Justifying War in an Insecure World: Understanding the Military Spending of the United States and the Discourse Used to Rationalize It




Lim-Heley, Seamus

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Since the end of the Second World War, the United States has been the world’s leading military spender. The US spends more on its military than the next eleven countries combined, and even as a percentage of its GDP, the US still outspends other economic giants like China. Since democracies operate off a model of agency representation, where policymakers are held accountable to their constituents via elections, US military spending must be justified to a broader public through a variety of narratives. This work asks how the US military budget has been rationalized to the public by prominent figures within the US political system. In doing so, this project necessarily looks at how ‘security,’ more specifically ‘national security,’ has been framed by the state, and the relationship these terms have with the US’ disproportionate military expenditures. By analyzing thirty years of presidential discourse - from the height of US unipolarity at the end of the Cold War through the War on Terror and the rise of Trumpism – this work understands the justifications for US military spending to come through two main camps. The first is an appeal to a ‘military welfare state,’ while the second depicts the US through a notion of American exceptionalism, that hyper-fetishizes an American hero-mythos that relies on establishing military superiority. Both camps, often under the guise of a ‘master security narrative’ that prioritizes attention towards military threats, work to depict the US as a society with the military at its heart.



military spending, military budget, defence spending, security, war, warfare, terrorism, president, discourse analysis, Cold War, War on Terror, COVID-19, macrosecuritization, presidential debate, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump, Biden