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American and Chinese Defense Budgets: Big Spending and Slight Cutting Can Make a Big Difference

American and Chinese Defense Budgets: Big Spending and Slight Cutting Can Make a Big Difference

I saw these two reports within a few minutes of each other and the contrast wasn’t exactly hard to see. The first piece detailed China’s rapidly increasing military spending:

China’s defense budget will double by 2015, making it more than the rest of the Asia Pacific region’s combined, according to a report from IHS Jane’s, a global think tank specializing in security issues.

Beijing’s military spending will reach $238.2 billion in 2015, compared with $232.5 billion for rest of the region, according to the report. That would also be almost four times the expected defense budget of Japan, the next biggest in the region, in 2015, the report said.

And then after just a wee bit more web surfing, I came across this report from the US Military Times:

The Pentagon’s base budget will fall for the first time in more than a decade, slipping less than 1 percent to $525.4 billion from last year’s $530.6 billion. When adjusted for inflation, 2013 would mark the third consecutive year the budget has fallen, officials said…New hardware is taking the biggest hit in the new budget proposal, including proposed delays in the purchase of new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and new Navy ships and ending the Air Force’s unmanned Global Hawk program…

I understand that even with a large expansion by the Chinese military and a slight decline in American defense spending the discrepancy between the two is still substantial. But one can’t help but notice a significant transition occurring in these, more and more uncommon, headlines. The United States is now cutting defense spending while Beijing is most definitely increasing theirs. The Military Times article tries to put the decrease in American spending in historical perspective:

[Pentagon’s comptroller Robert] Hale compared the current plans to other post-war periods including the years following the Vietnam War in the 1970s and the aftermath of the Cold War in the 1990s. “They are not that different than past postwar drawdowns,” Hale said.

It is true that much of the decrease in spending comes from the Iraq and Afghanistan drawdowns, but Comptroller Hale does not know the near future and what challenges our military will have to meet. We keep hearing about how are military is not really getting smaller, but just moving to a new, more important location, East Asia. But at the same time it seems like we are closer than we have been since President Obama was elected to being engaged in a hot war against Iran. And then there is Syria, where there are reports that the US is planning an aerial blockade. The Iraq war has ended, at least for the US, and the Obama administration has sent strong signals that the US led NATO alliance in Afghanistan will be gone by 2014 (maybe even sooner), but future conflicts, which of course would demand billions of federal dollars, can be seen without much imagination.

These two reports show that hard bottom lines still remain: The coming US deficit crisis demands major changes to its spending/taxing policies, with defense spending so far taking the biggest hit, and the Chinese, though with some rough financial waters likely headed their way, will continue to build up their military capabilities. And if you think things are getting serious right now….

The proposal does not take into consideration the law that may result in an additional $500 billion in cuts that would begin next year if lawmakers fail to reach a broader agreement to reduce federal spending and the national deficit. Hale said those cuts, known as budget sequestration, would amount to a “meat ax” approach.



Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO