Really? Who says so? The main stream media? The pro-libs? In reality, anyone who wants to drive home their biased point that we spend too much on our military. But wait, are they telling you the truth? This is an eye opener.
Words by Wes O’Donnell, Professor of Predictive Analytics and Leadership. Managing Editor, InMilitary.com. Veteran, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force. Connect with Wes on LinkedIn or at www.wesodonnell.com
Teaching college students about data and analytics is fun; I love how data can shatter preconceptions and everyday notions of reality. Knowing that their instructor is a military veteran, a group of my students recently asked me why America spends so much on its military. They claimed it was overkill and that the United States spends more on its military than the other top nine countries combined!
Really? Let’s look at the data. And just to be impartial, we’ll use numbers from an independent resource on global security, The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
And just to put it in context, let’s gobble up all of the other countries and put it next to Africa’s total debt and the UK’s budget deficit.
Wow! The U.S. military budget is indeed massive! So, is America an aggressive, war-mongering nation? Are we looking at the complete story? Are we seeing the whole picture?
America is a rich country. In fact, we are so massively rich and wealthy that you could combine the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the next top 4 countries inside the United States!
As David McCandless famously states, “It doesn’t seem fair to not factor in the wealth of a country when assessing its military budget.”
So what happens when you take military budgets as a proportion of each country’s GDP?
It turns out that Myanmar spends the most on their military at an incredible 26% of GDP! The United States is way down in 8th place at only 4% and the United Kingdom, our strongest ally, is 29th on the list at 2%.
So what about soldiers? Who do you think has the most soldiers? It has to be China, right?
But China has an enormous population, of course their military is going to be large. But what happens when we add in the data-set of “population” in relation to soldiers?
Now a sharper image comes into focus. North Korea has the most soldiers per 100,000 people, followed closely by Eritrea, a small country in the Horn of Africa. The United States is in 45th place with only 507 per 100,000 and China extremely far down the list at 124th with only 164 soldiers per 100,000 people.
And finally, to give the most complete picture, let’s calculate the total armed forces of a nation in relation to its population:
Once again, the United States is ranked at 61st on the list with North Korea, Russia and Israel taking up the first, second and third highest spots respectively.
The lesson for my students? Always be skeptical. Just because something makes a good headline, doesn’t make it true, even if it is from a seemingly reputable news source. Always ask if all of the data sets are represented. A very different picture may emerge.