It’s often observed that the United States spends as much on defense as the next 10 or so nations combined. As Congress begins to consider the annual National Defense Authorization Act, it should recognize that this commonplace is simplistic, inaccurate, and serves only to undercut our own defenses.
In his final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama dismissed criticism of his defense policies as “political hot air” with the comment that the United States “spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.”
That wasn’t an original claim. In fact, it’s a cliché. The number of nations varies, but the core of the assertion never changes: the United States spends more than a collection of other nations does, and therefore spends enough, or too much. But as my colleagues Rachel Zissimos and Thomas Spoehr demonstrate in a new paper, this assertion is wrong. It doesn’t take into account the fact that costs aren’t the same in every country.
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