What the US Spent on the Military Every Year Since 1970

Expanding military expenditure in support of U.S. foreign policy objectives goes back to, at least, President Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Stick policy. While U.S. military expenditure has declined in some years, it has generally steadily increased to the current record levels, surpassing not just previous years levels but also expenditure levels of all other countries. (Here is how the world’s top military spenders compare to the U.S.)

To identify what the U.S. spent on the military the year you were born, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on U.S. military spending from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Military Expenditure Database, listing the years 1970-2022. Figures are in current U.S. dollars. We also calculated the percentage change in military spending from the previous year.

In 1970, during the height of the Vietnam War, the U.S. military budget had risen to more than $80 billion, a more than 50% increase from 1965, when the U.S. first sent troops into the Southeast Asian nation.

After the Vietnam War, expenditures continued to steadily increase, and by the early 1980s, military spending accelerated significantly. This surge came under President Ronald Reagan, practically tripling military expenditures of the Vietnam era.

In the years following the Cold War, during an era of relative peace, defense spending declined. The turning point was the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, after which the U.S. embarked on the War on Terror, again increasing defense expenditures significantly.

In the post 9/11 era, the Department of Defense budget peaked in 2011 around $750 billion due to large-scale operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the latter years of the Obama Administration, spending contracted moderately, reflecting gradual disengagement from the active battlefronts.

However, defense spending has continuously grown since 2016 under the Trump administration, reaching fresh highs in 2020 and continuing even higher under the current Biden Administration, mostly in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the aid provided to Ukraine. (Also see which countries are sending the most aid to Ukraine.)

Click here to see what the US spent on the military every year since 1970.

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