What matters to the Middle East

February 13, 2012

The U.S. State Department released a report in January on world military expenditures and arms transfers.  They present data up to 2005.

Military spending as a percentage of GDP is often dismissed by anti-American “peace” institutes who claim to be more concerned with total military spending.

But anybody who has ever put together a budget knows that you’re dealing with a finite amount of money to allocate across a variety of competing areas.  How much of a nation’s wealth are you willing to take and devote toward military spending?  Two percent?  Five percent?  Ten percent?  Your answer says something about your overall priorities, which is why the GDP measure is valid and important.

The U.S. is known for high military spending, but what is less widely known is the extent to which Islamic countries are willing to take the wealth of their people to commit it towards armies and weapons.  They use their military power to threaten the existence of Israel, which is forced to spend its resources on defenses in response.  The result?  On a GDP basis, the Middle East spends a larger portion of its wealth on the military than any other region on earth.

War spending by Islamic world

GDP-share equivalent of military expenditure by region, 1995 and 2005

As the report notes, “The share of the [Middle East] region’s summed GDPs to which its military spending was equivalent appears to have fallen from about 6.4% to about 4.5%, but remained the higher than that of any other region.”


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