// 27.02.2021 //

America: the trembling colossus faces smart power defeat in the Military League of Nations

Now here is the military story over the last thirty years.

How has military spending trended since the end of the Cold War? Unsurprisingly, spending fell by 40% until 1999. The following 20 years witnessed a regular increase in military capacity. Again this is unsurprising, given that the 2000’s saw the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Comfort that a new arms race is not imperilling world peace comes from global military spending’s apparent plateau from 2008 to 2016.

Global military spending, however, has rocketed since 2016 to the $1.92 trillion spent globally in 2019. The United States led the globe in military spending in 2019. China ranked second, as it has done since 2008. With military outlays totaling $732 billion, the US spent about 38 percent of the total globalmilitary spending last year. In 2019, United States military expenditure amounted to 3.4 percent of US GDP, placing the U.S. lower in nationalmilitary expenditure as a percentage of GDP to Russia, which spent 3.9 percent of its GDP, and Saudi Arabia, which spent 8.0 percent of its GDP. 

However, all is not what it seems. China’s military expenditure is often underestimated. The figures for recent years are on average about 1.36 times larger than the official national defence budget. Global Firepower estimates a $179 billion 2019 budget. Whereas SIPRI believes a $240 billion figure is closer to the truth. 

Also hidden within these figures is the relative distribution of that military spending. And here there is clear cause for concern. 

The headlines are eye-watering. Since 1991 (in real terms):
 US military power has decreased by 19.4%
 French military power has decreased by 16.9%. But…
 UK military power has decreased by an astonishing 36.6%

Contrastingly since 1991:
 Russia’s military power has increased by 62%

 India’s military power has increased by 86%. But...
 China’s military power has shot up by 237%.

Why does this matter?

Because, in our League of Nations, military power is the second most important measure of a country’s clout after the economic power we looked at last week. It is clear that the United States is facing a catch-up challenge - from however low a base - that it has not faced since the 1970’s.

How do we calculate military power? We see military power as both budgetary spending on the army, as well as the sale of weapons on the international market, the number of uniformed officers in the country and the possession of nuclear weapons. We split the 20% of points allocated to military power as follows:

   Military expenditure (50%)
   Arms production and sales (30%)
   The number of uniformed officers (10%)
   Military expenditure as a percentage of the GDP (5%)
   Possession of nuclear weapons (5%)

So how does this break down?

1.Military expenditure (50%)

Faced with these challenges, America’s basic defence budget will rise from a low of $625 billion to $781 billion by 2024. The trend plan is to reach $900 billion by 2031. 

Meanwhile, has China’s military explosion shifted the balance of power in the critical East Asia power theatre? So far, in terms of power projection, China remains behind Japan as far as aircraft carrier capacity is concerned but dominant in terms of aircraft. Here China had an estimated aircraft strength of about 3,210, followed by India with an estimated strength of 2,120. Since 2014 India Military Expenditure rose 6.1% year on year, now closing in on  $68 billion.

2.Arms production and sales (20%)

Arms sales of the world’s 100 largest arms-producing and military services companies totalled $398.2 billion in 2017.

This was 2.5% higher than sales in 2016, and marks the third consecutive year of growth inthe top 100 arms sales rankings.

The overall growth was driven by increases in arms procurement spending by several states, in particular the United States and Russia.

The United States had a market share of 36 percent in international arms exports between 2015 and 2019. The second largest supplier of major weapons worldwide was Russia, accounting for 21 percent of exports between 2015 and 2019.

Between 2002 and 2016, the annual combined arms sales of British companies in the top 100 were second only to those of US companies. However, in 2017 Russia was the second largest arms producer in the Top 100: the combined arms sales of Russian companies ($37.7 billion) accounted for 9.5% of the Top 100.

Overall global arms exports rose of about 6 per-cent in the last 5 years compared to the period 2010-2014 and increased by 20% since 2005–2009.

3.The number of uniformed personnel (10%)

China is the country with the largest standing army and is one of the best trained. China has upped itsmilitary budgets by more than 10% a year over the last five years. The latest estimates about the size of this army at 2,035,000 personnel. The army is well trained, equipped, and considered to be one of the strongest in the world. Although its equipment is considered to be behind the US by about 20 years.

The US has the third-largest army in the world, and it is considered one of the best-trained and most powerfully equipped armies in the world. Today, it has about 1,359,450 active-duty personnel. It has, by far, the most aircraft and boasts the biggest advance in technologies.

