Comparing Defense Budgets, Apples to Apples

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Air Force photo / Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor over the Atlantic Ocean.

Part Two of Five

In the opening article, we saw how a massive and growing debt (as well as a dose of bad politics) has set America on a path towards sequestration, or, at the very least ,the potential of serious levels of defense cuts. But to understand the actual impact that these cuts might have, including weighing the predictions that such a scenario would “destroy the U.S. military” or mean the U.S. would be “unable to keep up with potential adversaries,” it is useful to pull back and examine where the U.S. defense budget stands in relation to the rest of the world.

(MORE: Sequestration and What It Would Do to U.S. Military Power)

The U.S. is the only global superpower, with capabilities and responsibilities that dwarf any and every other state in the world. And, as the below charts show, the U.S. defense budget reflects that reality, outspending all other nations by a significant amount. What is notable about the scale of the U.S. budget is not just its relative size to other nations, but also how many other of the major players (albeit an order of magnitude smaller) are close U.S. allies, like the UK or Japan, or unlikely foes, like India or Brazil. Only two of the top ten, China and Russia could be put in the category of potential adversaries.

Another way to visualize this is to combine all the world’s military spending together. At the height of the Iraq war, U.S. spending was above half of all the world’s military spending, but is now down to slightly above 40% of all military spending. Sequestration would take it down by about 2 percentage points more of the pie, roughly 38% of all global military spending, excluding any likely contingency or war spending.

Indeed, it is only in terms of percent of GDP that the U.S. is not ahead, in second place to Saudi Arabia. But here again, sequestration doesn’t change the overall ranking.

As a side note, one of the fascinating disconnects in American politics today is between the above data and public perceptions of defense spending, which many unfortunately are quick to exploit in our “post truth” era of politics. Only 58% of voters are aware that the US spends more on defense than any other country in the world. And just 33% recognize that America spends almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined.

Part 1: A sequestration primer

Part 2: Comparing defense budgets, apples to apples

 Part 3: A case study: east Asia

Part 4: Impact on the Korean peninsula

Part 5: Stupid, but not disastrous

Peter W. Singer is director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at Brookings. Check here for the full list of source material for this series of articles.

MORE: A Smarter Way to Trim the Pentagon Budget



More Results Of Misinformation From The Likes Of PPL On FOX News & Talk Radio Resulting In PPL Who Continue To Vote Against Their Own Interest

The US DOD Budget Doubled Under BUSH J. From Just Under $400Billions To Just Under $800Billion While Keeping The WARS Cost Off The Books. Today The US DOD Spends $2Billion Dollars A Day "NOT" Including The WAR Cost &The Republican Continue To Want To Increase It Every Year. All A Result Of Privatizing The Military Industrial Complex. All While Trying To Also Privatize Social Security & Cut It...

   WE NEED To Take Power Back From The RICH By Getting Money Out Of Politics @ Then WE Can Get An Independent Group To Draw Our Congressional Districts "Fairly" Also Giving The Term Limits. So WE Can Elect PPL Who Are & Know How The Average American Lives & Works Paycheck To Paycheck Can Be Represented Like Our 4Fathers Wanted...  The Wasteful ((US Military Industrial Complex)) The US In 2009 Bought 20 Planes From Italy For Afghanistan & Then Had A Contractor Upgrade Them For A Grand Total Of $500Million. But The Just Sad Next To The Runway Since Afghan Couldn't Afford To Fly Fix Or Maintain The. So 16 Of The Were Just Scraped For 6C A Pound For A Grand Total Of $32,000


Neither does the F-35 with the consistency we'd like to see! ... I'm surprised at the GDP percentage for Saudi Arabia. I can recall lots of arguments about allowing the Saudis to buy certain weapons (e.g., AWACS planes), but they're apparently spending over 7% of their GDP with all that oil income on their military. Seems like a lot, doesn't it? I'm betting that there is even more corruption in the Saudi military procurement system than there is at the Pentagon!


I'm Republican and I still call this the crybaby mentality.  I remember the cold war days.  We built new bombers, fighters, ships, and tanks all at the same time.  If you don't blow all your money on endless wars you can still have all the Ramp;D, new hardware, and be armed to the teeth for a fraction of what they ask for on the balance sheet now.  Sorry guys that type of argument does not fly.


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