The Soviet Union: Military Spending

[Part of the Soviet Union series]

This one is easier than the previous ones

defchart

Notice that this chart is put together from different sources. I used % of National Income (GDP for usa, and NMP converted to GDP for the Soviet Union) for both countries, but different procedures for computing Soviet GDP will yield different estimates. The huge dispersion in 1980 comes from Harrison (2003), where he collects many different estimates.

Even today we don’t have fully reliable numbers on Soviet military spending. During the Cold War there was a whole literature (Dudkin & Vasilevsky 1987, Noren 1995, Steinberg 1990) devoted to these estimates. One example from Noren’s paper:

milesp

Given my chart, one would say that military spending was around 10-20% of Soviet GDP, so perhaps a compromise figure of 15%, around twice USA spending. However, Harrison 2003 leads some support to the idea that actual military spending was around 20%, at the upper range of the Cold War estimates. Being street bayesians, let’s conclude that it was 18% for now.

Bonus: Was US military technology more advanced than the Soviet’s? Yes, but not by a large margin (Perry, 1973)

Bonus2: Did Reagan induce a Soviet increase in military spending that in turn lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union? (For the thesis see Busch 1997, against the thesis Dobson 2005. For more, see the AskHistorians subreddit) Reagan’s policies were at much a secondary factor in explaining why the Soviet economy crashed. In that sense, he didn’t win the Cold War. Rather, The Soviet Union committed suicide by virtue of the deterioration of its economic system in the late 70s.

(Edit)

We can also look at military spending on a per capita basis, and see also the absolute amount of spending. For that, I multiply my values above by GDP as measured by Maddison (I assume 18% of GDP spending for the Soviets in the 78-85 period), and then I multiply by population. Population for the US comes from the US Census, population for the USSR comes from the UN.

Capturan

Capturan

Capturan.PNG

If this is so, then Reagan’s buildup didn’t really increase the Soviet’s military burden. Reagan’s increase from valley to peak was of 62.5% while the Soviet answer to that was a mere 12%.

Here someone got a figure that looks like mine, and it also shows that the Soviet increase in spending came way before Reagan:

References

Allen, R. C. (2003). Farm to factory: a reinterpretation of the Soviet industrial revolution. Princeton University Press.

Busch, A. E. (1997). Ronald Reagan and the defeat of the Soviet empire. Presidential Studies Quarterly,27(3), 451-466.

CIA (1977) Estimated Soviet Defense Spending in Rubles

Daggett, S., & Belasco, A. (2002, March). Defense Budget for FY2003: Data Summary. CRS Report for Congress, March.

Dobson, A. P. (2005). The Reagan administration, economic warfare, and starting to close down the cold war. Diplomatic History, 29(3), 531-556.

Dudkin, L., & Vasilevsky, A. (1987). The Soviet Military Burden: A Critical Analysis of Current Research. Hitotsubashi journal of economics, 41-61.

Federation of American Scientists (2000) http://fas.org/nuke/guide/russia/agency/mo-budget.htm

Harrison, M. (1988). Resource mobilization for World War II: the USA, UK, USSR, and Germany, 1938‐1945′. The Economic History Review, 41(2), 171-192.

Harrison, M. (2003). How much did the Soviets really spend on defence? New evidence from the close of the Brezhnev era.

Noren, J. H. (1995). The controversy over Western measures of Soviet defense expenditures. Post-Soviet Affairs, 11(3), 238-276.

Nove, A. (1992). An Economic History of the USSR, 1st edn, London: Allen Lane, 1969; revised 1989; revised as An Economic History of the USSR, 1917–1991.

Perry, R. (1973). Comparisons of Soviet and US Technology. Rand.

Steinberg, D. (1990). Trends in Soviet military expenditure. Europe‐Asia Studies, 42(4), 675-699.

