Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is warning the Biden administration that America’s antagonists, including China and Russia, are moving ahead of the U.S. in defense spending.
And that could end up with a bad result.
“We can’t spend our way out of our national security problems, but we can certainly spend too little to give ourselves a chance,” he warned, in a commentary at Real Clear Defense.
“The fact is, maintaining deterrence is about both how much money we spend and how well we spend that money – measured against the spending of our adversaries. What’s clear is that we’re lacking – and President Biden’s insufficient budget topline this year will only put China and Russia further ahead. We have to rectify this before it’s too late for us to catch up.”
He explained a “myth” that often is repeated that the U.S. defense budget is larger than the next 10 countries combined.
“You hear it all the time from progressives, led by the Senate Budget Committee chairman, in their arguments to cut funding for our military. It’s time to remove this false talking point from our vernacular. Here’s the truth: our defense budget is almost certainly smaller than the combined Chinese and Russian military budgets after you adjust for basic economic realities,” he said.
The first problem is that Chinese and Russian officials both manipulate their defense budgets, so actual spending is difficult to determine.
And, he pointed out, “Both Beijing and Moscow lie about just about everything—the coronavirus, genocide, poisoning political opponents—so it should be no surprise they intentionally hide significant parts of their defense spending.”
He noted, for example, the Chinese don’t report any research and development spending, and major parts of their space program and basing costs are absent.
The lack of information has been an ongoing problem, he said, but last year’s National Defense Authorization Act tasked the Pentagon and a research center to develop better tools.
He said those who “parrot” the “10 countries” claim often cite the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s results, but its measures are “not a good metric for measuring non-traded goods – like military equipment.”
“Here’s what that picture looks like using the more accurate purchasing power comparison: the SIPRI-reported 2017 Chinese defense budget of $228 billion actually equates to $467 billion, according to Heritage research. If you adjust that 2017 number to reflect four years of consistent and significant growth of the Chinese defense budget, as has been reported, that puts China’s defense budget at about $604 billion in 2021.”
He said, “Using the SIPRI market exchange rate data, Russia spends roughly the same amount on defense as the United Kingdom or France (about $55-60 billion USD each). Yet as two Russia experts, Michael Kofman and Richard Connolly, wrote, ‘One need not be a Russian military analyst to have a general appreciation for the fact that the Russian armed forces, including conventional and nuclear components, are vastly larger in size, greater in fielded capability, and in a higher state of readiness than those of France or the United Kingdom.’ They concluded that actual Russian expenditures likely top $200 billion in adjusted dollars and are sustainable in the long term.”
The bottom line is that China’s approximate $604 billion and Russia’s more than $200 billion surpasses America’s $741 billion budget.
And that doesn’t even account for “off-the-books” spending by America’s opponents.
“The United States needs to increase its defense spending to keep up with China and Russia in competition—and we need to innovate and out-think our adversaries, too,” he said. “This competition will require a whole-of-government national security approach with a strong military at its core.”
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