The strength of a country’s armed forces is not only determined by how many personnel they maintain, but also the number and quality of their military equipment. For example, looking only at personnel does not factor in the overwhelmingly higher number of nuclear warheads owned by Russia and the United States than other countries. One way to answer this question is to look at the total amount of money each country spends on their military, as spending includes both personnel and technology. 

4.Military expenditure as a percentage of the GDP (5%)

Is military spending going up or down as a share of GDP. We see that since the end of the Second World War, there is a broad negative trend in military budget shares across world regions.

While the world spent 6% of GDP on defense in 1960, it spends just over 2% today. However, a key point to keep in mind here is that since GDP has been growing around the world in recent decades, the decline in defence budget shares across the world does not imply lower military spending in absolute terms. In fact, total global military expenditure, in inflation-adjusted US dollars, has gone up threefold in recent decades. This, in turn, is partly the result of countries becoming larger in terms of population. 

Nevertheless, it is clear that Russia is the outlier amongst the great powers, having raised GDP % spending from 3% in the mid-1990’s to over 5% twenty years later. Other states have maintained nominal restraint whereas the economic growth registered by China and India has disguised their respective military build-ups.

Possession of nuclear weapons (5%)

The number of nuclear weapons in the world has declined significantly since the Cold War: down from a peak of approximately 70,300 in 1986 to an estimated 13,410 in early-2020. Instead of planning for nuclear disarmament, the nuclear-armed states appear to plan to retain large arsenals for the indefinite future, are adding new nuclear weapons, and are increasing the role that such weapons play in their national strategies. 
Despite progress in reducing Cold War nuclear arsenals, the world’s combined inventory of nuclear warheads remains at a very high level: roughly 13,410 warheads as of early-2020. Of these, nearly 9,320 are in the military stockpiles (the rest are awaiting dismantlement), of which some 3,720 warheads are deployed with operational forces, of which about 1,800 US, Russian, British and French warheads are on high alert, ready for use on short notice.

Approximately 91 percent of all nuclear warheads are owned by Russia and the United States who each have around 4,000 warheads in their military stockpiles; no other nuclear-armed state sees a need for more than a few hundred nuclear weapons for national security.

The United States , Russia, and the United Kingdom are reducing their overall warhead inventories, France and Israel have relatively stable inventories, while China, Pakistan, India, and North Korea are increasing their warhead inventories.
All the nuclear weapon states continue to modernize their remaining nuclear forces, adding new types, increasing the role they serve, and appear committed to retaining nuclear weapons for the indefinite future.

Smart Military Power

So, our Sitrep reveals no real challenge to the pre-dominance of the United States in the conventional military metrics. The threat from China is real only if Beijing follows historical precedent and seeks to break out of the American encirclement of its eastern seaboard by challenging US garrisons in South Korea, Japan and their client state of Taiwan. Should India join an anti-China democratic alliance, the building blocks for potential conflict would exist. 

For all American military might, we are now in an age of “fourth-generation warfare” where no definable battlefields exist and the civilian/military distinction is blurred - asymmetrical warfare. 

Each of our six power epochs since 1494 have been defined by strategic revolutions. From French King Charles VIII’s mobile artillery, Habsurg Emperor Charles V’s gunpowder, Louis XIV’s professional armies, Napoleon’s conscript armies, through to the artillery, air and nuclear innovations of the 20th century long war, the invincible force of one era is defeated by the smart power of revisionist leaders. As Colonel Thomas Hammes wrote in “The Sling and the Stone” [2004, Zenith Press], “Each succeeding generation reaches deeper into the enemy’s territory in an effort to defeat him.” 
Chinese strategists, realising direct confrontation with the US is folly, will leverage the strength of the United States in a jujitsu move against itself to deceive and exhaust the American system. History is pregnant with great powers missing strategic revolutions: the Mongols missed the gunpowder revolution and the Soviets the information revolution. Now American firepower is mostly powerless against media smart insurgents as in Iraq and Afghanistan neatly summarised by the words of a Taliban commander: “You have the watches, we have the time.”

War and the policy of using coercive hard power are down but not out. Smart leaders will see military force as primarily an agenda setting tool, targeting leaders through coercion, protection or assistance. Behind it will be a ruthless strategic imperative in which hard military power will be combined with tactical softpower to outwit the hegemon and seduce compliant nations to switch sides.