The FY22 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) recently signed into law by President Joe Biden comes with a $768.2-billion price tag. That may sound like a lot of money. However, it’s actually a modest amount relative to today’s threats and past defense budgets.

Before we get into those threats and comparisons to past defense budgets, here are some highlights from the NDAA.

As AP reports, the NDAA amounts to a 5-percent increase in overall military spending—about $25 billion more than the White House requested. The NDAA calls for a 2.7-percent pay raise for servicemembers, $7.1 billion in new spending for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, $4 billion for the European Defense Initiative and $300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s overview of the NDAA adds that the DoD spending blueprint envisions an active-duty endstrength of 485,000 personnel for the Army, 346,920 for the Navy, 178,500 for the Marine Corps, 329,220 for the Air Force and 8,400 for the Space Force.

The law calls for a $4.7-billion increase for shipbuilding, including fresh spending for two destroyers, two expeditionary fast transports and one fleet oiler; $4.4 billion for the F-35 program; and $576 million for F-15EX aircraft.

On the policy side, the NDAA prohibits reductions in the B-1B bomber fleet until the Air Force begins deploying the B-21 bomber; blocks the Air Force from retiring the A-10; requires an assessment by Cyber Command of current and emerging offensive cyber capabilities of America’s adversaries; includes a statement of congressional support for the defense of Taiwan; calls for an assessment of Taiwan's defensive capabilities and a plan for assisting Taiwan with its asymmetric defense capabilities; creates a commission to study lessons learned during the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan; and extends the ban on the transfer to the United States of Guantanamo detainees.

It should be noted that Congress has more work to do to put the NDAA into action. As Sen. Patrick Leahy points out, the NDAA “does not…provide the funding to implement the policies it sets.” It merely “says what the policies will be” and “declares what the funding should be.”

Even so, the FY22 NDAA is an important statement of defense policy. Sen. Jim Inhofe notes that “This bill sends a clear message to our allies—that the United States remains a reliable, credible partner—and to our adversaries—that the U.S. military is prepared and fully able to defend our interests around the world.”

That brings us to the threats the NDAA aims to address.

Those of us who advocate for large defense budgets in order to deter rational foes, defeat those foes that aren’t rational, and address other threats to the national interest have a responsibility to identify those threats and foes. This is, regrettably, a simple exercise in 2022.

Xi Jinping’s China has built the world’s largest navy; massively expanded its nuclear arsenal and nuclear strike capabilities; exploded military spending by 517 percent (since 2000); claimed a vast swath of the South China Sea and erected illegal, militarized islands to back up those claims; unleashed though incompetence or intent a crippling global pandemic; used technology and money to expand its insidious influence over American culture and education; conducted a relentless cybersiege of the Free World; interfered in free elections abroad and constructed an Orwellian surveillance state at home; increased its suppression and mistreatment of Christians; engaged in genocide against Uighur Muslims; launched unprovoked military attacks against India in the Himalayan border region; absorbed Hong Kong in violation of international treaties; and increased its menacing pressure on Taiwan, with hundreds of sorties into Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone the past four months. Indeed, just weeks ago Xi declared, “Resolving the Taiwan question and realizing China's complete reunification is a historic mission and an unshakable commitment of the Communist Party of China.”

