The Myth of U.S. Defense Spending (Not) Debunked

I’d heard before that the U.S. not only is number one in the world in defense spending, but that is “spends more than the X next countries combined”, where X could be 5, 10, or even 15 or more.

And I’d always brushed off such claims. I figured they were just exaggerations by anti-American pinko-commie wimps. Distorted data warped to make a point. Misinformation.

Let me say from the start that I’m ex-Navy, and I like defense spending. A country’s first responsibility is to protect its people, and protecting American interests around the globe costs money. Countries that don’t have enough military presence are less likely to have things their own way on the global stage.

And I honestly believe that a lot of the stuff that the U.S. military does in other regions is good and even noble. I like being able to support pro-democracy movements in other countries, and being able to stop genocide. I take that “Never Again” talk about the Holocaust seriously.

So when a Facebook meme about the U.S. spending more than the next X countries came around the other day, I decided to check it out.

And I was surprised at what I found.

It’s true. The U.S. did indeed spend more on defense in 2011 than the next X countries combined, where X turns out to be 16.

The U.S. spent $690 billion dollars on defense (read “war and war-related stuff”) in 2011. Number two on the list was China with $129 billion in spending. Adding numbers 2 through 17 together gives a total of $684 billion in spending.

The U.S.’s defense spending as a percentage of GDP had been decreasing from 1986 through 1999. We called it the peace dividend. It was supposed to be the benefit we got from “winning the Cold War”, as we used to say. Spending decreased from 5.8 percent of GDP in 1986 to just 2.8 percent of GDP.

Understandably, September 11 changed things. Part of defending the “Homeland” required an increase in defense spending. It would be nice if defense didn’t have to go further than a country’s borders, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.

And so defense spending has been increasing since 1999 and is now up to 4.6 percent of GDP.

But the question today is, now that the U.S. has eliminated Osama bin Laden, now that the War in Iraq is over, now that the Taliban weakened, do we really need to be spending so much on defense?

Again, I like defense. I like being able to throw our weight around on the global stage. And I love me some Abrams tanks (let’s be honest – they really are cool). But do we really need quite so many of them? Do we really need to be outspending the next 16 countries combined?

I don’t want America to be weak, and I don’t want to make the world unsafe for Americans.

But maybe – just maybe – if we spent a little less on guns and bullets and tanks and missiles, maybe a few other countries wouldn’t feel obligated to spend quite so much. And maybe – just maybe – we’d have have much security without having to spend so much on it.

Not to mention having more money on hand to do good stuff for Americans right here at home.

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