Fact Check: Is Our Military Thriving or Diminishing?

Does America Still Have the Best Military in the World?

There has been little consensus in current political discussions about the state of our country’s military. Since the end of World War I, America has prided itself on having the strongest military in the world. A lot has changed since the First and Second World Wars. The size and scale of the wars in the Middle East pale in comparison to some of our country’s previous international conflicts, but does that really mean that America’s military is being downsized? Let’s get to the facts as to whether or not America’s military is in a state of decay.

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Number 1 in Military Spending

Judging the quality of America’s military is much more complicated than just dollars and cents. A powerful military needs to be technologically advanced and combat ready, but before we journey into the modern capabilities of our current military, let’s take a look at the annual defense budget. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the top 15 militaries spent about $1.7 trillion in the 2015 fiscal year. Of that $1.7 trillion, America spent $596 billion, putting the competition to shame. China came in at number 2, spending around $215 billion. Saudi Arabia came in third with a defense budget of over $87 billion. Russia came in fourth, spending over $66.4 billion; and in fifth place, the United Kingdom spent over $55 billion in 2015. America spent more than the next four countries combined.

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Adding Up America’s Resources

While America is far out in front when it comes to military spending, a country’s annual defense budget might not tell the entire story. In order to win a war, a country needs to mobilize all of the resources it has to achieve a military victory. As we saw in World War II, a massive war effort is a societal effort. A war needs political support, with the American population proud and willing to stand up for democracy around the world. A country’s economy needs to be strong enough to withstand the blows of war, with its citizens earning enough money to fund the federal government through what could be years of international warfare.

If you take these factors into account, you’ll find that the United States is much better equipped to handle the stresses of war than any other country on the planet. Two foreign policy professors decided to use a country’s GDP or gross domestic product divided by the total population as a model for determining a country’s ability to fight a war. The gross domestic product refers to the total value of all of the goods and services a country produces in a single year. If you use the suggested formula, America comes in at number one again. Our gross domestic product is 168% larger than that of our nearest competitor, China.

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Looking at the Big Picture

Of course, fighting a war is about so much more than just numbers and weapons. It’s also about a country’s overall standing in the world. In most cases, a country does not fight a war on its own. It needs the help of its allies to bring its enemies to their knees. Effective foreign policy can be as important, if not more so, than a country’s ability to bear arms. If you look at the next 11 biggest military spenders in the world, seven of them are our allies, including France, the U.K., Germany, and Japan. So much of America’s current military strength comes from our nation’s loyalty to our allies. Landmark diplomatic agreements including NATO and NAFTA have as much to do with our strength as a nation as the amount of money we spend on defense.

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Changing the Game of War

It’s also important to consider how warfare has changed in the last few decades. Global terrorism has become more of a threat than traditional army-to-army combat. America is still fighting a war, the war against terrorism. But this conflict isn’t won by shooting missiles across the sea. It’s won by gathering intelligence, cooperating with other nations all over the world, and by upholding our ideals of freedom.

If a war does come to America’s doorstep in the coming years, our military will be more than prepared to do what is necessary to protect the homeland.

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