Military Expenditures

The American political campaign has ended up discussing NATO recently, including one candidate who states that NATO is “obsolete.” The sense is that America’s allies are not pulling their weight. Let us just look at some comparative defense budgets for a moment. Most figures below are estimates for 2015 from the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), a private UK based organization. I cannot vouch for their accuracy, but they have been doing this for a while.

United States: $597.5 Billion or 3.3% of GDP

Now, our NATO allies are spending much less. The big spender is the United Kingdom at 56.2 billion or 2% of their GDP. This is followed by Germany at 36.6 billion which is only 1.1% of their rather large GDP (largest economy in Europe). France is at 32.0 billion or 1.9% of their GDP (note that the SIPRI figures are much higher for France). Other large NATO countries include:

Turkey…..….22.6….2.2% (these are 2014 SIPRI figures)





Netherlands…10.1.…1.2% (these are 2014 SIPRI figures)

Total NATO expenditures (not including United States) for 2014 was $310 billion (SIPRI figures). I gather it is now somewhat less. It was the goal once that every member of NATO spent 2% of their GDP on national defense. Many NATO members are far below that goal.

So, it would appear that the U.S. spending 3.3% of its GDP on defense, while no major country in NATO is spending much more than 2% of its GDP on defense. In contrast Russia is spending $51.6 billion or 4.1% of GDP. So certainly between England, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Spain, Poland and the Netherlands they are spending at least $195.2 billon on defense, which is almost four times what Russia is spending.

If one looks to the Pacific, one sees the same pattern. The United States spends 597.5 billion on defense or 3.3%. Our ally Japan spends 41.4 billion or 1.0% of GDP. South Korea, sitting opposite the very unstable and dangerous North Korea, spends 33.4 million on defense or 2.4% of GDP. Taiwan, still claimed as a province by China, spends 10.2 billion or 1.9% of GDP.

In contrast China is spending 145.8 billion on defense or 1.2% of its GDP.


Now these are mostly IISS figures, there are somewhat different figures provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). For example they have the U.S. budget figures at 596.0 (vice 597.5) but this makes up 3.9% of GDP (vice 3.3%). Not sure why there is such a big difference in the figures for percent of GDP. They have a much higher figure for China (215 billion at 1.9% of GDP), Russia (66.4 billion at 5.4% of GDP) and France (50.9 billion at 2.1% of GDP). They have a world total figure of 1,676 billion (of which the United States spending makes up 35.6%) while the IISS has a world total figure of 1,563 billion (of which the United States spending makes up 38.2%).

Of course, this does not address how much “bang for the buck” people are getting.

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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One comment

  1. The moment the NATO disbands, Riga, Kiev, Talinn and Vilnius will fall into Russian hands. The governments of many Central European Nations will change their allegiance and political stance. There will be more puppet states and bases than just Latakia.
    The same people who brandmark the NATO as “obsolete”, demand the expansion of an “Eurasion Union”. These (usually) right or left wing agitators/5th columns and parties are generally (indirectly) financed by the Kremlin itself.
    Poland’s, Turkey’s and South Korea’s spendings are understandable, as they are at the periphery of NATOs shpere of interest. Germany’s and Japan’s expenditures are low due to historical reasons (Japan on the other hand will increase the spending, facing a Chinese menace, potentially dragging USA into another unnecessary pacific conflict).
    The moment Germany is going to raise military expenditures, other European countries will be alarmed and feel uneasy (especially France with a debt of over 94% of their GDP).
    If anything, the USA is the sole guarantor for piece in Western Europe (carrying out the dirty work and still facing criticism from just these ranks).
    Somehow the current situations in Syria and Ukraine remind me of the Spanish Civil War, the “upbeat” to a much larger conflict. Of course the problems are far more complicated and nuanced than the false oversmimplification we are usually presented with (or dichotomy for that matter).
    I fear the only effective weapons are sanctions paired with a low oil price.

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