The independent resource on global security

8. Military expenditure


Overview, Nan Tian [PDF]

I. Global developments in military expenditure, Nan Tian, Diego Lopes da Silva and Alexandra Marksteiner [PDF]

II. Regional developments in military expenditure, Nan Tian, Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, Diego Lopes da Silva and Alexandra Marksteiner [PDF]

III. Transparency in government reporting on military expenditure in South East Asia, Lucie Béraud-Sudreau and Diego Lopes da Silva [PDF]

World military expenditure is estimated to have been US$1981 billion in 2020. Total spending was 2.6 per cent higher than in 2019 and 9.3 per cent higher than in 2011. The global military burden—world military expenditure as a share of world gross domestic product (GDP)—rose by 0.2 percentage points in 2020, to 2.4 per cent. This was the biggest increase in military burden since the global financial and economic crisis in 2009.


Military spending increased in at least four of the world’s five regions: by 5.1 per cent in Africa, 4.0 per cent in Europe, 3.9 per cent in the Americas and 2.5 per cent in Asia and Oceania. For the sixth succes­sive year SIPRI cannot provide an estimate of total spending in the Middle East.


The impact of Covid-19

While the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on military spending will become clearer in the coming years, four general observations can already be made about its impact in 2020. First, several countries (e.g. Angola, Brazil, Chile, Kuwait, Russia and South Korea) are known to have reduced or diverted military spending to address the pandemic. Second, one country—Hungary—took the opposite course and increased its military spending in 2020 as part of a financial stimulus package in reaction to the pandemic. Arguments linking higher military spending and economic recovery are likely to be made in more countries. Third, the military burden in a majority of states increased in 2020. Fourth, most countries have used military assets, especially personnel, to support their responses to the outbreak of Covid-19.


World military expenditure_2020


The largest military spenders in 2020

The growth in total spending in 2020 was largely influenced by expenditure patterns in the United States and China. The USA increased its military spending for the third straight year to reach $778 billion in 2020, a 4.4 per cent increase since 2019 but a 10 per cent decrease since 2011. Budget items that contributed to this recent growth include research and development, upgrading of the US nuclear arsenal and large-scale arms acquisitions. China’s military expenditure is estimated at $252 billion in 2020, representing an increase of 1.9 per cent since 2019 and 76 per cent since 2011. Chinese spending has risen for 26 consecutive years—the longest streak of uninterrupted increases by any country in the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database. Since the Chinese economy managed to rebound fairly quickly from pandemic-related restrictions, the country is likely to be one of the few that is able to fund a continued increase in mili­tary spending without an increase in its military burden.


India’s spending of $72.9 billion, an increase of 2.1 per cent in 2020, ranked it as the third highest spender in the world. Russia’s total military spending was 

$61.7 billion. This was 2.5 per cent higher than in 2019, but 6.6 per cent lower than the initial budget for 2020, reflecting the far-reaching economic consequences of Covid-19. The gap in spending included a shortfall of around $1 billion probably linked to the State Armament Programme. The fifth biggest spender, the United Kingdom, raised its military expenditure by 2.9 per cent in 2020. This was the UK’s second highest annual growth rate in the period 2011–20, a decade that until 2017 was characterized by military spending cuts.


Transparency in military expenditure

Tracking countries’ military expenditure requires transparency. Most countries provide data on military spending in official government reports. However, information is sometimes difficult to access and the reporting in government publications varies widely. One possible factor influencing transparency is the quality of democratic institutions. In South East Asia, for example, basic indicators of national transparency—accessibility, availability, classification, comprehensiveness, dis­aggregation and the stage of the budgeting process at which reporting takes place—show that overall transparency in government reporting on military spending in this subregion is fairly good. Five countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Timor-Leste) are transparent, three countries (Cambodia, Myanmar and Singapore) have partial transparency, and only Brunei Darussalam, Laos and Viet Nam are judged to have limited or no transparency. 


Military burden, by region, 2011–20

Military burden


Dr Nan Tian, Dr Diego Lopes da Silva, Alexandra Marksteiner and Dr Lucie Béraud-Sudreau