George Washington: The 6 Reasons China and Russia Are Catching Up to the U.S. Military

By George Washington. Originally published at Washington’s Blog

China and Russia are still behind the U.S. militarily.  But they are both showing surprising breakthroughs that – sometime down the road in the future – could threaten U.S. hegemony.

The Washington Times reported last month:

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Wednesday warned Russia and China are quickly closing the military technology gap with the U.S. as inconsistent military budgets and slower innovation threaten America’s lead in the military world.


“It’s evident that nations like Russia and China have been pursuing military modernization programs to close the technology gap with the United States,” he continued. “They’re developing platforms designed to thwart our traditional advantages of power projection and freedom of movement. They’re developing and fielding new and advanced aircraft and ballistic, cruise, anti-ship and anti-air missiles that are longer-range and more accurate.”

The SecDef issued this warning before Russia stunned the U.S. with its long-range missile and electronic communications-jamming capacities.

How could this be happening, when U.S. military spending dwarfs that from the rest of the world?

There are six reasons …

1. Corruption and Pork.   America spends a large percentage of it’s defense spending on unnecessary military programs that:

  • The generals say aren’t helpful and don’t even want
  • Redundant personnel, programs and systems which don’t increase our war-fighting capacity
  • Equipment which is built and then immediately mothballed before it is ever used

Indeed – as many lottery winners and star athletes will tell you – it’s easy to piss away even huge sums of money over a couple of years’ time without discipline.

And plain old corruption is wasting huge sums and dramatically weakening our national security.

How much are we talking about?

Well, here’s some indication: $8.5 trillion dollars in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996 … has never been accounted for.

2. Fighting the Wrong Wars. A closely-related issue is that the war-fighting assets are being squandered, spread thin and distracted by fighting wars which decrease our national security.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the most expensive in U.S. history, costing between between $4 trillion and $6 trillion dollars.

And we spent additional boatloads of money carrying out regime change in Libya, Syria and elsewhere.

But these wars have only caused ISIS and the Taliban to flourish.

Indeed, the majority of our defense spending is – literally – making us less secure because we’re spending money to fight the wrong wars:

  • We’re overthrowing the moderates who help insure stability
  • We’re arming and supporting brutal dictators … which is one of the main reasons that terrorists want to attack the U.S.
  • We’ve fought a series of wars for petrochemicals, instead of security
  • We expend huge sums of money on mass surveillance … but top security experts agree that mass surveillance makes us MORE vulnerable to terrorists (we’re targeting the wrong guys)

3. Never-Ending War Destroys the Economy. We’re in the longest continuous period of war in U.S. history.  The Afghanistan War has  been going on for 14 years … as long as the Civil War (4 years,), WW1 (4 years) and WW2 (6 years) COMBINED.

Wars which drag on are horrible for our economy.  A weak economy – in turn – makes it more difficult to sustain a leadership role in defense in the long-run.

And Americans are sick and tired of war.  If our national security was actually threatened, it might be hard for the government to rouse our commitment and motivation.

4. More Bang for the Buck. China has the world’s largest economy when measured by “purchasing power parity” … meaning how much Chinese can buy in their their local currency in their local economy. And see this.

Therefore, China can buy locally-produced military parts and services more cheaply than the U.S. can.

As Bloomberg noted last year:

The lowest-paid U.S. soldiers earn about $18,000 a year. In comparison, in 2009, an equivalent Chinese soldier was paid about a ninth as much. In other words, in 2009, you could hire about nine Chinese soldiers for the cost of one U.S. soldier.

Even that figure doesn’t account for health care and veterans’ benefits. These are much higher in the U.S. than in China, though precise figures are hard to obtain. This is due to higher U.S. prices for health care, to higher prices in general, and because the U.S. is more generous than China in terms of what it pays its soldiers. Salaries and benefits, combined, account for a significant percentage of military expenditure.

But labor costs aren’t the only thing that is cheaper in China. Notice that China’s gross domestic product at market exchange rates is only two-thirds of its GDP at purchasing power parity. This means that, as a developing country, China simply pays lower prices for a lot of things. Some military inputs — oil, for example, or copper — will be bought on world markets, and PPP won’t matter. For others, like complicated machinery, costs are pretty similar. But other things — food or domestically manufactured products — will be much cheaper for the U.S.’s developing rivals than for the U.S.

Those who follow global security issues have known about this issue for a long time. But somehow, this fact hasn’t penetrated the consciousness of pundits or made its way into pretty, tweet-able graphs.

