The independent resource on global security

7. Military expenditure data: a 40-year overview



I. Introduction

II. Military expenditure during the cold war

III. Military expenditure in the post-cold war period

IV. Military expenditure after September 2001

V. Continuity and change: the use of military expenditure data over the past 40 years


Read the full chapter [PDF].


Over the past 40 years, military expenditure data have been used in a variety of political contexts. There have been two fundamental shifts in the use of such data. First, there has been a shift of focus from military expenditure in the countries belonging to the cold war military blocs in the North to that of the developing countries in the South in the post-cold war period. Second, in the UN there has been a shift in the aims of the use of military expenditure data away from disarmament and development towards transparency. This reflects broader changes in the international peace and security community, where the idea of disarmament as a direct path to development has lost ground, while the idea of promoting security through, for example, confidence building, conflict prevention and peacekeeping has gained ground. Increased awareness of the interdependence of security and development is resulting in new ideas on how to promote both. This will hopefully lead to increased use of non-military resources for security provision in the future. However, the picture is mixed since the first half-decade of the 21st century was dominated by the opposite practice: the application of huge military resources in the name of defending and promoting democracy.


In general, it appears that data availability and accessibility have tended to improve over time, especially in terms of access to primary sources for developing countries. This is in part because of the general tendency for improved transparency and is possibly also promoted by the efforts of the UN, the international donor community and data-gathering organizations. However, in spite of the improved access to data, the quality of the data remains unsatisfactory. Tracking states’ conflict-related expenditure is also a major challenge. The industrialized countries’ new modes of financing procurement through private finance require further understanding in order to assess their implications for data quality.


The relevance of military expenditure data for the analysis of peace and security issues has been a perpetual issue throughout the 40-year period. The use of military expenditure data to assess military strength, in spite of the fact that such data by their nature are an input measure, tends to lead to misconceptions, as the cold war experience demonstrates. The relevance of military expenditure data is further challenged in the current security environment, with fundamental questions posed by the increased focus on internal security and the changing concept of security. Human security, with its focus on the individual rather than the state, and the blurring of the dividing line between internal security and external defence mean that military expenditure data are of less relevance. This does not mean that data on military expenditure are of no utility, but rather that they need to be complemented by other types of data series in order to capture the dimensions of internal security and human security.



Wuyi Omitoogun (Nigeria) is a Researcher with the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme.


Elisabeth Sköns (Sweden) is the Leader of the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme.

Dr Elisabeth Sköns