Commentary: China Gets More for Its Military Buck

Posted September 9, 2014 at 5:10am

Noah Smith writes in Bloomberg View : “Whenever anyone brings up the rising military power of China, Russia and other U.S. rivals, some pundit usually pops up to remind us that America is still overwhelmingly dominant both in terms of military capability and spending. The pundit will generally offer you a chart like this one, which shows American military spending dwarfing everyone else’s. The message, of course, is that the U.S. outspends all its rivals, ensuring its continued military dominance.”  

“But there are several problems with this perennial talking point. The first is that these dollar numbers aren’t adjusted for the cost of anything that any of these militaries buy. The lowest-paid U.S. soldiers earn about $18,000 a year. In comparison, in 2009, an equivalent Chinese soldier was paid about a ninth as much. In other words, in 2009, you could hire about nine Chinese soldiers for the cost of one U.S. soldier.”  

The piece concludes:”…if I were a defense policy analyst, I would recommend that we realize the limits of our unilateral power, avoid unnecessary entanglements, try to build more alliances, and persuade some of our allies to boost their military spending.”