FACT CHECK: Is US Defense Spending At Near-Historic Lows?

Kush Desai | Fact Check Reporter

Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon claimed Tuesday on the House floor that “defense spending as a percent of GDP is at historic lows.”

Verdict: True

U.S. defense spending as a proportion of the economy is near its lowest point since the end of World War II.

Fact Check:

The U.S. spent 3.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on national defense spending in 2016, according to data from the Department of Defense.

The last time defense spending relative to the economy reached similar lows was nearly two decades ago, when defense spending dropped to its lowest point in modern history – 2.9 percent of GDP in 1999.

Annual defense spending has significantly fluctuated since the end of World War II, with sharp spikes during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and former President Ronald Reagan’s military buildup in the 1980s.

U.S. military operations in the Middle East again increased defense spending after 9/11, although spending relative to GDP tailed off as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan deescalated and the impacts of sequestration took effect.

Military spending as a percentage of GDP is just one way to examine spending levels. When measured as a proportion of federal budget expenditures, for instance, defense spending in 2016 dropped to its lowest level since World War II, accounting for just over 15 percent of the federal budget.

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Kush Desai

Fact Check Reporter


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