You Decide

Produced by KQED

photomontage: soldiers against a background of $100 billsImage CreditDoes the United States spend too much money on defense?

By Keith Laidlaw

Think you know where you stand?

Defense spending is the biggest single expense in the federal budget, costing more than $600 billion annually, or the equivalent of around $5,500 for every U.S. household. In 2008, we will spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined: just one country’s expenditures equal to that of all the other 191 members of the United Nations put together. Projections indicate that the amounts will continue to increase. Can we justify such a massive expenditure?

But shortages of basic equipment faced by troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan paint a very different picture, one in which the spending needs to be increased, not reduced. Also, we live in a world where vast inequalities of wealth, a growing global population, limited natural resources and widening ideological differences all point to a future of increasing conflict and a need to strengthen our nation’s defenses — and that takes money.

Yet the situation isn’t static. U.S. defense spending has jumped by around 11 percent in the past year alone, but much of the increase is to the result of the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and these won’t go on indefinitely. When the conflicts end, will the defense budget be reduced? Or do these conflicts and many of the failures we have suffered during the course of them point toward a future in which military spending will continue to swell?

During this activity, we will ask you three times: Does the United States spend too much money on defense? Based on your responses, we will argue the opposite point of view.

Does the United States spend too much money on defense?

Nothing about the issues facing the candidates and American voters in 2008 is black and white. With these You Decide activities, you can explore both sides of an issue, put your own critical thinking to work, and discuss the pros and cons with others. In the end, perhaps you will ask different — and better — questions than those presented here.


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