5. Theft. The U.S. Naval Institute, Fiscal Times and others document that the Chinese have greatly accelerated their weapons development timeline by spying on the West and shamelessly copying our military inventions and designs.

If the NSA and other spying agencies had used their resources to stop foreign governments from stealing our crown jewels – instead of using them to gain petty advantages for a handful of knuckleheads – we’d be a lot better off today.

6. Geography.  Russia is almost twice the size of the U.S.  Russia and China together are so massive – forming such a giant swath of land-based territory, so much closer to the Middle East than America is – that it gives their militaries an advantage.

Bloomberg points out:

The U.S., situated in the peaceful, relatively unpopulated Western Hemisphere, is very far away from the location of any foreseeable conflict. China isn’t going to invade Colorado (sorry, “Red Dawn” fans!), but it might invade Taiwan or India. Simply getting our forces to the other side of the world would require enormous up-front expenditures.

The National Interest notes:

“Defeating China in these scenarios [Taiwan and South China Sea] could nonetheless be difficult and costly for the United States’ primarily as a result of the geographic advantages that China enjoys, as well as specific systems capabilities.”


A recent RAND report, “The US China Military Scorecard,” … argues that China is catching up to the U.S., is becoming more assertive and confident, and has geography on its side.

And Russia’s proximity to Ukraine, the Baltics and other neighboring countries gives it a huge advantage.

Postscript: Sadly, because we’ve squandered our resources, war games show that the U.S. is no longer invincible.

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  1. Pepsi

    It’s worth noting that we have reached an age where semi irregular forces can stalemate regular forces due to the low cost of anti armor mines and rockets, and relative proliferation of MANPADS.

    Houthis/Pro Saleh Yemeni army are rocking the tooth crackingly expensive Saudi army with not even top of the line Iranian made manpads and anti tank weapons, they’re destroying tanks and shooting down apache helicopters.
    The various jihadist groups in Syria are using Milan anti tank weapons to cripple Syrian Army advances.

    Standoff and signals stuff are the only real advantages that the us had, and as addressed, that gap is closing.

    There is so much graft baked into every single bit of defense appropriations, if all that money had gone to its intended place, there would be no gap closing, even with tons of secret selling and industrial espionage. I don’t care about prolonging the american empire, and I have no fantasies about china being any better as a hegemon. When a society entirely built around its military can’t deploy or equip that military effectively, that society is probably doomed.

  2. Massinissa

    We would still win any war on American soil.

    I don’t see why we should be worried about our complete inability to win wars half a world away which we shouldn’t be in in the first place. What, is this supposed to make me sad because we cant invade third world countries no one cares about anymore? Boo hoo hoo.

    1. James Levy

      It is fundamental to the American governing class’s understanding of the world and itself that they can and will invade countries everywhere to enforce their ideological view of reality on anyone who would doubt its exceptional wonderfulness. No one can get anywhere near the levers of power without accepting this as axiomatic. So they will take awful risks and drive our economy into the toilet to enforce this “certain idea of America” the same way Spain and Britain did.

      1. ChrisFromGeorgia

        Yes – and note also how the military threat is used against legitimate governments (Libya, Syria) that don’t “tow the line” on economic issues. Gaddafi was setting up a North African trade zone and his country’s central bank was independent from the West. And we all know that there is an interest in several Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, Qatar) in building a natural gas pipeline through Syria to counter Russia’s gas business with Europe.

        See also the way Japan is threatened/cajoled into the TPP by promises of military protection from China (or denial thereof, if they don’t “play ball.”)

        The elites need a bullying military threat to be used against foreign governments, including democratically elected ones, that get too “uppity.”

        Once these bullying and imperialistic capabilities are removed, the threats will be empty.

        1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

          GW is 99% right, with one exception: “Americans are sick and tired of war”. No, they’re not. I remember when Americans “were sick and tired of war”, that little nastiness in the 1970’s called Vietnam, people gave a sh*t and went out into the streets and bashed heads to prove it. Voila: no more Vietnam War.
          Americans today are just okey dokey with all war all the time, with bombing doctors and children in hospitals, with pre-crime drone bomb assassinations that are 9% accurate, with saber-rattling in WW III scenarios with nuclear opponents. A huge percentage of American jobs and stock market holdings are 100% dependent on the flow of taxpayer chump dollars straight to the GAWM (Great American War Machine).
          This looks, walks, and sounds exactly like a duck. America = War.

