August 9, 2006

War: the human race just isn't trying very hard anymore

As part of my daylong obsession with providing some perspective on war in the modern world, in contrast to the fevered discussions you'll find elsewhere, I took a look at military spending as a percent of the economy.

n 1944, the U.S. spent 38% of its GDP on the military. The U.S. defense budget ran around 9% of GDP in the 1950s after the Korean War, and was fairly similar in the 1960s. In the 1980s, it approached 6%. Today, even while fighting in Iraq, we're down around 4%.

And yet, despite this decline, we spend 47% of all the money on the military in the world, by one estimate. According to the CIA World Factbook, the world only spends about 2% of the global gross product on the military today.

Lots of other countries that you might think of as big spenders, aren't. According to the Factbook:

Iran, which everybody knows intends to blow up the world, is spending all of 3.3% of its GDP on the military.

China which is widely said to be hellbent for leather to displace us is spending 4.3% of their GDP on their military - a bit more than us relative to the size of their economy, but hardly comparing to the Soviet Union's devotion to arms back in the bad old days. (I saw one estimate of 15-17% in 1988, but I bet it might have been even higher.) Taiwan, which is supposed to be so threatened by China, is spending all of 2.4%.

South Korea, which has crazy North Korea across the border, spends only 2.6%. Then there are Pakistan 3.9% and India 2.5%. Others include Australia 2.7%, Canada 1.1%, Libya 3.9%, Syria 5.9%, Egypt 3.4%, Turkey 5.3%, Kuwait 4.2%, Vietnam 2.5%, Indonesia 3.0%, Rwanda 2.9%, Cuba 1.8%, Venezuela 1.2%, Colombia 3.4%, France 2.6%, United Kingdom 2.4%, Germany 1.5%, Brazil 1.3%, Japan 1.0%, Kazakhstan 0.9%, and Mexico 0.8%. The two countries that claim zero spending on the military are Iceland and the Dominican Republic.

So, who are the big spenders? Israel 7.7% (a lot, but less than the U.S. spent in the 1960s), Angola 8.8%, Saudi Arabia 10%, Oman 10.0%, Qatar 11.4%, and Jordan 11.4%.

Nobody knows much about North Korea, but the Factbook suggests 12.5% as a guess.

So, who had the highest military share of all those I looked at?

It's the War Nerd's favorite foreign country, Eritrea at 17.7%.

In summary, the human race just isn't trying very hard anymore to blow each other up.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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