Rusty guns and buttery soldiers: unemployment and the domestic origins of defense spending

March 30: Becker, Jordan. “Rusty Guns and Buttery Soldiers: Unemployment and the Domestic Origins of Defense Spending.” European Political Science Review, 2021, 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1755773921000102.


Scholars and practitioners continue to debate transatlantic burden sharing, which has implications for broader questions of collective action and international organizations. Little research, however, has analyzed domestic and institutional drivers of burden-sharing behavior; even less has disaggregated defense spending to measure burden sharing more precisely. This paper enhances understanding of the relationship between national political economies and burden shifting, operationalizing burden shifting as the extent to which a country limits or decreases defense expenditures, while at the same time favoring personnel over equipment modernization and readiness in the composition of defense budgets. Why do countries choose to allocate defense resources to personnel, rather than equipment modernization? I find that governments slightly decrease top-line defense spending in response to unemployment while shifting much more substantial amounts within defense budgets from equipment expenditures into personnel. This research highlights the intimate connection between Europe’s economic fortunes, transatlantic security, and burden sharing in North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union – of particular interest as a pandemic buffets the transatlantic economy. It also points policy analysts toward factors more amenable to political decisions than the structural variables generally associated with burden sharing, bridging significant gaps between defense economics, security studies, and comparative political economy.