          1. jonboinAR

            This seems to me, as well, to be the case. I don’t hear anyone complaining much about the thousands we’ve killed overseas so far in this century, nor about the few volunteer soldiers we’ve lost in the process. Americans love to remember 911, however.

          2. Lexington

            The difference is that there was conscription during the Vietnam war.

            Now that the burden of waging war falls exclusively on “volunteers” (I use scare quotes because for many disadvantaged Americans military service is their only hope of escaping entrenched poverty, all the propaganda about “meritocracy” and “social mobility” notwithstanding) the elites are free to play their war games without fear of igniting mass grassroots opposition to their dreams of American imperium.

    2. Jef

      Mass – two things

      first you need to look into how America which is just less than 5% of the population of the world consumes over 25% of the worlds resources, and no it is not simply because we are exceptional.

      second you need to understand how a world reserve currency gives the US massive advantage in the global economy and how military might insures that system is upheld.

      For the average American lifestyle that I am sure you enjoy… War IS the answer!

      1. James Levy

        Well, it is until it isn’t–it is unsustainable and therefore an illogical basis for future action.

    3. RBHoughton

      Countries always fight better in defence of their own lands. In that respect the guerilla war that followed an invasion of North America would long continue, until the ammo ran out, but let’s be realistic – who is going to attack?

      The only precedent is the British attacks of 1812 – 14 and that was all about the control of trade and US banking which Britain demanded it retain regardless of US sovereignty to better establish the debt-based system.

      The reason you should worry about control of the resources of the world island is because those resources are imperatively required to maintain said debt-based system. In these days of financial precedence, its casus bellum for Asia, Africa and/or Europe to withdraw.

  3. PlutoniumKun

    This is one obvious reason why aiming for full spectrum dominance over the longer term is unachievable. There is nothing new with this – back in the 19th Century lesser powers realised that fairly cheap weapons like gunboats or submarines with torpedoes could neutralise much bigger and more expensive battleships, forcing the major powers to spend even more on developing destroyers to counter them, ensuring naval spending kept increasing to absurd levels (and sensibly then then brought in treaties to limit numbers to stop everyone bankrupting themselves).

    And another obvious point – its much easier and cheaper to develop a cheap copy of a weapon pioneered by a rich company – even without espionage, you can learn a lot from just looking at sizes, dimensions and performance, allowing you to short-cut the design process – you can see this in the way some Chinese combat craft have clearly copied the basic shape of US and Russian aircraft.

    Military planners have known for a long time that modern technology could allow for cheap defence against expensive weaponry – in the 1980’s of course cheap Manpads gave the Mujahideen a major advantage over the Russians in neutralising their air advantage. On a large scale, once the Chinese develop hypervelocity anti-ship missiles (assuming they haven’t already), that makes US aircraft carriers obsolete overnight. In fact, they don’t even have to develop the weapon – the mere threat of its existence is probably enough to keep them away from the east Pacific in a war. But the modern Taliban haven’t even needed many of those to stop the US succeeding in Afghanistan – just good sense and a shrinking of good weapons did the job.

    The irony of course is that it was the neoliberals who came up with the idea in the 1970’s of bankrupting the USSR by raising military spending. The Chinese are certainly applying this to the US – by constantly allowing rumours of various weapons existence they are sending military planners scuttling around in panic. A rumour of a weapon is the cheapest weapon system of all, and maybe the most effective.

  4. Eureka Springs

    Reason number 1 should be:

    Because the U.S. and its most favored allies are out of control, lawless, terrorist threat to the rest of the world.

    1. Jim Haygood

      You and Ron Paul, bro:

      Congress is not even consulted these days when the president decides to start another war or to send US ground troops into an air war that is not going as planned.

      I cannot condemn in strong enough terms this ill-advised US military escalation in the Middle East. Whoever concluded that it is a good idea to send US troops into an area already being bombed by Russian military forces should really be relieved of duty.

      The fact is, the neocons who run US foreign policy are so determined to pull off their regime change in Syria that they will risk the lives of untold US soldiers and even risk a major war in the region — or even beyond – to escalate a failed policy.

      We are Soviets now, comrades. And our 1989-1991 end game analog is coming.

      1. Crazy Horse

        Jim, I see three possible motivations for sending American ground troops into Syria.

        1- The purpose of troop deployment is to act as a trigger to expand the war with Russia that the US has been provoking for several years through encirclement by Nato, overthrow of the elected government in Ukraine, and economic sabotage through sanctions. False flag attacks are standard operating procedure when the American Sheeple need to be herded into supporting a new war, and history tells us the US Gov. wouldn’t hesitate to bomb their own troops to create the desired reaction.

