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).

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