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I'm not sure that comparing public debt/GDP ratios in the way you do really adequately reflects the "sinews of war" of the US vs. Russia or China. All else being equal, yes, a lower debt/gdp ratio might suggest greater economic capacity to wage war. On the other hand, a higher debt/GDP ratio may well indicate a greater capacity to borrow - i.e., economic strength, rather than weakness. Does Russia have a lower debt/gdp ratio because it is economically strong, or because no one in their right mind would lend them money. The fact that US government bond yields are a quarter of Russian government bond yields (despite the higher US debt/GDP ratio) is probably suggestive.

The ability of the UK to fund its wars in 18th-20th centuries largely through debt (rather than taxes or inflation) was an indicia of its economic strength - it could persuade people to lend it money, rather than having to rely upon destructive taxes and inflation (or in the case of Napoleonic France, plunder and theft). It is telling that Russia's current debt/GDP ratio (20%) is roughly equal to that of France circa 1815 (http://personal.lse.ac.uk/ritschl/pdf_files/Stockholm_reconstructed.pdf), at which time the UK's debt/GDP ratio was 200%. But in 1815, France was defeated, and the UK was on the start of a century long reign as the world's dominant power.

Germany,Turkey or Korea could barely project a couple of brigades 200 kms away and keep them supplied.
Russia, for all its posturing and Republican idiocy is still in the same situation as always:bottled up in the Black and Baltic Seas with no real means of projecting beyond its shore (where are its logistics bases?). They can be a nuisance in Crimea and the Tatars will be miserable for decades. But hey have used essentially all their projection forces. They could use the same argument for sending troops to Donetsk and yet they don't. Because they don't have either troops or logistics lines. And NATO,besides political will and unity can't send more than a couple divisions to Kiev. It took six months to build up for the Kuwait war and the facilities were way better...

Interesting post.

I, too, am not sure about what debt/GDP ratios might tell us. As far as I know, U.S., Chinese, and Russian arms industries are all pretty self-contained. As in WW1 and II, any of these countries could just finance purchases within their own countries by borrowing from their central banks and controlling inflation through rationing etc. They don't need to borrow from external sources. The exception could be China, which probably would need to import oil.

But next time I get worried about China's muscle flexing in the South China Sea or wherever, it might be good to remember how relatively little it spends on its military.


Germany has the capabilities it needs. We will not be drawn into provoked wars of agression.

please sea


for more sane "old hands" in the US

Obama should fire Kerry and Nuland. Dangerous idiots.


That strategy (of financing war by borrowing from your central bank and trying to control inflation through rationing) as been tried before, notably by Germany in WW1 - it ended poorly.

Mind you, as a practical matter, in the event of a war between Russia and the U.S. if we survive long enough to have to deal with inflation, we'll all be grateful.

genauer: that was my point. All the talk about military budget, share of GDP or whatnot means nothing much. Those who can project forces are potentially dangerous to the extent of their abilities. The others are honestly doing their basic job of protecting themselves.

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