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Defense budget: US spends too much and Europe spends too little?

Photograph by Sebastian Zwez For almost four decades the Munich Conference on Security Policy has been a unique informal forum for military issues with high-ranking representatives from many very different countries. This year Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld listed the many terrorist attacks before and after 9/11, compared the "war on terrorism" with the "Cold War" and appreciated that Chancellor Merkel labeled terrorism "the greatest challenge to our security in the 21st century."
Like most US politicians in recent years, Secretary Rumsfeld urged the continental European NATO members to contribute more ressources to defense:
It may be easier for all of us to use our scarce tax dollars to meet urgent needs we all have at home. But unless we invest in our defense and security, our homelands will be at risk. Today 3.7 percent of every American tax dollar goes toward our national defense and the defense of our friends and allies. Six of our 25 NATO allies spend 2 percent or more of their GDP on defense, but 19 Allies - 19 - do not even spend 2 percent.
According to a Department of Defense report, Germany's defense spending was 1.45% of GDP in 2003 and  with $35 billion amounted to less than ten percent of US spending ($384 billion). The only US allies with a larger defense spending than Germany were France, the UK and Japan. As percentage of GDP, however, Germany's defense spending is smaller than those of 21 US allies.

President Bush is going to ask Congress for 5% more money for both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense (DoD). The proposed $439.3 billion for the DoD includes $84.2 billion for weapons systems, an 8 percent increase in weapons spending, writes the Washington Post.

Yale Economist William Nordhaus discusses Excessive Military Spending in the US in a paper for the American Economic Association. According to his calculation, the US spent $500 billion for defense in 2005, as much as the rest of the world put together. Nordhaus concludes:
Other countries face security threats, and they respond by allocating funds to security. Is it plausible that the United States faces a variety and severity of objective security threats that are equal to the rest of the world put together? I would think not. (...)  In one sense, the $590 billion for national security is not a "large" number, because it constitutes only 4.8 percent of GDP, which is smaller than the U.S. spent in earlier hot or cold war periods. On the other hand, national security spending is "huge" by absolute standards. It constitutes about $5000 per family. By comparison, the Federal government current expenditures in 2004 were $14 billion for energy, $4.7 billion for recreation and culture, and $1.8 billion for transit and railroads.
He dismisses the notion that US security policies are a service to the international community and a "public good," because "many countries, even our traditional allies in Western Europe, and especially their populations, appear to believe that our supply of the public good of security is in fact harming their security rather than enhancing it."

You can read and listen to the speeches by Federal Minister of Defense Jung, Chancellor Merkel and other participants of last weekend's Munich conference in both German and English translations. Secretary Rumsfeld started his speech by noting German immigrants:
During America's Civil War, a Confederate commander said if you took the Germans out of the Union Army, the South might win easily. A list of descendents of German immigrants since then would include such world-famous Americans as President Eisenhower, Elvis, and even Babe Ruth, to name but a few.
Regarding Iran, Secretary Rumsfeld called for transatlantic cooperation on a diplomatic solution:
We must continue to work together to seek a diplomatic solution to stopping the development of its uranium enrichment program. The Iranian regime is today the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. The world does not want - and must work together to prevent - a nuclear Iran. While we oppose the actions of Iran's regime, we stand with the Iranian people who want a peaceful, democratic future.
Photograph by Sebastian Zwez. Published by permission from Munich Security conference.


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Tom on :

I hear that Europe is going to increase its defense budget by 5%, mostly earmarked to hired bodyguards for their cartoonists.

