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Animation: Over 50 Years of U.S. Discretionary Spending in 1 Minute

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Every year, the U.S. government spends trillions of dollars on a wide range of budgetary items.

While the largest categories of spending, such as entitlement programs or debt interest, do not offer lawmakers a lot of flexibility, the government does get to decide how discretionary spending – about $1.3 trillion in FY2019 – gets put to use.

Discretionary Spending Over Time

Today’s animation from data scientist Will Geary shows the evolution of U.S. discretionary spending from 1963 until today:

The U.S. budget is generally divided into three main categories:

Discretionary Spending: This category, depicted in the animation, is the optional part of the budgetary equation – it’s the aspect that most people talk about, as the allocation of funding towards different things like defense, education, and transportation can be changed by lawmakers.

Mandatory Spending: Also known as entitlement spending, this category includes funding for programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It’s called mandatory spending because the government legally is committed to fulfilling these obligations, and it exists outside of the normal budget appropriations process.

Net Interest: This category is for payments on the national debt, also something that is necessary unless the country is willing to default on these obligations.

Discretionary Spending Today

As the animation shows, after adjusting for inflation (using 2009 dollars), discretionary spending has doubled since 1963.

In 1963, which was essentially the height of the Cold War, the U.S. was spending 73% on the military to make up the vast majority of the $547 billion (2009 dollars) in discretionary spending.

Meanwhile, in Fiscal Year 2019, the government has allocated $1.3 trillion (today’s dollars) to the budget:

2019 Discretionary Budget

Things haven’t changed much since 1963 in that defense still comprises the majority of spending – in fact, the only recent time periods where U.S. defense spending fell below 50% were roughly between 1977-1981 and 1999-2004.

American spending on defense dwarfs all other countries, but there are other categories that make up decent chunks of the discretionary budget as well.

While they seem small on the above chart, transportation (7%), education (7%), and veteran benefits (6%) are all actually categories that receive over $70 billion of annual funding – still a significant piece of change.

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Charted: Contributions to UN Peacekeeping Forces by Country

In 2023, the UN Peacekeeping Forces, under the purview of the Security Council, comprised of more than 60,000 personnel from 118 countries.

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A cropped chart showing the funding and personnel contributors to UN Peacekeeping forces, and location of current missions.

Charted: Contributions to UN Peacekeeping Forces by Country

An earlier version of this graphic was posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

With their sky blue helmets, berets, and badges, the UN Peacekeeping forces are meant to be a symbol of international cooperation in conflict zones around the world.

They’re composed entirely from voluntary contributions from UN Member States—and include police and civilian roles along with military personnel.

The visualization by creator Preyash Shah serves as a primer on the UN Peacekeeping forces. It shows which countries are the biggest personnel contributors, which of them are top funders, and also lists the current ongoing peacekeeping operations. Data for this chart comes from the UN Peacekeeping archives.

Countries by Troop Contributions to UN Peacekeeping (2023)

From South Asia, a trio of countries—Nepal, Bangladesh, and India—are each contributing more than 6,000 personnel to the UN peacekeepers.

A majority of these representatives are soldiers, heavily involved in the four active peacekeeping missions in Africa.