        2- Deploying American ground troops in Syria is a face saving PR move by Obama, who deeply resents being out-maneuvered by Putin’s diplomacy after the stage had been set for his planned bombing campaign against Assad by CIA organized false flag poison gas attacks.

        3- The neofascists who are Obozo’s eyes and ears to the world are actually so delusional to believe that the end game has not already been determined, and that Saudi and American money can allow their Al-Quadea and ISIS proxies to defeat the combination of Russian air support and the Iranian, Kurdish, Hezbollah, and Iraqi land forces.

        I tend to favor #2– but last minute ill-planned PR actions don’t always have the intended results—-.

  5. Brooklin Bridge

    Corruption is an expensive luxury. The six items listed in the post capture a broad view of this with regards to our military with the exception of propaganda.

    Propaganda is expensive stuff and we are trying to pump it out to every man woman and child in the whole damn world. It’s like tobacco; it strips away the nerves of the host that has become addicted all while giving the illusion of calming those nerves. The more you do it, the stronger the addiction. The more you lie to people, the more you have to lie and the less believable you are. Combined with the horrific reality of what our military actually does abroad, it is absolutely killer, for our actions belie the falsehoods of our propaganda at an existential level; when we come to countries or villages, or weddings or whatever, we bear nothing but death and destruction as gifts.

    Our whole foreign policy is becoming an open book of corruption, mirroring what is happening in our own society, which must be forced upon people and which makes our propaganda rampantly cancerous.

    1. Malcolm MacLeod, MD

      The United States has become, through every fault of its own, a decadent and failing society,
      and few seem to realize, or wish to, this fact. Short of total upheaval and a general complete
      reorganization, there is no path to the holy ground, nor should there be. This is our final chance.

  6. Knute Rife

    So DoD is being run for the benefit of our corporate masters and not for the benefit of the nation. Just like everything else. Quelle surprise.

  7. John Wright

    I remember the pragmatic Japanese response to the elder Bush’s request for their involvement in Iraq War I, “we don’t care who owns the oil, just as long as they sell it to us”.

    I suggest that every country with oil, be they democratic, corrupt autocratic, communist, or socialist always sells their oil to the world,

    One can speculate at how the world would view the USA if a good portion of the USA defense budget were spent instead on medical, agricultural, environmental, energy, materials science and industrial research and the results shared with the world.

    But the military-industrial complex is so entrenched that even a war hero, Eisenhower, could only warn about it as he was three days away from exiting the White House in 1961.

    And that warning was more than 54 years ago.

    Instead we have leaders such as Madeleine Albright, who “According to Albright’s memoirs, she once argued with Colin Powell for the use of military force by asking, “What’s the point of you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can’t use it?” (from

    Perhaps Albright is relieved knowing the USA is not “saving this superb military” any longer.

  8. Josh

    80-20 rule. 20% of the effort gets you 80% of the results. 80% of your opponent’s capabilities is enough if your opponent can’t afford to lose that billion dollar aircraft or million dollar infantryman.

  9. Denis Drew

    ” We’re arming and supporting brutal dictators … which is one of the main reasons that terrorists want to attack the U.S. ”

    We are arming and supporting brutal Israel which is the main reason terrorists want to attack the U.S. Think 9/11.

  10. Steven

    The vast potential productivity of the industrialised world, particularly in the engineering and chemical industries, must find an outlet. If that outlet is by financial folly denied it in the building up and reconstruction of the home-life of nations, it remains as a direct and powerful incentive to the fomenting of war.

    Frederick Soddy, WEALTH, VIRTUAL WEALTH AND DEBT, p. 303

    When the original George Washington warned the nation to beware of entangling foreign alliances, he probably never dreamed there would something so stupid as a ‘neoliberal’ gunning for global hegemony, AKA ‘full spectrum dominance’ (FSD). For a brief moment following WWII, the US did indeed enjoy FSD. But the experience was arguably more the product of its own incompetence than a well thought out strategy. Sucked into WWI by the combined threat of economic stagnation at home with the closing of the American Frontier and the completion of the country’s industrialization and by the reckless greed of its bankers (who backed the wrong horse in the apocalypse unleashed by Europe’s feudal elites and called upon the US military to rescue their investment – see “America’s 60 Families”), the country’s “They borrowed the money, didn’t they?” approach to foreign policy produced in short order an even more apocalyptic global war.

