China: May 25, 2005


There is a dispute inside the U.S. government over exactly how much China is spending on defense. This is not a new problem, it occurred, for the same reasons, during the Cold War with regard to the Soviet Union's military spending. The problem was, then and now, the economic and accounting systems of the U.S. and it's adversaries were so different that comparison was difficult, and required a lot of compromises and assumptions. China, like the late Soviet Union, is a communist dictatorship, and not subject to having their numbers audited, or scrutinized by journalists. But that's only part of the problem. Chinese troops get pay, and benefits, at a much lower level than their American counterparts. Many of the Chinese weapons are Chinese made, and cost far less than comparable weapons used by the United States. Thus we have the major problem of comparing a defense dollar spent in the U.S. versus one spent in China. This also leads to an even more crucial problem; measuring the effectiveness of the American and Chinese armed forces. For the military planner, this is the ultimate question. This rarely gets reported on, because talking about the size of the defense budget is, to journalists, easier to deal with. But, as you can see, this not the case. Finally, let us not forget that, after the Soviet Union collapsed, the actual size of their defense budgets was subjected to a serious investigation. It turned out that even the Soviets didn't know how much they were spending, but knowledgeable estimates put it at twice what anyone had thought during the Cold War. 


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