U.S. Senate Overwhelmingly Approves Further Increases To Military Spending, Threatens Arms Races With Rivals

Last week, the United States Congress approved a $716 billion military spending bill for the 2019 fiscal year. The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed the Senate floor by 87 votes to 10, with 40 Democrats joining most Republicans. U.S. military spending, which increased by $94 billion this year, will see a further $16 billion increase for the 2019 fiscal year. These increases mark the highest military spending since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011.

The NDAA grants a 2.6% pay raise to troops, adds 15,600 more soldiers and provides more money than requested for aircraft and warship purchases. The bill is also aimed at combating rival powers Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. In response to the growing influence of China, the spending bill allocates additional resources to work with allies in Southeast Asia and in particular to improve Taiwanese defense capabilities.

Chinese and Russian experts have criticized the bill, calling it an attempt to draw other world powers into an arms race. The Chinese Ministry of Defense called the bill “full of cold war thinking.” The Chinese government, recognizing Taiwan as a territory of China, has recently ramped up efforts to isolate Taiwan internationally, lobbying against countries that recognize its independence. The Chinese Ministry of Defense claims that increased U.S. involvement in Taiwan “interferes in China’s internal affairs” and “ruins the atmosphere” for military cooperation with China.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claims that the bill “reaffirms the policy of building up Washington’s dominating role in the world scene from the position of strength.”  Russian National Security Magazine editor-in-chief Igor Korotchenko noted that the bill represents a U.S. attempt to drain Russian and Chinese economies by increasing their military threat.

Whilst it is true that China is steadily increasing its military spending, the United States continues to dwarf every other country. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States alone accounts for 36% of the world military expenditure, more than the next ten biggest spenders combined. The U.S. spends almost three times more than China and roughly nine times more than Russia. Russia has almost halved its military spending since 2015 in response to budget deficits and has now been surpassed by U.S. ally Saudi Arabia as the third highest military spender.

As the United States spends more on military measures, it has slashed spending on peace measures. The U.S. has decreased U.N. peacekeeping contributions by around $300 million since 2017, resulting in a reduction in resources available for missions to humanitarian crisis regions such as Darfur. The U.S. must always cover 28% of U.N. peacekeeping costs, meaning that reductions in U.S. spending also result in a proportional reduction of contributions from China and other nations too. Rather than increasing military spending and threatening rivals, the US government may be able to better use its budget providing aid to unstable regions and preventing further conflict.