Memo to the Media: the US Spends Six Times More on Military Than China

The Defense Department has just released its annual assessment of China’s military capabilities and development to Congress. The report is being covered in much of the media as a dire warning to the United States warning of the looming threat of Chinese military expansion.

The Hill notes that the report will be “fuel for congressional hawks — mostly Republicans in the House, who point to China as the main reason annual Defense Department budgets must continue to grow.” Politico quotes Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), whose most major campaign contributions come from the defense industry, saying that American security will be “jeopardized” by defense cuts in the wake of China’s military rise:

“China clearly believes that it can capitalize on the global financial crisis, using the United States’ economic uncertainty as a window of opportunity to strengthen China’s economic, diplomatic, and security interests,” said Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a leading opponent of deep defense spending cuts. “Security in the Pacific could be further jeopardized if our regional allies also come to believe that the United States will sacrifice the presence and capability of the US military in an attempt to control spending. This is an unacceptable outcome in such a vital region of the globe.”

What both the Hill and Politico fail to provide in their coverage of the Pentagon’s report and the right-wing response to it is any context about the relative levels of US and Chinese military spending. The US defense budget is six times as large as annual Chinese military spending. The following graphic from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute chronicling U.S. defense spending from 1989 to 2008 visualizes this:

While it’s not unreasonable to discuss the growth of Chinese military spending and debate the US response, these discussions in the media should include the context of relative spending between the two countries to best serve readers.

While China’s military spending remains far eclipsed by that of the United States, there is one area where it is besting the United States: investing in clean energy. China invests twice as much money in clean energy as the United States, and for every dollar it spends on clean energy, it spends two to three dollars on defense. In the United States, every clean energy dollar is paired with 41 dollars of military spending.