In short, Xi’s China has the intent and the capability—military, technological, industrial, economic—to challenge the U.S. across every domain. Critics of the seemingly-large U.S. defense budget counter that China spends a fraction of what America spends on defense. The reality is that China hides its defense spending in a range of other programs and initiatives, invests very little relative to the U.S. on personnel, steals much of the technology the U.S. spends billions developing, and is largely focusing its mushrooming military budget on one geographic region.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia has massed 100,000 men and 1,200 tanks on Ukraine’s borders; issued the U.S. and NATO an unacceptable ultimatum aimed at erasing the sovereignty of East European nations; waged wars to annex parts of democratic Ukraine and democratic Georgia; conducted cyberwar against NATO member Estonia; armed Taliban forces waging war against U.S. and NATO peacekeepers operating under UN mandate; hacked and attacked the U.S. power grid; unleashed intelligence agencies and cyber-pirates to wreak havoc inside Free World economies and sway public opinion via manipulation of media; used chemical weapons abroad and smothered dissent at home; violated arms treaties; propped up regimes that gas and starve their own people; conducted massive and destabilizing snap military exercises; and unveiled military doctrines pledging the use of force “to ensure the protection of [Russian] citizens outside the Russian Federation” and threatening preemptive use of nuclear weapons to somehow deescalate a conflict.

The good news is that Putin, like Xi, respects deterrent military strength.

That may not be the case with Iran’s rulers, who continue their drive to build a nuclear bomb, continue to foment revolution in neighboring countries, continue to interfere with international shipping in the Gulf, continue to attack commercial and military vessels, continue to aid Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and continue to directly target and threaten the United States. The terrorists who run Iran have the blood of 603 American troops on their hands, recently planned an attack on Ft. McNair in Washington, D.C., and plotted assassinations of a U.S. general and a Saudi diplomat on U.S. soil.

The Taliban has retaken Afghanistan—not a comforting thought given what happened the last time the Taliban ruled that forever-broken country. Al-Qaeda has a presence in 21 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. A resurgent ISIS has already attacked the U.S. inside Afghanistan.

Add to this list North Korea, with its growing nuclear arsenal, spasms of missile tests and unpredictable leadership; a raging “wildfire of terrorism” across Africa, which is scarred by the reemergence of ISIS; an outbreak of failed and failing states in our own hemisphere; and Hezbollah’s 130,000 rockets—and we have what Gen. James Mattis calls “the most complex and demanding” international situation in many decades.

At first blush, the $768.2 billion Pentagon bill seems like a lot of money—because it is. That figure, after all, represents more than the entire GDP of countries such as Colombia, Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland and Chile.

However, owing to how enormous America’s GDP is, that figure represents just 3.3 percent of U.S. GDP and 11 percent of federal outlays (in 2021). To put those numbers in perspective: Just 11 years ago, Americans were investing 20 percent of federal outlays and 4.7 percent of GDP in defense. The world is far more dangerous today than it was then, as Mattis points out.

For further perspective, the average share of GDP the U.S. devoted to defense during the Cold War was more than twice what we are spending today. In 1953, for example, the U.S. allocated 69 percent of federal outlays and 14 percent of GDP to defense. In 1968, the U.S. allocated 46 percent of federal outlays and 9 percent of GDP to defense. In 1984, the U.S. allocated 26.7 percent of federal outlays and 5.9 percent of GDP to defense.

Comparing those percentages with today’s should trigger alarm bells given the actions of China and Russia detailed above—actions that help explain why Henry Kissinger concludes that we have entered the “foothills of a Cold War.” Historian Niall Ferguson openly calls the global contest with Beijing “Cold War II.”

Put another way, what matters when crafting the U.S. defense budget are percentages and threats—not raw dollars. As the threats increase, so must the percentages, which explains why congressional leaders bolstered the Biden administration’s defense budget proposal. Given the voracious return of inflation, the Biden defense budget would have flatlined defense spending.

The downward pressure on defense spending is a function of the massive amounts devoured by domestic programs in recent years: $1.8 trillion aimed at navigating the Great Recession, $2.59 trillion in 2020 in response to the pandemic, another $1.9 trillion in emergency relief and stimulus in 2021, $1 trillion for infrastructure, $5 trillion more planned for newer and bigger social safety-net programs.

It seems Congress is coming to realize that all those programs may be politically advantageous, but they don’t do a thing to defend U.S. citizens, territory or interests; or deter China, Russia and North Korea; or defeat jihadist regimes like Iran and jihadist groups like ISIS.