Shawn Beilfuss on :

Most of our allies have, in effect by their decision-making, outsourced one aspect or another of their security to the USA and perhaps others, regardless of whether their rhetoric deems it harmful or otherwise. As with any type of outsourcing, the outsourcer has to decide whether what they are considering to be outsourced is a strategic capability or not. By the fact that most of our allies have not maintained robust, comprehensive security capabilities, by that action alone many of our allies have, whether rightly or wrongly, decided that a robust, war-fighting military is not a strategic capability to develop and advance "in-house." Thus, such funds are diverted to other programs, mostly economic and social, which our allies must be deeming strategic to their prosperity. Thus, defense spending in the USA is in some cases perhaps a worldwide subsidy and other cases an on-demand service offering that comes in exchange for desirably equitable services (economic or diplomatic services). In the business world, security is outsourced all the time and it is not nonsense to think this could occur in a macro-sense worldwide. The problems arise in who you select as your service provider, what other clients that provider is servicing, how sensitive is the service being provided, what its effect is on the total security environment, and whether via outsourcing security, long-term security can be compromised. I am willing to make the bet however, that many politicians amongst our allies do not think in such strategic terms and the current status of each country's military forces is the result of more ad hoc decisions than those associated with long-term strategy.

David on :

A budget provides clues to a nation's priorities. I note that the Bush budget proposal includes a 5% increase in funds to the Pentagon (not including $120 Billion for Iraq and Afghanistan). Meanwhile the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention face a 2% cut even as we confront a potential avian flu pandemic. Bush wants to eliminate the $107 million Commodity Supplemental Food Program, a program that provides food to low-income mothers and children under 6 years old, as well as to the elderly poor. The rest of the cuts will come from squeezing education and reducing Medicare just as the nation faces a crisis in health care. At least 45 million Americans have zero health insurance, while millions more are underinsured. Hurricane Katrina ripped the covers off the poverty that has always been there, but is now getting worse. The Bush budget shows that there was never any serious intention to deal with it.

joe on :

David, I am sure you did the primary research on the CDC budget request. I find it interesting you want to continue construction projects when these have been completed.

David on :

Joe, I invite you to read this interesting piece by a cancer researcher in the Washington Post this morning. Priorities?

Thomas on :

Can you guess which US Patriot said the following? And in which year? "This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." Read President Eisenhower's entire speech here: Does he have a point or are you dismissing Eisenhower's criticism of the military-industrial complex, because he was a German immigrant? I did not know he was one before reading this blog article. Thanks Atlantic Review.

joe on :

See how infomrative blogs can be.

Shah Alexander on :

America's defense spending is just 3.7 to 5 or 6 % of GDP. This is nothing excessive, and I can hardly expect a "decline by an imperial over stretch." It is quite well known that Europeans prefer more "Kantian" approaches, while Americans prefer more "Hobbesian" approaches. Though the Cold War is over, the world faces new threats, like WMD proliferation, terrorism, and rogue states. However, perception gaps between the United States and Europe are still large. In addition to defense spending, there is an R & D capacity gap. It seems to me that American research institutions are much better in pursuing big projects systematically than European counterparts. US-made weapons are far more technologically advances than European and Russian ones. In other words, the United States spends huge amount of money more efficiently. I do not have a clear idea why Americans can carry on big R & D projects more efficiently than Europeans. In any case, money is just money.

parisbcn on :

una opinión europea, Bush pasa de las 300.000 personas aun desplazadas del Katrina situación crítica y ni nombro New Orlenans en el discurso de la unión, las amenazan con destruir sus casa ... increible pero uan vez más cierto!!

Jorg W on :

Thanks for your comment. I did not learn Spanish in school, only Latin. You criticize that President Bush wants more money for defense, but not for helping the 300,000 people still displaced after Katrina? And he did not mention New Orleans and Katrina in his State of the Union? He didn't? Is that true? I did not read his entire speech and I don't know what the situation of the Katrina victims is. As I said I did not learn Spanish in school. Please, comment only in English!

liz on :

It is wrong to spend a lot of money on the war and on our military. I would like it if they decrease the spending.


it is wrong to make big spending of dollars on military and other related security services while some other people are dying of hunger and disease,should it not be ok with this biggest ammount of cash going to people in need like those found in Africa and latin America?had it not been Africa where do you think would Usa get the biggest wealth it has today?i would suppose that usa changes its foreign policy so as to have a good immage from its counterparts... live long usa... mike

Joe Noory on :

If only they would do this in the near east, you might have a point.

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