NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Putting Defense Budgets in Proportion

February 5, 2002

Did you know that the $48 billion increase in annual military spending that President Bush proposed this week is twice the entire German defense budget? Or that, in dollar terms, the U.S. spent twice as much on defense last year as all other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members combined?

Given the objections from some European leaders that the U.S. acts too much the "unilateralist" in the war on terrorism, analysts argues it's instructive to compare U.S., Canadian and European defense budgets.

Here is how defense spending as a proportion of gross domestic product stacked up for 2001, according to NATO statistics:

  • France's defense expenditure was 2.6 percent -- followed by 2.4 percent for the United Kingdom.
  • Italy devoted 1.9 percent; the Netherlands, 1.6; Germany and Denmark, 1.5 each; Belgium, 1.3; and Canada, 1.1 percent.
  • By comparison, President Bush proposes to devote 3.5 percent of U.S. GDP to defense in 2003.

Experts say that with the exception of the British, Europe's military forces are antique -- often unable to communicate with their American counterparts, much less fight with them. Critics point out that Europe has been pledging to modernize its military for more than a decade -- but it never seems to happen.

No less an authority than NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson has been warning about Europe's dangerously low spending on defense. "Mighty Europe," he warned in a speech in London last month, "remains a military pygmy."

Source: Editorial, "Unmighty Europe," Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2002.


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