Military spending

Military spending

Photo by Diego González on Unsplash

Imagine a bizarre military coalition between China, India, Russia, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, Italy and Australia. 

Between them, these countries spent $762 billion on their military during the lockdown year of 2020. This is 38% of the global military spending that was nearly $2 trillion in 2020, a 2.6% increase in real terms on 2019 according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). 

Such an unlikely alliance would be a formidable adversary. There is not much firepower left in the world to go up against such a combined military force.

However, there is one potential adversary capable of taking on such an alliance, at least in terms of military spending. 

At $778 billion, the United States accounted for 39% of total global military expenditure in 2020.

Break down this colossal expenditure by country and the US outspends its nearest rival, China, by three times and spends an order of magnitude more (10.6x) than the next nearest rival, India.

It is hard to see China as the aggressor when these numbers are in the frame. Especially when the disparity between the US and the rest has been going on for decades.

Naturally, the west is grateful for access to such muscle. 

There is little doubt military might has been a deterrent, especially when combined into collective defence. For example, NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 30 European and North American countries to implement the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on 4 April 1949. But the collective defence NATO countries enjoy is thanks to the US paying for most of the expense.

Such generosity is remarkable. If only it was altruism. 

Better use of military spending

Clearly it is hard to put aside advocacy by the military men who are passionate about the need for big boy’s toys deterrent, the wealth creation from such a large military machine, and the influence such apparent generosity buys the US in foreign affairs.

There is no altruism, just some history in being the big cheese combined with social and political advantage from staying ‘strong’.

All this is not confined to the United States. 

Australia has a fraction of the population of the US and a puny US1.4 trillion GDP that cannot even touch California (US3 trillion in 2020). Yet the government can spend US$37 billion on French submarines at a cost of US$1,500 for every person in the country.

Everyone is in on it.

Maybe there are better ways of mobilising the fraction of GDP that becomes government spending.

How about a Universal Basic Income?

Recent research shows that an annual payment to all Australians of A$18,500 a year (US$13,500) would cost the taxpayer roughly A$126 billion a year or A$20 billion that the current cost of unemployment benefit and three times the current defence budget.

It would need an unpalatable jump in the overall tax rate from 28% to 34% to pay for it. 

But the A$20 billion more than the current payments to the unemployed is just half the military budget. 

Maybe it is more about priorities than absolutes.

But as this ramble began with the extreme US military budget, this is the point. Does the world need to spend so much on deterrents and does one country need to overwhelm the rest?


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