Even as global GDP dropped by 4.4% owing to the coronavirus pandemic last year, the world continued decade-long trend of buying more weapons.
As per a report compiled by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), worldwide military spending last year rose 2.6% compared to 2019 figures, reaching $1.981 trillion. The United States ($778 billion or ~39% of global total), China ($252 billion), India ($72.9 billion), Russia ($61.7 billion), and the United Kingdom ($59.2 billion) are named among those nations with the largest military budgets.
Military expenditure by the top 15 countries reached $1.603 trillion in 2020 and accounted for 81% of global military spending. There were some changes in the composition and rank order of the top 15 between 2019 and 2020. Most notably, Israel entered the top 15 in place of Turkey, and the U.K. moved above Saudi Arabia—whose military spending fell by 10%—to become the fifth largest spender in 2020.
The report notes that the growth occurred amid a significant 4.4% decrease in global GDP, caused mainly by the pandemic, with the global military burden (as a share of global GDP) reaching 2.4 percent, and breaking the previous record of 2.2 percent. This is the highest military expenditure since the severe financial crisis of 2008-9.
The main drivers of the increases in U.S. military spending in recent years were perceived threat from strategic competitors such as China and Russia and the push by former US President Donald J. Trump to build up what he saw as a depleted military, the SIPRI report said.
China’s military expenditure has increased for 26 consecutive years. This growth is the result of China’s long-term military modernization and expansion process. According to China’s Ministry of National Defense, the increase in 2020 was in part motivated by perceived threats to China’s national security related to ‘power politics’.
At $72.9 billion, India’s military spending in 2020 was 2.1% higher than in 2019. This increase can be largely attributed to India’s ongoing conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir and renewed border tensions with China, as well as India’s more general rivalry with China as the main regional power in Asia and Oceania.
While COVID-19 did not have a significant impact on global military spending in 2020, some countries such as Brazil and Russia allocated significantly less funds for military purposes than originally planned.
Russia’s military expenditure was $61.7 billion in 2020, 2.5% higher than in 2019. Although its military spending grew overall in 2020, the actual amount spent was 6.6% lower than its initial military budget.
China’s increase in military spending of 76% was by far the largest among the top 15 over the decade 2011–20. Other top 15 countries with substantial increases between 2011 and 2020 were South Korea (41%), India (34%), Australia (33%) and Israel (32%).
Military expenditure by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members totalled $1103 billion in 2020. Six of the top 15 military spenders are members of NATO: the USA, the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Canada.
Together, these six accounted for 90% ($995 billion) of total NATO spending and 50 per cent of global military expenditure. Among the top 15 spenders, the military burden increased between 2019 and 2020 in all countries except China. The GDPs of almost all the countries in the world decreased in 2020 largely as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In most countries this led to an increase in the military burden irrespective of whether their military spending rose or fell in 2020. The most notable increases in military burden among the top 15 spenders in 2020 included Saudi Arabia (+0.6 percentage points), Russia (+0.5 percentage points), Israel (+0.4 percentage points) and the U.S. (+0.3 percentage points).