Combined military expenditures of China and Russia now exceed the United States

Two years ago on this site, we raised the alarm that if drastic measures were not taken in short order, the combined military expenditures of China and Russia would shortly overtake that of the United States.

That day has arrived.

As we noted in our previous article:

Comparing military spending among major powers using a common U.S. dollar metric is simply economic nonsense.  Given that adversaries such as China and Russia, among others, have massive in-house arms manufacturing capabilities as well as expend great resources on indigenous operations and maintenance requirements, the correct means of comparison is on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis.

On this datum, and using military spending data from SIPRI [Stockholm International Peace Research Institute] and economic data from the IMF, the results should give pause to those in the West who believe we hold a major spending advantage.  In 2015, the U.S. spent $596 billion in international dollars (the PPP currency) on defense, while China spent $374 billion and Russia spent a further $187 billion.

Add these latter two together, and you get $561 billion, effectively equivalent to that of the United States.  Throw in Iran, another $34 billion, and the sum does equal American spending.

As of the latest instalment from the SIPRI database, and once again using IMF economic data, in 2017, the United States spent 610.6 billion international dollars on defense, compared to $442.1 billion for China and $170.9 billion for Russia.

Thus, the combined military expenditures of these two adversaries totaled $613 billion.  In addition, Iran's military spending has increased 50% over just the past two years, from $34 billion to $51 billion.

These calculated values for China, Russia, and Iran are also likely to be gross underestimates, with actual expenditures probably in the range of 25% higher or more.

NATO members other than the USA continue to be laggards, with almost all wallowing below the recommended 2% of GDP defense spending target.  Canada's military expenditures are still stuck at 1.3% of GDP, while the U.K. has declined to just 1.8%, Germany is holding constant at only 1.2%, and Italy is stagnant at 1.5%.

In other words, nothing has changed in NATO since Donald Trump took office.  The United States is still shouldering the vast majority of NATO's common defense expenditures and is the only member with global force projection capabilities that allows it to readily participate in the defence of other member states under Article V treaty requirements.  The idea that Canada could come to the common defense of Europe, or vice versa, is laughable absent the USA giving them all a ride across the pond by acting as NATO's taxi service.

The era of multipolar powers is upon us once again, and current defense spending trends in the West are poorly equipped to deal with this renewed geopolitical reality.  Not only are adversaries collectively spending more on defense than the USA, but their technological capabilities are rapidly catching up to, and potentially exceeding, the United States and its allies in some areas.  China's notable progress on nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers are also facilitating its steps toward regional-plus, and ultimately global, force projection.

Rather than attempting to sweep these concerns under the political rug every year with superficial analyses that consist of little more than "the United States spends more than the next [insert your favorite large number here] countries combined" articles based on irrelevant U.S. dollar comparisons, or ostrich-like views that the West will maintain technological superiority in perpetuity, the data need to be openly considered and debated using the correct economic reference.  Only then can rational defense policies be constructed.

Two years ago on this site, we raised the alarm that if drastic measures were not taken in short order, the combined military expenditures of China and Russia would shortly overtake that of the United States.

That day has arrived.

As we noted in our previous article:

Comparing military spending among major powers using a common U.S. dollar metric is simply economic nonsense.  Given that adversaries such as China and Russia, among others, have massive in-house arms manufacturing capabilities as well as expend great resources on indigenous operations and maintenance requirements, the correct means of comparison is on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis.

On this datum, and using military spending data from SIPRI [Stockholm International Peace Research Institute] and economic data from the IMF, the results should give pause to those in the West who believe we hold a major spending advantage.  In 2015, the U.S. spent $596 billion in international dollars (the PPP currency) on defense, while China spent $374 billion and Russia spent a further $187 billion.

Add these latter two together, and you get $561 billion, effectively equivalent to that of the United States.  Throw in Iran, another $34 billion, and the sum does equal American spending.

As of the latest instalment from the SIPRI database, and once again using IMF economic data, in 2017, the United States spent 610.6 billion international dollars on defense, compared to $442.1 billion for China and $170.9 billion for Russia.

Thus, the combined military expenditures of these two adversaries totaled $613 billion.  In addition, Iran's military spending has increased 50% over just the past two years, from $34 billion to $51 billion.

These calculated values for China, Russia, and Iran are also likely to be gross underestimates, with actual expenditures probably in the range of 25% higher or more.

NATO members other than the USA continue to be laggards, with almost all wallowing below the recommended 2% of GDP defense spending target.  Canada's military expenditures are still stuck at 1.3% of GDP, while the U.K. has declined to just 1.8%, Germany is holding constant at only 1.2%, and Italy is stagnant at 1.5%.

In other words, nothing has changed in NATO since Donald Trump took office.  The United States is still shouldering the vast majority of NATO's common defense expenditures and is the only member with global force projection capabilities that allows it to readily participate in the defence of other member states under Article V treaty requirements.  The idea that Canada could come to the common defense of Europe, or vice versa, is laughable absent the USA giving them all a ride across the pond by acting as NATO's taxi service.

The era of multipolar powers is upon us once again, and current defense spending trends in the West are poorly equipped to deal with this renewed geopolitical reality.  Not only are adversaries collectively spending more on defense than the USA, but their technological capabilities are rapidly catching up to, and potentially exceeding, the United States and its allies in some areas.  China's notable progress on nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers are also facilitating its steps toward regional-plus, and ultimately global, force projection.

Rather than attempting to sweep these concerns under the political rug every year with superficial analyses that consist of little more than "the United States spends more than the next [insert your favorite large number here] countries combined" articles based on irrelevant U.S. dollar comparisons, or ostrich-like views that the West will maintain technological superiority in perpetuity, the data need to be openly considered and debated using the correct economic reference.  Only then can rational defense policies be constructed.