the late 1990s. Even if you measure total military spending, this figure is still lower than it was throughout the ENTIRE Cold War except FY1948. Even in FY1949 and during the Carter Era it was higher. In FY1949, the US spent 4.8% of its GDP on the military, and even under Jimmy Carter it was never lower than 4.6%of GDP (in FY1979). Specifically, under Carter, the figures were as follows:

FY1978: 4.7%

FY1979: 4.6%

FY1980: 4.9%

FY1981: 5.1%

Military spending did not decline below 4.5% of GDP (and later, under 4% of GDP) until the 1990s, when the US unilaterally disarmed itself. It fell to 4.4% of GDP in FY1993 and 4% in FY1994, and then fell further, bottoming out at 3.0% of GDP in FY1999-FY2001.

Defense spending, and even total military spending, is also at a historically low ebb as a part of the total federal budget. Under President Eisenhower, the absolute majority of it was spent on defense. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson devoted 46%-49% to that purpose. President Nixon devoted 30% in FY1971. President Reagan spent 24%-26% of the total federal budget on defense during his time. Now the total military budget amounts to just 19% of the total federal budget. The core defense budget equals just 14% of that.

Another measure with which defense spending can be measured is spending per capita. By this measure, too, defense spending is at a historically low ebb. Ronald Reagan’s largest defense budget was that for FY1987 – $606 bn. It amounted to $2,443 per every man, woman, and child in the US (as of the 1990 census three years later, America’s population was 248 million people). This fiscal year the total military budget amounts to $662 bn, but the United States’ population is 308 million people, so it amounts to just $2,149 per one American. The core defense budget, $526 bn, amounts to just $1,707 for one American. So the burden of military spending on the average US citizen (and the average taxpayer) is small.

And what of the claim that the military budget (including war funding) will remain above $600 bn for the next several years?

It’s also utter garbage. The military budget consists of basically two components: the core defense budget and GWOT (war) spending. The latter is scheduled to automatically go down to ca. $80 bn in FY2013, $50 bn in FY2014 and FY2015, and $0 afterwards, as American troops draw down in, and eventually withdraw from, Afghanistan. In other words, after December 2014, there will be no Afghan war and therefore NO WAR FUNDING – unless Obama starts a new war somewhere.

As for the core defense budget, it is scheduled to shrink significantly over the next decade, in real terms, with or without the sequester. The sequester will, of course, cut it by $882 bn in real terms over the next decade, and cut it immediately to $491 bn in FY2013 before cutting it further. But even assuming that no cuts occur and that defense spending remains (i.e. is frozen) at $526 bn permanently, total DOD spending will still be significantly below $600 bn starting in FY2014 and continuing indefinitely – unless the Congress suddenly passes a large defense budget hike, which will not happen for a long time. That’s because war spending will add only an additional $50 bn per year, and only for the next few years, until it zeroes out in FY2016.

In other words, even optimistically assuming that defense spending is not cut further at all and is permanently kept at $526 bn, here’s what it will look like in the next decade:

FY2013: $526 bn + $80 bn = $606 bn

FY2014: $526 bn + $50 bn = $576 bn

FY2015 $526 bn + $50 bn = $576 bn

FY2016 and every FY afterwards: $526 bn +$0 = $526 bn

As you can see, even if no further cuts to the core defense budget are made, total military spending WILL go down significantly below $600 bn in FY2014 and stay way below $600 bn for a long time.

So Ewing’s claim that the total military budget will stay above $600 bn for the next several years is a blatant lie, not based on any sources whatsoever, not supported by any legislation, Congressional projections, or DOD projections. It’s a fiction invented by Ewing herself.

The URL of Ewing’s article:


[1] FY2012 NDAA Conference Report, Senate Armed Services Committee,

[2] CIA World Factbook: United States – Economy,


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