Posts Tagged ‘NetAssessment’

USA and Allies Outspend Military Rivals by Four-to-One: America Carries Heavy Defense Burden for Allies

Carl Conetta. PDA Briefing Memo #55, 18 July 2012.

Efforts to cull savings from the US defense budget for purposes of deficit reduction have been stymied by Pentagon claims that any significant cut might have “devastating” or even catastrophic” effects. However, a review of global defense spending data by the Project on Defense Alternatives shows that America and its allies outspend potential rivals by a margin of four-to-one.

Moreover, according to the PDA review, the United States carries much more than its share of the allied defense burden, as measured by percentage of Gross Domestic Product allocated to defense. Together, the United States and its close allies worldwide spent $1.23 trillion on their armed forces in 2010 – more than 68% of the global total. But had the burden been shared equally among the allies based on GDP, the United States could have reduced its military spending by one-third (33%), including spending for war. This proportion substantially exceeds the Pentagon budget cuts mandated under the sequestration provisions of the Budget Control Act.

global military shares

US and Allies Dominate Group of Top Military Spenders

Project on Defense Alternatives, 29 June 2012.

How much is enough spending for the Pentagon? By various measures, the United States has outspent the next nine, 14, or 21 countries combined. What is perhaps more telling is that most of those other countries are staunch US allies.

* International Institute for Strategic Studies
** Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
*** PPP = Purchasing Power Parity, a measure that facilitates international budget comparisons by adjusting exchange rates to reflect the relative domestic buying power of national currencies.

Notes: The IISS column presents officially reported spending in USD at 2010 exchange rates, with two exceptions: China and Russia. For these, the number is an estimate of actual spending. The second column is SIPRI’s estimate of actual expenditures, also shown in USD at 2010 exchange rates. The PPP column converts estimates of actual expenditures into approximate purchasing power, mostly drawn from SIPRI data. For China and Russia, it also shows an IISS estimate of purchasing power, thus producing a range. Purchasing power calculations improve on estimates that use exchange rates alone. However, PPP ratios are based on comparisons between national economies as a whole, not the defense sectors specifically. This can overstate military purchasing power when a nation’s military sector is much more advanced than its economy overall or when a nation depends heavily on international arms purchases.

Comments: The biggest spenders of concern to the United States are Russia and China, although neither are considered US adversaries today.
• America and its top spending allies outpace these two countries taken together by margins exceeding three-to-one.
• America alone spent more than twice as much as these two countries in 2010, by some measures. By other measures, it outspent them combined by nearly four-to-one.
The review draws on data compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), both regarded as world leaders in the field of defense assessment.

Neither IISS nor SIPRI accept Chinese or Russian official defense budget numbers at face value. Their estimates seek to capture unreported military expenditure from other parts of the Chinese and Russian economy. Both also offer alternative estimates that aim to correct for exchange rate distortions when comparing nations at very different levels of economic development – although these corrections may somewhat over state the “purchasing power” of military budgets.

Differences in the IISS and SIPRI methods, and the difference between corrected and uncorrected exchange rate estimates, account for the range given in number of countries whose combined budgets equal that of the United States. The answer ranges from nine to 21 countries — and all but a few of these are US allies.

Sources: International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2012 (London, 2012); Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI Yearbook 2011 (Oxford, 2011).

HTML version of this table

Future Defense Budget Choices Require Clear Strategic Priorities

Daniel Goure. Early Warning Blog, Lexington Institute, 03 September 2010.


The United States cannot afford and the people will not pay for a military that can do battle with uncertainty.

As a consequence of the need to do battle with uncertainty, emphasis was placed on a military that can cover all bases and do all things. This would not be a wise strategy even if resources were unconstrained. Not all threats are equal. Nor are all interests equally important. Finally, it is possible to make reasoned and reasonable judgments regarding how the future security environment will unfold and define a set of demand signals that would require shifting strategic priorities.

In the past, when U.S. leaders refused to make choices they allowed the military to shrink symmetrically, by cutting every program or service a little. That approach is self-defeating. It makes no sense to keep a so-called full spectrum military but continually reduce it in size.

Editor’s Comment:

Relevant passages from the archives ($3 trillion later):

Carl Conetta and Charles Knight. “Dueling with Uncertainty”, February 1998.

There is no escape from uncertainty, but there is relief from uncertainty hysteria. It begins with recognizing that instability has boundaries — just as turbulence in physical systems has discernible onset points and parameters. The turbulence of a river, for instance, corresponds to flow and to the contours of the river’s bed and banks. It occurs in patches and not randomly. The weather also is a chaotic system that resists precise long-range forecasting, but allows useful prediction of broader trends and limits.

Despite uncertainty, statements of probability matter. They indicate the weight of evidence — or whether there is any evidence at all. The uncertainty hawks would flood our concern with a horde of dangers that pass their permissive test of “non-zero probability.” However, by lowering the threshold of alarm, they establish an impossible standard of defense sufficiency: absolute and certain military security. Given finite resources and competing ends, something less will have to do. Strategic wisdom begins with the setting of priorities — and priorities demand strict attention to what appears likely and what does not.

The world may be less certain and less stable today than during the Cold War, but it also involves less risk for America. Risk is equal parts probability and utility — chances and stakes. With the end of global superpower contention, America’s stakes in most of the world’s varied conflicts has diminished. So has the magnitude of the military threats to American interests. This permits a sharper distinction between interests and compelling interests, turbulence and relevant turbulence, uncertainties and critical uncertainties. And this distinction will pay dividends whenever the country turns to consider large-scale military endeavors, commitments, and investments.

Among the visions that guide present policy, one is absent conspicuously: a world in which economic issues have displaced military ones as the central focus of global competitions and concerns. Failing to engage this prospect, the recent defense policy reviews are oblivious to the opportunity cost of military spending. And it is this lapse that gives license to their speculative methods and overweening goals.

The United States continues to invest more of its national product in defense than does its allies, more than the world average, and much more than its chief economic competitors. By disregarding the requirements and consequences of increased global economic competition, present policy makes an unacknowledged bet about the future: The Soviet Union is gone and no comparable military challenge to the West exists, except as distant possibility. Nonetheless, the American prospect depends as much as ever, if not more, on the specifically military aspects of strength. Of this much, the uncertainty hawks seem certain.

The Urgent Need to Demilitarize the National Security State

Melvin A. Goodman, truthout, 20 October 2009.

Managing Strategic Competition with China

Phillip C. Saunders. Strategic Forum, Institute for National Strategic Studies, July 2009.

Global Strategic Assessment, 2009: America’s Security Role in a Changing World

Patrick M. Cronin, editor. Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, 2009.

Downsizing our dominance: The next president will have to deal with a world in which U.S. hegemony is a thing of the past

Fred Kaplan. Los Angeles Times, 03 February 2008.

A Farewell to Geopolitics

Stephen Van Evera. in Melvyn P Leffler and Jeffrey W Legro, To Lead the World: American Strategy after the Bush Doctrine, Oxford Press, 2008. Hosted on the Commonwealth Institute website.