America’s Military Budget is Too Big

Obama's ArmyReally? 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, Veteran, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force. Connect with Wes on LinkedIn or at

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.

One thought on “America’s Military Budget is Too Big”

  1. This is great! I would add a couple of thoughts. I suspect that we have too many generals and admirals. Were I the boss – and damn good thing I am not – I would slim down our officer Corps. I raise the pay of Captains and above dramatically, i.e. keep the best. Same deal with NCO’s and Petty Officers. Slim down the percentages…but raise the pay and the difference between each pay grade dramatically. Keep the very best. Junior troops ought to be discouraged from getting married. Gen Mundy (former CMC of the Marines and now deceased) had it right. 18-20 year olds need to be married like they need a hole in their heads. For the first enlistment most military people ought be really learning their fighting skills. Demonstrate that they’re mature and capable and if they are THEN offer re-enlistment. Only throw lots of training dollars at folks that you are pretty sure they’ll stick around AND do a good job. Does this seem hateful to young lads? Naw. I did it. We were paid a pittance and it was OK. Squads and platoons bonded together and we were more of a team. Having young troops deploy and deploy over and over and expecting their marriages to be smooth sailing is only in the brains(?) of people that have never done it.

Please leave a comment on this post or on any subject; all are appreciated. Thank you and Semper Fi, Jim