RankCountryPersonnel
1🇳🇵 Nepal6,247
2🇧🇩 Bangladesh6,197
3🇮🇳 India6,073
4🇷🇼 Rwanda5,919
5🇵🇰 Pakistan4,164
6🇮🇩 Indonesia2,717
7🇬🇭 Ghana2,664
8🇨🇳 China2,267
9🇪🇬 Egypt1,739
10🇲🇦 Morocco1,715
11🇹🇿 Tanzania1,544
12🇪🇹 Ethiopia1,509
13🇸🇳 Senegal1,194
14🇿🇦 South Africa1,133
15🇨🇲 Cameroon1,103
16🇺🇾 Uruguay1,016
17🇿🇲 Zambia996
18🇹🇳 Tunisia988
19🇲🇳 Mongolia898
20🇮🇹 Italy872
21🇲🇾 Malaysia865
22🇲🇼 Malawi802
23🇲🇷 Mauritania787
24🇧🇮 Burundi769
25🇰🇭 Cambodia734
26🇪🇸 Spain688
27🇺🇬 Uganda654
28🇫🇷 France587
29🇱🇰 Sri Lanka561
30🇰🇷 South Korea545
31🇮🇪 Ireland458
32🇰🇪 Kenya456
33🇳🇬 Nigeria421
34🇹🇬 Togo408
35🇩🇪 Germany383
36🇯🇴 Jordan357
37🇫🇯 Fiji339
38🇧🇯 Benin319
39🇦🇷 Argentina292
40🇹🇭 Thailand289
41🇬🇧 UK280
42🇻🇳 Viet Nam274
43🇷🇸 Serbia271
44🇵🇪 Peru262
45🇸🇰 Slovakia244
46🇵🇹 Portugal239
47🇩🇯 Djibouti226
48🇧🇹 Bhutan219
49🇬🇹 Guatemala218
50🇫🇮 Finland204
51🇵🇱 Poland202
52🇨🇬 Congo189
53🇸🇻 El Salvador187
54🇦🇹 Austria177
55🇱🇷 Liberia161
56🇧🇫 Burkina Faso156
57🇹🇷 Turkiye154
58🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire132
59🇬🇷 Greece103
60🇳🇪 Niger88
61🇷🇺 Russia88
62🇬🇲 Gambia81
63🇧🇷 Brazil79
64🇬🇳 Guinea74
65🇵🇾 Paraguay59
66🇳🇴 Norway51
67🇷🇴 Romania49
68🇿🇼 Zimbabwe49
69🇨🇦 Canada47
70🇭🇺 Hungary38
71🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina34
72🇦🇲 Armenia33
73🇧🇳 Brunei Darussalam29
74🇸🇪 Sweden29
75🇲🇱 Mali28
76🇧🇴 Bolivia27
77🇺🇸 U.S.27
78🇦🇺 Australia26
79🇸🇱 Sierra Leone26
80🇵🇭 Philippines21
81🇨🇭 Switzerland19
82🇨🇿 Czech Republic18
83🇰🇿 Kazakhstan18
84🇲🇽 Mexico18
85🇭🇳 Honduras17
86🇨🇱 Chile15
87🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan15
88🇹🇩 Chad14
89🇭🇷 Croatia13
90🇳🇱 Netherlands13
91🇪🇨 Ecuador11
92🇩🇴 Dominican Republic10
93🇳🇦 Namibia10
94🇲🇩 Moldova10
95🇲🇹 Malta9
96🇩🇰 Denmark8
97🇳🇿 New Zealand8
98🇸🇮 Slovenia7
99🇪🇪 Estonia6
100🇲🇪 Montenegro6
101🇨🇴 Colombia5
102🇲🇬 Madagascar5
103🇦🇱 Albania4
104🇯🇵 Japan4
105🇱🇻 Latvia4
106🇧🇪 Belgium3
107🇩🇿 Algeria2
108🇦🇴 Angola2
109🇦🇿 Azerbaijan2
110🇧🇼 Botswana2
111🇨🇾 Cyprus2
112🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea2
113🇹🇱 Timor-Leste2
114🇱🇹 Lithuania1
115🇲🇰 North Macedonia1
116🇶🇦 Qatar1
117🇸🇹 Sao Tome & Principe1
118🇹🇯 Tajikistan1
N/A🌐 World66,839

Source: Troop & Police Contributors, United Nations Peacekeeping.

However, these three countries—and the others in the top 15—are outliers when looking at overall troop contributions.

Of the 118 countries currently volunteering forces to the UN, 103 of them have fewer than 1,000 UN Peacekeepers.

The U.S. for example currently has only 27 personnel in the peacekeepers, as of November 2023. Of them, 21 are staff officers, four are “experts on mission,” and two are police; none are troops.

Other countries that have zero “boots on the ground” include: Canada, Japan, and Australia.

Countries by Financial Contributions to UN Peacekeeping (2021)

While all UN member states are mandated to contribute to the peacekeeping budget, the share of financial contributions is similarly unevenly distributed.

Most of the world’s largest economies are also the top funders to the UN peacekeeping forces.

For the financial year 2020–2021, the U.S. contributed nearly $2 billion to the UN peacekeepers, followed by China ($1 billion), Japan ($563 million), Germany ($401 million) and the UK ($381 million).

RankCountryRegionContributionEstimated Value
(USD Millions)
1🇺🇸 U.S.North America27.89%$1,835
2🇨🇳 ChinaAsia15.21%$1,000
3🇯🇵 JapanAsia8.56%$563
4🇩🇪 GermanyEurope6.09%$401
5🇬🇧 UKEurope5.79%$381
6🇫🇷 FranceEurope5.61%$369
7🇮🇹 ItalyEurope3.30%$217
8🇷🇺 RussiaAsia3.04%$200
9🇨🇦 CanadaNorth America2.73%$180
10🇰🇷 South KoreaAsia2.26%$149
N/A🌐 RoWN/A19.52%$1,284
N/ATotalN/A100%$6,579

Source: How We are Funded, United Nations Peacekeeping.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council carry a greater financial responsibility to the peacekeeping budget, in accordance with their security council privileges.

Ranked: Current UN Peacekeeping Missions by Personnel (2023)

As of November, 2023, there are 11 active UN peacekeeping missions in operation. There have been more than 60 peacekeeping operations since 1948; the first one was established in Palestine to oversee the truce between Arab and Jewish communities.

RankLocationEstablishedUNPK Personnel
1🇨🇫 Central African Republic201418,448
2🇸🇸 South Sudan201118,412
3🇨🇩 DRC201017,971
4🇱🇧 Lebanon197810,385
5🇸🇩 Sudan &
🇸🇸 South Sudan
20113,388
6🇸🇾 Syria19741,331
7🇨🇾 Cyprus19641,017
8🇪🇭 Western Sahara1991468
9🇮🇱 Israel &
🇵🇸 Palestine
1948375
10🇽🇰 Kosovo1999353
11🇮🇳 India &
🇵🇰 Pakistan
1949104

Source: Where We Operate, United Nations Peacekeeping.

A key tenant of the missions is to protect civilians and human rights, and several of them have failed in this regard, including the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the decade of Balkan civil wars.

And peacekeepers themselves have also garnered less than stellar reputations, after perpetrating sexual abuse in the Central African Republic and Congo, and causing a cholera epidemic in Haiti in 2010.

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