Chart Of The Day: Cutting Defense Spending Edition

Matthew Yglesias provides this chart of U.S. vs. Iranian military spending to counter the argument that cutting defense spending, even modestly, would endanger our ability to respond to potential threats from nations like Iran:

Ygelsias comments:

Israel’s defense budget is about 50 percent larger than Iran’s, as is the UAE’s. Saudi Arabia spends over triple Iran’s defense budget. So it’s not even clear that Iran’s regional adversaries require any backup from the US to match Iran’s fiscal muscle. But if that is what we’re trying to do, then we’re badly overspending.

South Korea has a defense budget of $27.6 billion. The entire GDP of North Korea is only $40 billion. Somalia’s GDP is less than $6 billion. There’s just nothing in these countries that remotely resembles the scale of what the Pentagon is doing.

It’s not just Iran that we’re outspending by astronomical amounts, it’s everyone else in the world, as noted in this chart included in a post last week:

What information like this tells us is that it is possible to cut defense spending (and by “cut,” of course Washington actually means a reduction in the rate of growth in future years not a cut in real dollars) without endangering our security.


FILED UNDER: Deficit and Debt, Military Affairs, National Security, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.


  1. Jeff says:

    it doesn’t tell you anything about our future security … it says we spend more than others by alot … maybe thats because we have alot of things to defend … it would be great if we could hire 19 guys to fly planes into Iranian buildings, that certainly would be alot cheaper …

    simple charts for simple minds I guess … as a % of GDP we are at historic levels and not highs …

  2. Drew says:

    I have no doubt that defense spending could be cut in absolute dollar terms, just like I’m certain non-defense spending could be cut – despite all the howling. How much I don’t know.

    In any event, using such gross statistics isn’t really helpful. Apportioning these expenses to categories like foreign country bases, nuclear arsenal, current hostile engagements, US bases, weapons programs etc would be helpful. Then you can start deciding where to chop, after considering what the US does for other countries and what we want to offload on them, and how much “overspending” (my words) we want to do because we want to be in control.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    …simple charts for simple minds I guess…

    To be followed by simple comments like the one above…

    …we have alot of things to defend…

    Yeah, there’s a complex answer to why we have to spend so much on defense…

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    We spend less because the other countries are not projecting their military force. My question is what does projecting military force do for me and most Americans? – the answer is nothing!

  5. michael reynolds says:

    Maybe we’re just really bad at shopping. Could be time for the Pentagon to consider a Costco membership.

  6. hey norm says:

    a guy i work with is the ultimate small government guy. just recently the state announced it was stopping ferry service across the river…the ferry he takes everyday. now he is up in arms about the goverment cutting services.
    stuff like this cracks me up…the tea babies want to slash spending, but only the spending they don’t like. the keep government out of my medicare set. cut foreign aid…which is about 1% of the budget, but not defense…which is 20% of the budget. 20% of a $3.5T and they don’t think there is any room for cutting. ridiculous.
    it’s almost as funny as boehner and cantor complaining about debt, after they voted for eveything that is actually compiling the debt.

  7. A voice from another precinct says:

    @hey norm: The situation you mention about your coworker is common to the problem. Gallup and other polsters have consistently found (for over 20 years when I first noticed the results) found that while nearly all voters believe that Congress is full of corrupt wasteful spendthifts, they also believe that the congressman from their district is good at serving both the nation and the individual district he comes from.

    One man’s pork barrel project is another’s valuable addition to the national infrastructure. It’s human nature and probably won’t go away for a long time–which is why we have to go back to discussing raising taxes (insert horrified gasp here).