SIPRI http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex/milex_database

Appendix

Soviet Military Spending

Year Source % of NI
1928 Allen(2003) 0,5
1929 Allen(2003) 1
1930 Allen(2003) 1
1931 Allen(2003) 1
1932 Allen(2003) 1
1933 Allen(2003) 1
1934 Allen(2003) 2
1935 Allen(2003) 3
1936 Allen(2003) 5
1937 Allen(2003) 4
1938 Allen(2003) 6
1939 Allen(2003) 8
1940 Nove(1992) 15
1940 Allen(2003) 11
1940 Harrison(1988) 20
1942 Nove(1992) 55
1942 Harrison(1988) 66
1943 Harrison(1988) 58
1944 Harrison(1988) 52
1950 Nove(1992) 19
1951 Nove(1992) 21
1952 Nove(1992) 24
1970 CIA1(1977) 12
1971 CIA1(1977) 12
1972 CIA1(1977) 12
1973 CIA1(1977) 12
1974 CIA1(1977) 12
1975 CIA1(1977) 12
1976 CIA1(1977) 12
1980 Harrison(2003) 17
1980 Harrison(2003) 17
1980 Harrison(2003) 16
1980 Harrison(2003) 15
1980 Harrison(2003) 25
1980 Harrison(2003) 13
1980 Harrison(2003) 8
1980 Harrison(2003) 8
1980 Harrison(2003) 3
1980 Harrison(2003) 25
1987 FAS(2000) 13
1988 FAS(2000) 13
1988 Cooper(1998) 16
1989 FAS(2000) 11
1989 Cooper(1998) 14
1990 FAS(2000) 11
1990 Cooper(1998) 12
1991 FAS(2000) 10

US Military Spending

Source Source % of NI
1928 CRS Report (2002) 0,7
1929 CRS Report (2002) 0,7
1930 CRS Report (2002) 0,8
1931 CRS Report (2002) 0,9
1932 CRS Report (2002) 1
1933 CRS Report (2002) 1,1
1934 CRS Report (2002) 0,9
1935 CRS Report (2002) 1
1936 CRS Report (2002) 1,2
1937 CRS Report (2002) 1,1
1938 CRS Report (2002) 1,2
1939 CRS Report (2002) 1,2
1940 CRS Report (2002) 1,7
1941 CRS Report (2002) 5,6
1942 CRS Report (2002) 17,8
1943 CRS Report (2002) 37
1944 CRS Report (2002) 37,9
1945 CRS Report (2002) 37,5
1946 CRS Report (2002) 19,2
1947 CRS Report (2002) 5,5
1948 CRS Report (2002) 3,6
1949 SIPRI(2015)                 5,1
1950 CRS Report (2002) 4,8
1950 SIPRI(2015)                 4,9
1951 CRS Report (2002) 5
1951 SIPRI(2015)                 9,7
1952 SIPRI(2015)              13,3
1953 SIPRI(2015)              13,0
1954 SIPRI(2015)              11,2
1955 SIPRI(2015)                 9,7
1956 SIPRI(2015)                 9,5
1957 SIPRI(2015)                 9,6
1958 SIPRI(2015)                 9,7
1959 SIPRI(2015)                 9,0
1960 SIPRI(2015)                 8,6
1961 SIPRI(2015)                 8,8
1962 SIPRI(2015)                 8,9
1963 SIPRI(2015)                 8,5
1964 SIPRI(2015)                 7,7
1965 SIPRI(2015)                 7,2
1966 SIPRI(2015)                 8,1
1967 SIPRI(2015)                 9,1
1968 SIPRI(2015)                 8,9
1969 SIPRI(2015)                 8,3
1970 SIPRI(2015)                 7,7
1971 SIPRI(2015)                 6,6
1972 SIPRI(2015)                 6,3
1973 SIPRI(2015)                 5,7
1974 SIPRI(2015)                 5,7
1975 SIPRI(2015)                 5,4
1976 SIPRI(2015)                 5,0
1977 SIPRI(2015)                 5,0
1978 SIPRI(2015)                 4,8
1979 SIPRI(2015)                 4,8
1980 SIPRI(2015)                 5,0
1981 SIPRI(2015)                 5,4
1982 SIPRI(2015)                 6,6
1983 SIPRI(2015)                 6,0
1984 SIPRI(2015)                 5,9
1985 SIPRI(2015)                 6,1
1986 SIPRI(2015)                 6,3
1987 SIPRI(2015)                 6,1
1988 SIPRI(2015)                 5,7
1989 SIPRI(2015)                 5,5
1990 SIPRI(2015)                 5,3
1991 SIPRI(2015)                 4,6
USA GDPpc USSR GDPpc USA military pc USSR military pc USA Population USSR Population Total USA(bn) Total USSR(bn)
1928 6569 1370 46 7 120509000 6
1929 6899 1386 48 7 121767000 6
1930 6213 1448 50 9 123076741 6
1931 5691 1462 51 9 124039648 6
1932 4908 1439 49 10 124840471 6
1933 4777 1493 53 10 125578763 7
1934 5114 1630 46 33 126373773 6
1935 5467 1864 55 52 127250232 7
1936 6204 1991 74 92 128053180 10
1937 6430 2156 71 95 128824829 9
1938 6126 2150 74 127 129824939 10
1939 6561 2237 79 189 130879718 10
1940 7010 2144 119 343 132122446 16
1941 8206 460 133402471 61
1942 9741 1734 134859553 234
1943 11518 4262 136739353 583
1944 12333 4674 138397345 647
1945 11709 4391 139928165 614
1946 9197 1913 1766 141388566 250
1947 8886 2126 489 144126071 70
1948 9065 2402 326 146631302 48
1949 8944 2623 452 149188130 67
1950 9561 2841 459 527 152271417 181077000 70 95
1951 10116 2806 746 599 154877889 183610000 116 110
1952 10316 2937 1370 701 157552740 186527000 216 131
1953 10613 3013 1381 160184192 189707000 221
1954 10359 3106 1165 163025854 193061000 190
1955 10897 3313 1061 165931202 196513000 176
1956 10914 3566 1036 168903031 200011000 175
1957 10920 3576 1046 171984130 203524000 180
1958 10631 3777 1026 174881904 207035000 179
1959 11230 3669 1016 177829628 210548000 181
1960 11328 3945 976 180671158 214062000 176
1961 11402 4098 1001 183691481 217563000 184
1962 11905 4140 1065 186537737 221016000 199
1963 12242 3985 1036 189241798 224360000 196
1964 12773 4439 986 191888791 227519000 189
1965 13419 4634 967 194302963 230441000 188
1966 14134 4804 1141 196560338 233092000 224
1967 14330 4963 1299 198712056 235502000 258
1968 14863 5202 1319 200706052 237743000 265
1969 15179 5225 1256 202676946 239933000 255
1970 15030 5575 1156 669 205052174 242148000 237 162
1971 15304 5667 1017 680 207660677 244423000 211 166
1972 15944 5643 1000 677 209896021 246737000 210 167
1973 16689 6059 946 727 211908788 249075000 200 181
1974 16491 6176 945 741 213853928 251396000 202 186
1975 16284 6135 879 736 215973199 253676000 190 187
1976 16975 6363 847 764 218035164 255909000 185 195
1977 17567 6454 873 968 220239425 258121000 192 250
1978 18373 6559 875 1181 222584545 260328000 195 307
1979 18789 6472 897 1165 225055487 262576000 202 306
1980 18577 6427 921 1157 227224681 264883000 209 306
1981 18856 6433 1024 1158 229465714 267239000 235 309
1982 18325 6536 1203 1176 231664458 269627000 279 317
1983 18920 6687 1144 1204 233791994 272053000 267 327
1984 20123 6709 1185 1208 235824902 274537000 279 332
1985 20717 6708 1268 1208 237923795 277067000 302 335
1986 21236 6923 1338 1038 240132887 279665000 321 290
1987 21788 6952 1326 896 242288918 282280000 321 253
1988 22499 7043 1293 986 244498982 284772000 316 281
1989 23059 7112 1279 925 246819230 286945000 316 265
1990 23201 6894 1225 793 249464396 288667000 305 229
1991 22833 6425 1044 660 252153092 289888000 263 191
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4 Responses to The Soviet Union: Military Spending

  1. Pingback: The Soviet Union series | Nintil

  2. akarlin says:

    Rather, The Soviet Union committed suicide by virtue of the deterioration of its economic system in the late 70s.

    That was a factor, but far from a critical one. The centrally planned economy was inefficient but stable. The key mistake was conducting political and market reforms at the same time (thus provoking a recession while simultaneously making the Soviet state both answerable for it and enabling the airing of formerly repressed nationalist sentiments). Incidentally, Andropov planned to do the latter before the former, but he died too early.

    • Artir says:

      Yes, I agree with that. The Soviet Union could have lasted far longer (See North Korea, it’s still happily there).
      The downfall of the USSR deserves a post of its own, and I’ll come to that at some point.

  3. Pingback: Is Healthcare eating our seed grain? – blrfurther.com

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