PolitiFact: Sanders’ stats outdated but U.S. still top military spender

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, and the Rev. William Barber II speak in a public forum on April, 19, 2018 at Duke Chapel in Durham. (via Travis Long/The News & Observer)

Combined ShapeCaption
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, and the Rev. William Barber II speak in a public forum on April, 19, 2018 at Duke Chapel in Durham. (via Travis Long/The News & Observer)

A “moral economy” means spending more on things like health care and education and less on the military, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Sanders, a Vermont independent and Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, shared a stage with the Rev. William Barber II at Duke University in Durham on April 19 to talk about systemic inequality during their event to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

To drive home his point he made his remark about how far U.S. defense spending outpaces that of other countries.

“That,” Sanders added, “you will never hear in the media.”

PolitiFact has checked claims about military spending before. If Sanders' claim sounds familiar, that may be because President Barack Obama made a similar claim during his 2016 State of the Union address.

“We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined,” Obama said.

It’s been two years since we rated Obama’s claim Mostly True on our Truth-O-Meter.

At the time, PolitiFact relied on the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a think tank, for information to rate Obama’s claim. By that group’s calculation, the United States in 2014 — the most recent year available at the time — spent more than the next seven countries combined.

Updated SIPRI numbers show that the United States spent $611 billion in 2016, more than eight other countries combined — but not 12. The institute hasn't released numbers for 2017.

So does that mean Sanders is exaggerating?

Sanders' office, upon being contacted by PolitiFact, cited as his source a 2016 report by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The 2016 report shows that the United States spent about $604.5 billion on its military, which indeed is higher than the next 12 countries combined. China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, India, Japan, France, Germany, South Korea, Australia, Brazil and Italy spent a combined $601 billion in 2016.

However, the most recent IISS report shows the U.S. spending is ahead only of the next 10 countries. The United States spent $602.8 billion, while the next 10 countries spent a combined $593 billion.

The change in ratio has more to do with foreign countries than with the U.S. military budget. While U.S. spending dipped slightly, Saudi Arabia boosted spending by nearly $20 billion. China and Brazil increased spending by about $5 billion apiece.

PolitiFact alerted Sanders’ office to the updated IISS numbers.

“We will update our talking points,” Sanders spokesman Josh Miller-Lewis said.

Our ruling

Sanders cited a 2016 chart that supported his claim, but it has been updated recently to a new pecking order of military spending. Still, Sanders' claim is in the ballpark. We rate it Mostly True.

“We’ve spent more money on the military than the next 12 nations combined.”

— Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Thursday, April 19, 2018 in a speech at Duke University

About the Author