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Who really spends the most on their armed forces?

Posted by on Apr. 1, 2010 at 10:17 AM
  • 6 Replies

 

Information is beautiful: war games

Who really spends the most on their armed forces?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/apr/01/information-is-beautiful-military-spending

 

Info is beautiful: defence budgets Photograph: David McCandless

Amid confusion over the rise in defence cuts, I was surprised to learn that the UK has one of the biggest military budgets in the world - nearly £40bn ($60 bn) in 2008.

But I was less surprised to see who had the biggest.

 Info is beautiful: war chests. Graphic: David McCandless

 

Yep, the United States spent a staggering $607bn (£402 bn) on defence in 2008. Currently engaged in what will likely be the longest ground war in US history in Afghanistan. Harbourer of thousands of nuclear weapons. 1.5m soldiers. Fleets of aircrafts, bombs and seemingly endless amounts of military technology.

Here's that bloated military budget in context.

 
Info is beautiful: the US military budget. Graphic: David McCandless

 

The defence budgets of the other top nine countries can be neatly accommodated inside the US budget.

So the US is an aggressive, war-mongeringing military machine, right? And the numbers prove it.

But is that true? Is that the whole picture?

Military units

First of all, the enormity of the US military budget is not just down to a powerful military-industrial complex. America is a rich country.

In fact, it's vastly rich. So its budget is bound to dwarf the others.

 
Info is beautiful: defence budgets compared. Graphic: David McCandless

 

(This is a reworking of an image from the blog ASecondHandConjecture.com)

It doesn't seem fair to not factor in the wealth of a country when assessing its military budget.

So, if you take military budgets as a proportion of each country's GDP, a very different picture emerges.

 
Info is beautiful: the biggest spenders. Graphic: David McCandless

 

The US is knocked down into 8th place by such nations as Jordan, Burundi and Georgia. The UK plunges to 29th.

Why are these other nations spending so much on their military?


• Myanmar (Burma) is a military dictatorship, so that must bias their budgets a little.

• Jordan occupies a critical geographic position in the Middle East and has major investment in its military from the US, UK and France. In return, it deploys large peace-keeping forces across the world.

• The former soviet republic of Georgia was invaded by Russia in 2008. Relations remain extremely tense.

• Saudi Arabia spends heavily on its air force and military capabilities. Why is not clear.

The stories behind Kyrgyzstan, Burundi and Oman's spending are also not clear. (If you have any ideas, please let us know).

Soldiers

A country's military investment is not just dollars and cents. It's also about soldiers and infantry.

When it comes to sheer number of soldiers, you can guess the result.

 
Info is beautiful: active forces. Graphic: David McCandless

 

But, as ever, using whole numbers creates a skewed picture. China obviously has a huge population. Their army is bound to be huge.

If you adjust the parameters to a proportional view, the image shifts dramatically.

 
Info is beautiful 6: proportional forces. Graphic: David McCandless

 

North Korea tops the league with the most militarised population, while China plummets to a staggering 164th in the world league table.

The US barely scrapes the top 50. The UK's armed forces look tiny.

This re-ordering creates some surprises too. Israel and Iraq you could perhaps predict. But Eritrea and Djibouti?

All soldiers

To give the fullest picture of armed forces, reservists, civilian and paramilitary should also be included.

This again gives a different picture and perhaps a more revealing one. One that suggests combat readiness, primed forces and perhaps paranoia too? Who's expecting to be invaded?

 
Info is beautiful: total armed forces. Graphic: David McCandless

 

Here again, when all the numbers are added up, the US infantry is ranked a lowly 61st for size in the world.

So is the US an "aggressive, war-mongering military machine" obsessed with spending on defence and plumping up its armed forces? Perhaps, the numbers say, not.

The data

Military Budgets Around The World 2008
source:
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
(make a copy of the spreadsheet if you want to use the sorting feature)

GDP of major nations as US States
source (IMF, Bureau Of Economic Analysis)

Africa Debt figure: UN (PDF)

by on Apr. 1, 2010 at 10:17 AM
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Replies (1-6):
Mommy_of_Riley
by Jes on Apr. 1, 2010 at 10:52 AM

So whoever wrote this kept spelling defense (defence) whih REALLY annoyed me.  But I kept reading...  Nothing I read shocked me...

katy_kay
by on Apr. 1, 2010 at 10:54 AM

 It was in an UK paper.  Their spelling is different than ours on a couple things. 

Quoting Mommy_of_Riley:

So whoever wrote this kept spelling defense (defence) whih REALLY annoyed me.  But I kept reading...  Nothing I read shocked me...

 

Mommy_of_Riley
by Jes on Apr. 1, 2010 at 4:31 PM

Okay!  That makes sense then!  :) 

Quoting katy_kay:

 It was in an UK paper.  Their spelling is different than ours on a couple things. 

Quoting Mommy_of_Riley:

So whoever wrote this kept spelling defense (defence) which REALLY annoyed me.  But I kept reading...  Nothing I read shocked me...

 


Joqui
by Joqui on Apr. 1, 2010 at 4:34 PM

Katy Kay I am sorry but I was distracted by nacho libre LOL

katy_kay
by on Apr. 1, 2010 at 4:45 PM

 LOL...he is my April 1st Super Hero! 

Quoting Joqui:

Katy Kay I am sorry but I was distracted by nacho libre LOL

 

Joqui
by Joqui on Apr. 1, 2010 at 5:08 PM

he's awesome!

Quoting katy_kay:

 LOL...he is my April 1st Super Hero! 

Quoting Joqui:

Katy Kay I am sorry but I was distracted by nacho libre LOL

 


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