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China and the one-sided arms race …

China's military spending is a drop in the bucket compared to ours.
 
 
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Yesterday Michael Klare had a piece here about the hawkish imperative to "contain" China.

There was some interesting debate in the comments, but everyone seemed to take it for granted that China was indeed a growing military, rather than an economic and political rival, to the U.S.

One commenter wrote: "make no mistake - China is a global threat too. Like the US, you don't assemble an army like that unless you intend to use it . . ."

I'm not so sure. I have very mixed feelings about China's ascendance in many ways -- maybe I'll write about it -- but I don't see evidence that it's starting a Cold War-like arms race with the U.S., or will anytime soon. Of course, it's entirely possible that we'll start one with them anyway. Military Keynesianism remains part of our economic philosophy.

But let's be clear: China's military spending is still puny in relation to our own.

Last year the Rand Corporation -- America's premier military think-tank -- put out a comprehensive study ( PDF) of China's military spending, which I want to bring to your attention. It was predictably hawkish, but the numbers didn't really back the analysis in terms of China reaching military parity anytime soon. From the accompanying press release:

A RAND Corporation report issued today estimates that China's defense spending is between 2.3 and 2.8 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product. This is 40 to 70 percent higher than official Chinese government figures -- but substantially lower than many previous outside estimates of the share of GDP that China devotes to defense.

The study estimates that the purchasing power of current Chinese military spending runs between $69 billion and $78 billion in 2001 dollars, and could reach $185 billion in 2001 dollars in 2025. This amounts to more than 40 percent of current U.S. defense spending.

Let's make sure we understand that. In 2025, China could reach 40 percent of current U.S. spending. But we won't be spending then what we spend now. At the present time, their military spending's about 17 percent of what ours is (excluding war costs in Afghanistan and Iraq).

By comparison, U.S. defense spending was 3.9 percent of GDP in 2004, amounting to nearly $430 billion in 2001 dollars. "China's defense spending has more than doubled over the past six years, almost catching up with Great Britain and Japan," said Keith Crane, a RAND senior economist and the lead author of the study.

Simple math. We have a much greater GDP than China. We spend 3.9 percent of our GDP on the military compared to their 2.3-2.8 percent.

The Rand study looked at 2004 data. According to the International Institute of strategic Studies, Bush's 2006 military budget (including defense spending "hidden" in other government agencies) is $552 billion dollars, 28 percent more than the 2004 figures Rand cited.

China's developing a military that will be a formidable regional presence and we do have allies in the region. But, according to the numbers, they're no threat to U.S. dominance globally.

At least not militarily.

Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer .