Military spending by the US has declined, but it still dwarfs that of any other nation

Talking size.
Talking size.
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
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During the US vice presidential debate, Indiana governor Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s running mate, complained about the size of the military:

We have the smallest Navy since 1916. We have the lowest number of troops since the end of the Second World War. We’ve got to work with the Congress and Donald Trump will to rebuild our military and project American strength to the world.

A few weeks ago the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released its annual yearbook, which assesses the current state of armaments, disarmament, and international security in the world. One point of focus is world military expenditure.

According to SIPRI, in 2015 US military spending fell by 2.4% compared with 2014. It was the fifth consecutive year of decline, though it was one of the lowest annual rates of reduction since 2010, the year in which SIPRI recorded the highest-ever level of US spending. This year is expected to mark a rise in spending.

It’s easy to see why a steady decline of military spending might alarm those in the US worried about global flashpoints such as the South China Sea and central Europe, with an increasingly assertive China and Russia looming over each region respectively.

But some perspective is also in order. Even with the decline, US military spending of nearly $600 billion still accounted for 36% of the world’s total last year. China came next at about 13%, followed by Saudi Arabia at 5.2%.