    In “America’s 60 Families” Lundberg correctly identified part of the advantage enjoyed by this country’s money-based feudal elite – the ‘dynamic’ quality of money. Unlike the rest of the world’s ruling classes whose wealth was tied up in static forms like land, the US oligarchy’s money-based wealth was free to roam the world searching for the most profitable investment opportunities. However, Lundberg apparently missed an even more important advantage – the ability of money to multiply itself through fractional reserve banking and other forms of financial engineering.

    It is still not entirely clear whether the US strategy of FSD, i.e. global hegemony, is rooted in a MAD (as in mutually assured destruction) quest for power by its political and economic elites, the need to insure the money its financiers and bankers create ex nihilo (out of thin air) continues to be ‘accepted’ (in the Minsky sense) or just the addictive high produced by their power during those few golden historical moments when the rest of the world, a mere 20 years after ‘the war to end all wars’, was climbing out of the rubble produced by a second even more destructive global war.

    Important as the six items articulated by the blogger George may be, the erosion of US power will continue though perhaps at a slower pace until its – and the world’s – people and elites understand that:
    1. money isn’t wealth; it is DEBT (“Wall Street’s product” according to Michael Hudson)
    2. you don’t create wealth by creating ever more debt, whether that debt is sunk in US military hardware or Wall Street’s ‘toxic waste’.
    The erosion won’t stop until the US comes to a better understanding of – and acts upon – what constitutes wealth in a science-based industrial civilization. (See Frederick Soddy’s WEALTH, VIRTUAL WEALTH AND DEBT, “DISCOVERY, NATURAL ENERGY AND DILIGENCE—THE THREE INGREDIENTS OF WEALTH”)

    1. Steven

      That should probably have been ‘neoconservative’ rather than ‘neoliberal’. But can you define a neoconservative as a neoliberal who believes the blessings of the free market and the ex nihilo money creation of Western bankers and governments should be spread at gunpoint?

      1. Alejandro

        FWIW, an interesting distinction from a different POV;

        ‘A Word about Neo-cons and Neo-libs’

        “U.S. neo-conservatives, with their commitment to high military spending and the global assertion of national values, tend to be more authoritarian than hard right. By contrast, neo-liberals, opposed to such moral leadership and, more especially, the ensuing demands on the tax payer, belong to a further right but less authoritarian region. Paradoxically, the “free market”, in neo-con parlance, also allows for the large-scale subsidy of the military-industrial complex, a considerable degree of corporate welfare, and protectionism when deemed in the national interest. These are viewed by neo-libs as impediments to the unfettered market forces that they champion.”

    1. ambrit

      We have been offshoring the job to entities like al-Quaeda and Daesh (ISIS) with spectacular blowback effects. Russia has offered in part to take up the burden in Syria if we would give up trying to overthrow a previously stable secular Middle Eastern government. For some inexplicable reason, we have declined the offer. Go figure.

    2. EGrise

      I know what we could do: there’s all those Germanic tribes across the Rhine, we can recruit them into our legions, and get them to do the jobs that Romans Americans don’t want to do. Genius!

  11. susan the other

    George’s revelations come with a twist. He’s not just lamenting the same old mishandling of resources, he’s upset that China will soon be as powerful as we are and for a whole lot cheaper. Funny really. Because it’s capitalism in action. I bet there are plenty of people content with this turn of events because anyone who stops to think about policing the world knows the US is stretched to the limit.

    1. Steven

      Be careful what you wish for! Global elites the world over are probably not that different. Especially when they smell blood, e.g. a “pitiful helpless giant” so crippled by its own corrupt political system and the ‘engineered consent’ of its people it is incapable of saving itself, they may not be willing to forgo the opportunity to eliminate past, present or future obstacles to their desire for regional or global hegemony. Witness George H.W. Bush’s response to the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Look how far Gorbeshev’s hope for world peace and cooperation got Russia.

      Hell of a job Bushes, Clinton and Obama! (Hell of a precedent?)

      1. different clue

        Bush did not favor looting Russia in response to the collapse. Bush did not even favor Ukraine going independent from USSR. Bush did not favor expanding NATO east into former Warsaw Pact Europe.

        All that very strictly began with Clinton.

  12. Jim Haygood

    Like our presidents of the last quarter century, Def Sec Ashton Carter hails from the Yale / Hahhhvid axis: specifically, K-SOG (the “Kennedy School o’ Gubmint”).

    Paraphrasing the Everly Brothers:

    Don’t want your war no more
    Don’t want your surges, that’s for sure
    I die each time
    I hear this sound:
    “Here he comes. That’s KSOG’s clown.”

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