Advancing a Free Society

Data Matters: U.S. National Security Rooted in Our Economic Strength

Thursday, June 7, 2012

This week’s installment of Data Matters features data that shapes the thinking of Kori Schake, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and Associate Professor of International Security Studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Professor Schake points us to what she considers the best chart on worldwide defense spending, originally produced by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the definitive collector of national data on defense capabilities.

The chart in the lower right of the image below shows the magnitude of 2011 U.S. defense spending compared to the rest of the world. The bubble chart running across the top of the image puts that spending in perspective as a proportion of GDP.

Click on the image below to enlarge.

The takeaway is that our economic strength affects our national security, because while the U.S. accounts for 46% of all defense spending in the world, we have, to date, been able to make that national security commitment by spending a relatively modest percentage of our GDP, both historically (4% is well below our post-World War II average) or relative to other powerful countries. (European countries being the exceptions because they’re free-riding off our NATO commitment.) Robust economic growth enables us to maintain a strong national defense while minimizing the trade-offs we must make with other important national priorities.

It merits mentioning that IISS data is based on what countries report, and the Chinese figures are generally believed to be double their reported amount.

Kori Schake is a regular contributor to Advancing a Free Society. You can read her analysis of national security issues and foreign affairs here, and subscribe to her RSS feed here.

With Data Matters, we highlight data relevant to public policy that Hoover fellows are using in their research. We feature original data, data from another source that Hoover fellows are presenting in a new way, or data that fellows find helpful in shaping their own thinking. Visit the Data Matters archive here.

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