Friday, September 3, 2010

World Military Spending 2009

Caption: The nuclear aircraft carrier U.S.S. Nimitz in Victoria, Canada. Perhaps no other weapon symbolizes the disparity between our military spending and the rest of the world's. No other nation has even one such ship, and we have eleven (ten Nimitz class plus U.S.S. Enterprise). What about the Charles DeGaulle, you ask? Not even close - she has barely half the air complement of a Nimitz.

Image credit: U.S. Navy/Wikipedia

This is a table that I copied from the SIPRI 2010 Yearbook on Military Expenditures (PDF). SIPRI is the acronym of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which describes its purpose this way:

SIPRI is an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament. Established in 1966, SIPRI provides data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public.

SIPRI was established on the basis of a decision by the Swedish Parliament and receives a substantial part of its funding in the form of an annual grant from the Swedish Government. The Institute also seeks financial support from other organizations in order to carry out its broad research programme.


Other than the CIA World Book, which tends to have more outdated figures, I don't know of any organizations that do this sort of analysis on this scale.

The 15 countries with the highest military expenditure in 2009
RankCountrySpending ($ b.)Change, 2000–2009 (%)Spending per capita ($)Share of GDP, 2008 (%)aWorld share (%)
Sub-total top 5 937 61
8Saudi Arabiab41.266.91,6038.22.7
Sub-total top 10 1,147 75
12South Korea24.148.24992.81.6
Sub-total top 15 1,254 82
World 1,531 49.22242.7100

Spending figures are in US$, at current prices and exchange rates.
[ ] estimated figure.
GDP = gross domestic product.
a The figures for national military expenditure as a share of GDP are for 2008, the most recent
year for which GDP data is available.
b The figures for Saudi Arabia include expenditure for public order and safety and might be
slight overestimates.
Sources: SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, ; and
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), State of World Population 2009: Facing a Changing World—Women, Climate and Population (UNFPA: New York, 2009), p. 91.

I'll just make a few observations here.

First, those numbers in red, the percent of GDP represented by our military budget and the percent of the world's military expenditures that budget represents, are both shockingly high. Our defense budget is more than the combined spending of the remaining 14 top spenders, most of whom are among our NATO allies.

Second, the countries whose rows have a white background are those that could reasonably be considered our peers. They are all Western-style republican democracies with a standard of living similar to ours. Yet the nation with the highest percentage of GDP spent on the military, the United Kingdom, spends roughly two-thirds what we do as a portion of GDP. Some countries, including Canada, spend less than a third as much.

If we were spending the same proportion of our GDP on defense as the United Kingdom is, we would have saved about $277 billion in 2009. We could have used the savings to completely pay for the current (and extremely inefficient) health care bill, double the budget of NASA and NOAA, and still have at least $50 billion left over for infrastructure improvements, which is nearly twice what Congress voted for in the stimulus.

Of course, we could also be using that money to educate our children well enough that they can use the weapons we are designing for them, and still have plenty left over.

That $277 billion represents a rather absurd set of priorities. We have no real enemies at the moment, and have plenty of powerful allies. In a time when we are seriously talking about reducing Social Security to reduce our budget, treating this part of our federal budget as sacrosanct is nothing short of crazy.

NOTE: Apologies to anyone who cannot see all of the table's columns. That's because this particular page format is limited to about 550 pixels across. That makes it all but impossible to get a wide table like this in it. If you set the font size of your browser to 14 pixels or less, you should be able to see the whole thing.

Of course, you might not be able to read it.

For you Posix users, there's a utility called kmag that may help.

As with the last article where I created such a table, I've created an Open Office spreadsheet that anyone is welcome to. Just e-mail me if you want a copy.


Dana Hunter said...

"Guns before Grannies" is apparently one of America's favorite slogans. I wonder if the fact we have far more films with gunfights than grannies is at all correlated.

Our military spending is obscene. How we're going to find or elect enough politicians to admit, much less change, that is beyond me.

Cujo359 said...

The defense budget has risen nearly every year since the fall of the Soviet Union. That in itself is an astonishing fact. There has been no real motivation for increased spending since that time, and plenty of reason to lower it.

It will not be lowered until the American voters demand it, which means they vote out anyone who votes for increased spending.