Inter Press Service
The United States continues to lead the world in defence spending, according to a new report released Thursday by the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a U.S.-based non-partisan research organisation.
In fact, the U.S outspends Russia, the next highest spender, by more than 800 percent.
In 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available, the U.S. expenditure was 696.3 billion dollars, followed by Russia's 86 billion and China's 83.5 billion.
The U.S. defence budget is 15 times that of Japan, 47 times that of Israel, and nearly 73 times that of Iran.
Not only does U.S. spending dwarf that of other nations, but it has also grown in recent years.
The budget for fiscal year 2011 is 720 billion dollars, up 67 percent from 2001's 432 billion, accounting for inflation.
In a recent speech to the U.S. Navy League, U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates pointed out examples of the effects of his country's disproportionate spending.
The U.S. Navy can carry twice as many aircrafts at sea as the rest of the world put together, he said, and the navy's overall power is estimated to exceed that of the next 13 most powerful navies combined.
This extreme dominance exists in all branches of the armed forces.
It is notable in the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation's report that, while China and Russia are big spenders, defence spending comes overwhelmingly from the Western industrialised world.
The United States itself accounts for 44.32 percent of the global total spending of 1.57 trillion dollars, with the rest of NATO and non-NATO Europe accounting for another 22.43 percent.
The Middle East and North Africa, on the other hand, account for 7.03 percent, Latin America and the Caribbean for 3.69 percent, and Sub-Saharan Africa a mere 0.77 percent.
China and Russia account for 5.31 percent and 5.47 percent, respectively.
A study released in April by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) showed that Western industrialised countries strongly dominate arms manufacture, as well.
British Aerospace Systems is the largest arms manufacturer in the world, followed by four U.S.-based contractors.
Of the world's top-20 manufacturers, only one, Russia's Almaz-Antei, comes from a non-Western nation.
SIPRI's Susan Jackson told IPS that companies in Western countries have a competitive advantage because of the higher level of technology available to them.
One Western country is missing from the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation's report: North Korea, which does not make reliable figures publicly available.
The U.S. State Department estimates that North Korea – a country in which up to 20 percent of men ages 17-54 are currently serving in the armed forces – spends up to one quarter of its Gross National Product on defence.
Another notable case is the Gulf Region in the Mideast.
While Middle Eastern countries account for a small percentage of worldwide defence spending, Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and especially Saudi Arabia – have ramped up spending in recent years as fears grow about Iranian nuclear weapons development.
These fears are a major factor in Israel's high defence spending as well, SIPRI's Pieter Wezeman told IPS.
Defence spending remains high worldwide despite the global economic crisis. There is reason to believe that the recession's effects may halt this growth, however.
The U.S. Congressional Budget Office has warned that increased debt will have to mean decreased spending across the board, with defence spending no exception.
With the United States by far the dominant spender, decreased U.S. spending would greatly affect total global spending.
"Swimming in its own tide of debt, the U.S., too, may soon be forced to restrain baseline Pentagon spending to just above the rate of inflation in the coming years," Dan Darling, Europe and Middle East Military Markets Analyst at Forecast International Inc., told IPS.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates concurs. "It is not a great mystery what needs to change," he said in his recent speech. "What it takes it the political will and willingness, as Eisenhower possessed, to make hard choices."
Thus far, however, as the new report shows, the economic crisis has not dampened outsized U.S. spending.