The Iranian "Threat"

Here we go again with a story that’s altogether too familiar.  Iran is being accused of secretly developing nuclear weapons and threatening its neighbors. Once again, we’ll hit them with another round of sanctions and rattle sabers,  not because they actually did something to someone, but because we suspect that their nuclear designs are something other than peaceful.

I’m a firm  believer that any policy has to be based on a truthful premise.  If the premise one starts off with is false, then it follows that any policy crafted thereon will be false as well.   How big of a threat is Iran really?  A quick perusal of the chart and accompanying narrative  below might lead to a different conclusion than that put forth by the press.   Our nation spends about 48% of the world’s total military expenditure while “big and bad Iran” spends less than a half percent.  How can Iran possibly be a threat with those sorts of numbers?  They simply can’t be a threat unless they put themselves in peril as any nuclear attack by them would ensure their annihilation. 

There are some who would argue that the US spends far less a percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP) on the military when compared to some middle eastern countries, however that argument doesn’t wash as their high spending relative to GDP is actually driven by us selling weapons to them; weapons, I might add, that are developed thanks to the US taxpayer subsidizing the military industrial complex. 

Moreover, our nation has a disgraceful history of incessant meddling with Iran beginning with the CIA sponsored coup to overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and the installation of the despotic Shah of Iran.  This was done to ensure uninterrupted access to Iranian oil at favorable prices.  It was these events which led uprising against the Shah, the Carter administration’s hostage crisis and the rise of fundamentalist Islam in Iran.  No doubt, this history still reverberates today in the relations between our two nations.

Sadly, there really is no real news reported in the country any longer.  The news should inform and allow one to put events in context and ultimately to make informed judgements about the nation’s policies and direction.   But that’s not the purpose of the news.  The real purpose of most of the news is to manufacture your consent  on the basis of half truths and outright lies.  For those of us who like to be well informed, this is an insult to our intelligence and reinforces the idea that the only way to get the news is the search it out yourself.  


Top spenders ranked (and sources)

Comparing US with others

In other words,

  • US military spending accounts for 48 percent, or almost half, of the world’s total military spending
  • US military spending is more than the next 46 highest spending countries in the world combined
  • US military spending is 5.8 times more than China, 10.2 times more than Russia, and 98.6 times more than Iran.
  • US military spending is almost 55 times the spending on the six “rogue” states (Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria) whose spending amounts to around $13 billion, maximum. (Tabulated data does not include four of the six, as the data only lists nations that have spent over 1 billion in the year, so their budget is assumed to be $1 billion each)
  • US spending is more than the combined spending of the next 45 countries.
  • The United States and its strongest allies (the NATO countries, Japan, South Korea and Australia) spend $1.1 trillion on their militaries combined, representing 72 percent of the world’s total.
  • The six potential “enemies,” Russia, and China together account for about $205 billion or 29% of the US military budget.

Top spenders ranked (and sources)

Military spending in 2008 ($ Billions, and percent of total)
Country Dollars (billions) % of total Rank
Source: U.S. Military Spending vs. the World, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, February 22, 2008Notes:

  • The figure for the United States is the budget request for Fiscal Year 2009 and includes $170 billion for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as funding for the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons activities.
  • All other figures are projections based on 2006, the last year for which accurate data is available.
  • All countries that spent over one billion per year are listed.
  • Due to rounding, some percentages may be slightly off.

If you are viewing this table on another site, please see for further details. 

United States 711 48.28% 1
China 121.9 8.28% 2
Russia 70 4.75% 3
United Kingdom 55.4 3.76% 4
France 54 3.67% 5
Japan 41.1 2.79% 6
Germany 37.8 2.57% 7
Italy 30.6 2.08% 8
Saudi Arabia 29.5 2.00% 9
South Korea 24.6 1.67% 10
India 22.4 1.52% 11
Australia 17.2 1.17% 12
Brazil 16.2 1.10% 13
Canada 15 1.02% 14
Spain 14.4 0.98% 15
Turkey 11.6 0.79% 16
Israel 11 0.75% 17
Netherlands 9.9 0.67% 18
United Arab Emirates 9.5 0.65% 19
Taiwan 7.7 0.52% 20
Greece 7.3 0.50% 21
Iran 7.2 0.49% 22
Myanmar 6.9 0.47% 23
Singapore 6.3 0.43% 24
Poland 6.2 0.42% 25
Sweden 5.8 0.39% 26
Colombia 5.4 0.37% 27
Chile 4.7 0.32% 28
Belgium 4.4 0.30% 29
Egypt 4.3 0.29% 30
Pakistan 4.2 0.29% 31
Denmark 3.9 0.26% 32
Indonesia 3.6 0.24% 33
Switzerland 3.5 0.24% 34
Kuwait 3.5 0.24% 35
South Africa 3.5 0.24% 36
Oman 3.3 0.22% 37
Malaysia 3.2 0.22% 38
Mexico 3.2 0.22% 39
Portugal 3.1 0.21% 40
Algeria 3.1 0.21% 41
Finland 2.8 0.19% 42
Austria 2.6 0.18% 43
Venezuela 2.6 0.18% 44
Czech Republic 2.5 0.17% 45
Romania 2.3 0.16% 46
Qatar 2.3 0.16% 47
Thailand 2.3 0.16% 48
Morocco 2.2 0.15% 49
Argentina 1.9 0.13% 50
Ukraine 1.7 0.12% 51
Cuba 1.7 0.12% 52
Angola 1.6 0.11% 53
New Zealand 1.5 0.10% 54
Hungary 1.3 0.09% 55
Ireland 1.1 0.07% 56
Jordan 1.1 0.07% 57
Peru 1.1 0.07% 58
North Korea n/a n/a 59
Global Total (not all countries shown): 1,472.7




  • The Center Square

    I am among those who feel that the Iranian threat is exaggerated. But the reasoning here is not compelling. How did you think the US military budget compared to that of al-Qaeda in 2001?

  • Gregory

    Thanks for your response. You have a point regarding al-Qaeda’s military budget compared to the US, but unlike Iran, they’re not a state actor. Basically, we know where Iran is and can respond, so the comparative advantage we enjoy really makes them no threat when viewed from the perspective of state vs state, rather than state vs a terrorist group.

    There can be legitimate questions raised about the overall effectiveness of US military spending. Afterall, 44% of our tax dollars are siphoned off into the military industrial complex without much consideration given to whether that actually enhances much of anything other than the pockets of the arms manufacturers and the bankers who finance them. A more cost effective defense of our nation could come from a dramatic change from the sort of foreign policy that creates enemies to begin with. Our intervention into the affairs of other nations is at the root of many of the problems and much of that intervention has more to do with protecting the economic interests of a few rather than the welfare and safety of citizens.

    At bottom, we can no longer afford or finance our interventionist foreign policies. I’d just as soon see us come to that conclusion sooner rather than later.

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