Who Really Spends The Most On Their Military?

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

A story on the Guardian Datablog about unexpected results hidden in world-wide military budgets.



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  • Olaf

    Nice post, thanks.

    I feel like it would have been helpful to mention in the “military spending per GDP” part that the figure for North Korea is missing: if you don’t realise that it looks like they’re getting a huge army with very little spending. In fact, I believe that in the 90s (I haven’t seen any recent figures) the official figures said something in the region of 10-15%, putting them ahead of everyone but Myanmar in your figures, while people generally speculated that the real figure was much higher.

  • Mike

    Thanks a lot ! I was always wondering about this and now I have it even on the picture – it’s so easy to understand ;)

    The next step should be to get this on TV, so people can see what’s going on with their money !

  • Jackson

    Imagine if the US spent 4% of its GDP on toothpicks. You might say “it’s only 4%”, but the US would have more toothpicks than the rest of the world combined. Both figures are good to have and both lead to the logical followup question: does the US need that many toothpicks?

  • Kevin

    I bought your book few months ago.. Informative, amusing, and highly entertaining! Thanks!

  • Jeffrey Grabell

    Thanks, David. This was very insightful and put into perspective the vague notions of the US military budget that I had.

  • M.Reza

    Great work

  • Jon

    What was the exchange rate for calculating the spending figures?

  • ryan

    I feel like analysis using a numerical count of enlisted soldiers is not the best metric for determining actual militarization of a particular nation when you factor in the increased role advanced technology plays in modern armed forces. In its past three major armed conflicts the United States has deliberately adopted a doctrine of minimizing the need for infantrymen as much as possible in order to avoid Vietnamesque protests of soldier death tolls and eliminate the need for conscription in a multi-year (soon to be multi-decade) war. They have accomplished this, somewhat successfully, by relying increasingly heavily on air support, missle strikes, unmanned vehicles, and better infantry equipment and communications.

    So, even though we may not literally have as many soliders per 100,000 citizens as say, a country like North Korea which can only increase its military’s effectiveness by enlarging its pool of recruits. I think a more insightful analysis would have been what percent of their annual budget each nation spends on defense. I believe, off the top of my head, that in the US it is close to 20%. I’m curious how that compares to others.

  • woidrick

    well, comments on guardian is closed, so I’ll try to say something here

    I have some words against ‘The former soviet republic of Georgia was invaded by Russia in 2008.’

    There is other point of view.

    Georgia did start an aggression against its province South Osetia, which did not recognise the authority of Georgia before. Georgians did kill more than 2,000 of osetians. Osetians is a small people, about 60,000. Russia did stop the massacre. The numbers of military measures posted in guardian shows the Georgia was planning military actions.

    This point of view is somehow accepted by France.

    You love facts, you love information, you love graphics. May be you can draw something.

  • ceti

    The article reveals more about how cherry picking certain metrics could prove a certain point of view, in this case, to minimize the US military footprint, as opposed to the truth that it purports to tell.

    Not only are the budget figures are wrong (based on reported spending as opposed to spending included in other departments), but they do not include theatre spending at all (Iraq and Afghanistan war costs), nor the additive effect of the budgets of allied countries (which are amongst the top spenders themselves). Throw in the fleet size, air force, nuclear stockpile, and bases, you have a massive force projection unrivaled in history.

  • Chris

    How about comparing the spending to average wages or cost of living? I’m fairly sure that the U.S. and U.K. spend quite a bit more providing food, medical care, and housing to its service members than the the PRC or DPRK.

  • Timo

    I am not expert on this topic so I cannot argue which sources should be used but e.g. the ranking of total military forces per 10000 people is quite different compared to the sources that has been used in Wikipedia.

    Just pointing this out because using those numbers you would have got even bit more surprising results. Or how many would have though that e.g. Singapore and Finland belong to top-10 if comparing the size of total armed forces per capita?

    (This is because both of those countries, as well as e.g. Estonia and Liethuania, have obligatory military service and maintain military doctrine based on large reserve army.)

  • m3 zero

    Spending on the military for the good of there soldiers is very much acceptable and this is the only reason I have been very much interested in going deep into this. I am a PHD student and wanted a topic on which I can do the reasearch.

  • Ray

    I am from the USA and I believe that our military spending should be drastically reduced so more funding can be put into schools and medical research.This would also help reduce the astronomical debt.

    Though, if this were to happen all of the military equipment (tanks, airplanes, ships, etc.) would be wasted. It is my firm belief though that the multi-decade war in Iraq and Afghanistan should be ended.

    • Warren


      Your notion is unrealistic, while it would be great if our nation could divert military spending towards schools and education, the truth of the matter is that there are far top many entities with their sights set on toppling our way of life. We spend far more on Social Security, education, and Welfare than we do our military.

      Liberal organizations such as CNN report astronomical figures regarding military spending, but anything can be spun to suit one’s argument. If we reduced our military budget but started suffering regular terror attacks on American soil citizens would feel betrayed and outraged. There’s obviously no perfect solution, but American safety is the first priority.

  • Markus

    Only because my neighbour earns less but drives a car that needs 20 litres per 100 km doesn’t mean that I am an environmentalist with my 18 litres per 100 km car…

  • Michael R. Wolf

    The “CIA Factbook” quotes Myanmar at 2.1% (2005 estimate).

    East & Southeast Asia :: Burma
    Address :

    How do you account for such a disparity? Have they really increased their expenditure 10X in the intervening years?

  • Leo

    If you say, who “really” has the biggest budget, I thought you would refer to hidden costs not included in the actual figures.
    Merely expressing it as % of GDP doesn’t catch the picture: why on earth would the richest country in the world need to have more than double the average figure on defense spending? This in itself is hardly justifiable. If you have a look at the regimes spending more in terms of share of GDP, those are all dictatorships that depend on the military in order to suppress their population and cling on to power. How does that apply to the US and/or justify the military spending it has? COuldn’t you argue it would be enough for them to spend a fraction of their GDP on the military as it would still ensure their safety? If the answer is no, then this points to a pretty biased definition of what the US’ safety comprehends. Though this certainly shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. What does come as a surprise is this attempt of yours to relativize the US military industrial complex.

    • sadie

      s it possible that the figure for number infected with flu is artificially low due to most people not bothering to see a doctor about it? 9.4% fatality rate seems awfully high, even considering high risk populations