World military spending rises despite pandemic


The global military expenditure increased to $1981 billion last year, despite Covid-19 pandemic that ravaged the world economy.

According to new data published on Sunday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the total global military expenditure witnessed an increase of 2.6 percent in 2020 in real terms from 2019.

This is despite the fact that the global gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 4.4 percent (October 2020 projection by the International Monetary Fund), largely due to the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

SIPRI monitors developments in military expenditure worldwide and maintains the most comprehensive, consistent and extensive publicly available data source on military expenditure.

The five biggest spenders in 2020, which together accounted for 62 percent of global military expenditure, were the United States, China, India, Russia and the United Kingdom. Military spending by China grew for the 26th consecutive year.

The 2.6 percent increase in world military spending came in a year when global gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 4.4 per cent (October 2020 projection by the International Monetary Fund), largely due to the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a result, military spending as a share of GDP—the military burden—reached a global average of 2.4 per cent in 2020, up from 2.2 per cent in 2019. This was the biggest year-on-year rise in the military burden since the global financial and economic crisis in 2009, according to SIPRI that tracks global military spending.

Even though military spending rose globally, some countries explicitly reallocated part of their planned military spending to pandemic response, such as Chile and South Korea.

Several others, including Brazil and Russia, spent considerably less than their initial military budgets for 2020, SIPRI said.

“We can say with some certainty that the pandemic did not have a significant impact on global military spending in 2020,” said Dr Diego Lopes da Silva, Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “It remains to be seen whether countries will maintain this level of military spending through a second year of the pandemic.”

In 2020 US military expenditure reached an estimated $778 billion, representing an increase of 4.4 per cent over 2019.

As the world’s largest military spender, the USA accounted for 39 per cent of total military expenditure in 2020. This was the third consecutive year of growth in US military spending, following seven years of continuous reductions.

“The recent increases in US military spending can be primarily attributed to heavy investment in research and development, and several long-term projects such as modernizing the US nuclear arsenal and large-scale arms procurement,” said Alexandra Marksteiner, a researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. ‘This reflects growing concerns over perceived threats from strategic competitors such as China and Russia, as well as the Trump administration’s drive to bolster what it saw as a depleted US military.’

China’s military expenditure, the second highest in the world, is estimated to have totalled $252 billion in 2020. This represents an increase of 1.9 per cent over 2019 and 76 per cent over the decade 2011–20. China’s spending has risen for 26 consecutive years, the longest series of uninterrupted increases by any country in the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database.

“China stands out as the only major spender in the world not to increase its military burden in 2020 despite increasing its military expenditure, because of its positive GDP growth last year,” said Dr Nan Tian, SIPRI Senior Researcher.

“The ongoing growth in Chinese spending is due in part to the country’s long-term military modernization and expansion plans, in line with a stated desire to catch up with other leading military powers.”

Russia’s military expenditure increased by 2.5 per cent in 2020 to reach $61.7 billion. This was the second consecutive year of growth. Nevertheless, Russia’s actual military spending in 2020 was 6.6 per cent lower than its initial military budget, a larger shortfall than in previous years, according to the report.

With a total of $59.2 billion, the UK became the fifth largest spender in 2020. The UK’s military spending was 2.9 per cent higher than in 2019, but 4.2 per cent lower than in 2011. Germany increased its spending by 5.2 per cent to $52.8 billion, making it the seventh largest spender in 2020. Germany’s military expenditure was 28 per cent higher than in 2011. Military spending across Europe rose by 4.0 per cent in 2020.

In addition to China, India ($72.9 billion), Japan ($49.1 billion), South Korea ($45.7 billion) and Australia ($27.5 billion) were the largest military spenders in the Asia and Oceania region.

All four countries increased their military spending between 2019 and 2020 and over the decade 2011–20.