Most Americans think of the military power of the United States in roughly the following way:
[The world is a dangerous place. There are war-making aggressive, hostile forces in the world, countries which oppress their own people and threaten others, as well political movements that are prepared to use violence to get their way. We must oppose these threats to our national security. But we are not aggressors. We have a Department of Defense, not a Department of War. We use our military power to defend freedom, to defend democracy, to protect America, but not to dominate other countries and people. If sometimes serious problems arise from our use of military power, as in the Vietnam War or in the Iraq war, mostly these reflect bad judgment, poor information or inadequate understanding of the context rather than bad motives or malevolent goals. Even though we are not perfect, we are a moral force in the world and use our military power for moral purposes. ] That is the dominant view of the American military. Three stark facts about the reality of American military power stand in tension with this idealized view.
1. The United States spends orders of magnitude more on the military than any other country. As indicated in Figures 20.1 and 20.2, in 2008 military spending in the United States accounted for nearly half of the world’s total military spending. This is more than the next 46 highest spending countries in the world combined. It is 5.8 times larger than the spending on the military in China, 10.2 times larger than in Russia and almost 100 times larger than in Iran. If you add to the American figures the spending by the strongest allies of the United States – the NATO countries, Japan, South Korea and Australia – the total comes to 72% of the world’s total. The United States is not simply the world’s only superpower; our military dwarfs that of all potential adversaries combined.