Military expenditure increases in the first year of the pandemic
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 percent in 2020, up from 2.2 percent in 2019. This was the biggest year-on-year rise in the military burden since the global financial and economic crisis in 2009.
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.
‘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.’
Strong increase in US military spending continues in 2020
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 rises for the 26th consecutive year
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.’
Other notable developments
- Russia’s military expenditure increased by 2.5 percent 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 percent lower than its initial military budget, a larger shortfall than in previous years.
- With a total of $59.2 billion, the UK became the fifth largest spender in 2020. The UK’s military spending was 2.9 percent higher than in 2019 but 4.2 percent lower than in 2011. Germany increased its spending by 5.2 percent to $52.8 billion, making it the seventh-largest spender in 2020. Germany’s military expenditure was 28 percent higher than in 2011. Military spending across Europe rose by 4.0 percent 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.
- Military expenditure in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 3.4 percent in 2020 to reach $18.5 billion. The biggest increases in spending were made by Chad (+31 percent), Mali (+22 percent), Mauritania (+23 percent), and Nigeria (+29 percent), all in the Sahel region, as well as Uganda (+46 percent).
- Military expenditure in South America fell by 2.1 percent to $43.5 billion in 2020. The decrease was largely due to a 3.1 percent drop in spending by Brazil, the subregion’s largest military spender.
- The combined military spending of the 11 Middle Eastern countries for which SIPRI has spending figures decreased by 6.5 percent in 2020, to $143 billion.
- Eight of the nine members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for which SIPRI has figures cut their military spending in 2020. Angola’s spending fell by 12 percent, Saudi Arabia’s by 10 percent, and Kuwait’s by 5.9 percent. Non-OPEC oil exporter Bahrain also cut its spending by 9.8 percent.
- The countries with the biggest increases in military burden among the top 15 spenders in 2020 were Saudi Arabia (+0.6 percentage points), Russia (+0.5 percentage points), Israel (+0.4 percentage points), and the USA (+0.3 percentage points).