Apr 25, 2022 - World

Global military spending tops $2 trillion for first time, led by U.S.

Share of world military expenditure of countries with the
highest spending, 2021
Data: SIPRI Military Expenditure Database; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

Global military spending topped $2 trillion in 2021 for the first time, with the U.S. accounting for 38% of that total, according to an annual report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The big picture: China's spending rose for the 27th consecutive year, and it's more than doubled over the past decade. China's growing power and Russia's increasing aggression have spurred other countries in Asia and Europe to increase their own defense budgets.

  • The U.S. and its NATO allies together accounted for 55% of global military spending. That jumps to 61% if you include the U.S. treaty allies in the Pacific: Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
  • That surpasses spending from U.S. competitors and adversaries Russia (3.1%), Iran (1.2%) and even China (14%). SIPRI did not estimate North Korea's spending.
  • Even as a proportion of GDP, China spends less than half (1.7%) of what the U.S. (3.5%) does, according to SIPRI's estimate (China's military budget is notoriously opaque).
    • Yes, but: China did narrow the superpower spending gap slightly in 2021, increasing its defense spending by 4.7% while U.S. spending fell by 1.4%.

The region that saw the biggest increase in defense spending was Asia and Oceania.

  • The biggest increases came in Japan (+7.3%) and Australia (+4%) — due primarily to concerns about China's rise.

Spending also increased in Europe.

  • Russian aggression has pushed NATO allies to move toward the alliance's target of spending 2% of GDP on defense.
  • The numbers will likely be higher this year. After the invasion of Ukraine, Germany announced a massive infusion of defense spending.

The countries that spent the most as a proportion of GDP are almost all in the Middle East and North Africa, led by Oman (7.3%), Kuwait (6.7%) and Saudi Arabia (6.6%).

  • Africa accounted for just 1.9% of global military expenditures, but Nigeria — the biggest spender in sub-Saharan Africa — spent 56% more on the military last year than in 2020 as it faced severe security challenges, including from Boko Haram.
  • Several countries in the Americas, including Argentina (0.6%) and Mexico (0.7%), spent less than 1% of GDP on defense.

On average, 6 cents of every dollar governments around the world spend go towards the military, though the average is considerably lower in Europe and South America.

  • Countries like Belarus (30%), Qatar (22%) and Pakistan (18%) put an unusually high percentage of government spending toward the military.

By the numbers:

  1. U.S. (38% of total global spending)
  2. China (14%)
  3. India (3.6%)
  4. U.K. (3.2%)
  5. Russia (3.1%)
  6. France (2.7%)
  7. Germany (2.7%)
  8. Saudi Arabia (2.6%)
  9. Japan (2.6%)
  10. South Korea (2.4%).

Worth noting: The U.S. spent more than the rest of the top 10 combined.

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