***Disclaimer: I know this post is going to be too long for half the people that respond. There will be numerous replies that completely ignore what
is actually in this post and it will be obvious they didn't read it. They will instead lean on tired old straw man arguments that don't even address
any of the points I'm about to make. The best I can tell you is, it would behoove you to actually read this. My purpose here is to inform. The
purpose here is not
to contend that the US military budget is exactly right, nor to debate the merits of particular US military operations.
I'm merely putting the numbers into context.***
This whole NATO defense spending
has presented an opportune time for me to explain something that's long been a pet peeve of mine. Take notice that all of these
discussions about NATO defense spending refer to what each country is spending as a percentage of their GDP. In 2006, NATO countries agreed to spend
at least 2% of their GDP on defense, with the obvious implication being that in order to provide for their collective defense, 2% of GDP should be the
minimum level member countries should spend keeping their military modernized and at a solid state of readiness. Now, the US spends between 3 and 4%
of our GDP on defense, depending on the year. The current number is around 3.5%. As you can see by the chart linked above, many NATO countries are
below 2%, with some down around 1% or even lower, only half of what they've pledged to spend. Anyway, that's not really the point of the thread, it
just gives a good background to have this discussion.
Now, there's a very practical reason for looking at this metric as a percentage of GDP, because all of these countries have different size economies.
It would not be fair or even logical to expect nations with smaller economies to spend as much, dollar-for-dollar, as the US does on defense. This is
a common means of comparing any economic indicators between countries, where dollar-for-dollar comparisons just don't make sense. If you've been
following this topic, in all the coverage the last few days, you haven't heard anyone go "Hey, this GDP metric is stupid, we should be comparing
dollar-for-dollar and European countries should spend as much as the US does" because everyone knows that just makes no sense given the vast
differences in size of economies between the countries in question.
However, there is one discussion where this context is ignored: debate about whether the US spends too much on defense never takes this route. This is
where you hear the common retort that "The US spends more than the next [8, 10, 12, insert number that sounds good today] countries combined on the
military." Since the desired effect of that point is to make it sound like the US spends an abnormal amount on its military, of course this is based
on a dollar-for-dollar comparison, which makes no sense, as noted above.
So what if we do check on the more practical comparison like is being used in the NATO debate? How much more does the US spend than the next country
or group of countries using the obviously more sensible metric of percentage of GDP? Well, none, because we're not even the top spender in the world,
or even in the top 5:
Now, this isn't to say the US doesn't spend a lot on its military. This year, we're projected to spend almost $800 BILLION. That's a lot of money
no matter how you spin it. However, the idea that it's astronomically high in the context of the size of the US economy or the US federal budget just
doesn't hold water. The US economy is a little over $19 TRILLION a year.
The US federal
budget is over $4 trillion a year.
. If you've taken some courses in higher
math, you can see that military spending accounts for less than 20% of our budget. Some people think we spend half our budget or more on the military,
thanks to misleading charts like this that float around social media:
charts intentionally mislead people
by only including discretionary
spending, of which the DoD budget does make up about half. However,
discretionary spending is not the entire federal budget
. As a percentage of the entire US federal budget, defense accounts for between 15 and
20% of our spending, depending on the year (that's in the last link). In all fairness, most of the people sharing these charts have no idea they've
But 15 or 20% is still huge right? We probably don't spend that much on social programs and if we would just cut military spending we could get rid
of the budget deficit and pay down the debt, right? Well, no.
programs are the biggest chunk of the US federal budget and largely responsible for our increasing debt.
Sure, if you completely stopped
spending on the military, you'd cut the deficit by a good chunk, but even if we cut military spending to zero
we'd still be running a budget
deficit. The budget deficit is bigger than our entire defense budget. And nobody thinks a zero military budget is a good idea.
Circling back to the start though, it's worth noting that NATO agreed spending 2% of your GDP is the minimum
we should be spending. So when
people try to make it sound like we're spending way more than reasonable on our military, remember this context. We're actually not even spending
twice what we're required to spend by our NATO obligations. Right now, we're about 75% over what they consider the bare minimum. And their bare
minimum is based on the smallest and least capable countries in the NATO alliance. Also, some
historical context may
. A few decades ago, we were spending 8 or 9% of our GDP on defense, so we've significantly cut military spending historically and
increased domestic spending. When you consider all these factors, our military spending doesn't look so crazy. Even if we cut it to 2%, you'd still
need significant cuts in domestic spending to balance the US federal budget. This was true even before the tax cuts, as I'm sure someone will try to
Anyway, happy bashing.