Fox News Chart Helps Paint Distorted Picture Of America's Defense Spending
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Fox News opened a discussion on potential defense budget cuts with a graph which tracked changes in the United States' defense spending, pushing the distortion that the U.S. is lagging behind China and Russia. But Fox neglected to acknowledge the actual amount these countries expend on defense; in reality, U.S. defense spending is greater than the next 12 top-spending countries combined.
On the February 12 edition of America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer displayed a graph comparing the growth in the defense budgets of China, Russia, and the United States from 2007 - 2011. The chart, which assumed that sequester cuts to the U.S.'s defense budget will take effect, projected the change in these countries' defense budgets through 2015.
Hemmer explained that, "We just wanted to give viewers at home an idea about what countries are doing over the past four years and the coming four years from here," and that for the current year on defense spending, "China goes up, Russia goes up, and the U.S. remains flat when compared to these other two countries." In the next four years, Hemmer claimed, "on the percentage they will contribute on their defense budget, China is about 300 percent increase, Russia's not too far behind, [and] the United States is not only flat, but it's trailing now as we move toward the year 2015." The graph segued into a discussion with Fox military analyst Major General Robert Scales on how cuts to the U.S. defense budget will harm our military capacity.
Fox's chart, focused exclusively on growth in defense spending across a specific period of time compared to 2004 budgets, suggests China and Russia are far out-scaling the U.S. on defense spending. But date constraints and percentage change in budgets are meaningless outside the context of actual expenditure. Hemmer conveniently disregarded the actual dollar amount the U.S. spends on defense compared to China and Russia.
The U.S. spends more on defense than the next 12 top-spending countries combined. PolitiFact examined data by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), both "considered to be leading authorities on worldwide military spending numbers," and determined that, "In 2011 -- the most recent year available -- the United States led the world in military spending at $711 billion ... The next top 12 spending nations accounted for a combined total of $670.9 billion." IISS data discovered that the U.S spends $252.6 billion more on defense than the next top nine nations.
SIPRI also found that U.S. military spending accounted for 41 percent of the world's total military spending in 2011. The U.S.'s expenditure is about five times more than the second-highest spender, China, which accounted for 8.2 percent of the world total. Russia's military spending is in third place with 4.1 percent.
The United States' defense spending compared to the rest of the world looks something like this, from George Washington University's School of Media Public Affairs:
When weighing the percentage of GDP a country dedicates to defense spending, the U.S. still leads China and Russia. The World Bank charts military expenditures from the U.S, Russia, and China as a percentage of their GDP from 2003 - 2011:
If sequester cuts take effect, however, the Pentagon's budget will be reduced by $42.7 billion. But no serious discussion of changes to the U.S. defense budget is legitimate without disclosing the realities of where America's defense spending currently stands compared to the rest of the world.