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Buttery Guns and Welfare Hawks: The Politics of Defense Spending in Advanced Industrial Democracies


  • Guy D. Whitten is an Associate Professor of political science at Texas A&M University, 2010 Allen Building, 4348 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843-4348 ( Laron K. Williams is an Assistant Professor of political science at Texas Tech University, Holden Hall 113, Box 41015, Lubbock, TX 79409-1045 (

  • Earlier versions of this article were presented at Rice University, the University of São Paulo, the St. Louis Area Methods Meeting (SLAMM), and the Midwest Political Science Association. We thank these audiences for their suggestions but absolve them of any responsibility for shortcomings in this article.


In this article, we present a new theory that, given the economic consequences of military spending, some governments may use military spending as a means of advancing their domestic non-military objectives. Based on evidence that governments can use military spending as welfare policy in disguise, we argue that the role of ideology in shaping military spending is more complicated than simple left-right politics. We also present a theory that strategic elites take advantage of opportunities presented by international events, leading us to expect governments that favor more hawkish foreign policy policies to use low-level international conflicts as opportunities for increasing military spending. Using pooled time-series data from 19 advanced democracies in the post–World War II period, we find that government ideology, measured as welfare and international positions, interacts with the international security environment to affect defense spending.

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