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The big players: mapping global military expenditure 

Global military expenditure is at its highest level since the Cold War according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. So which countries are the big players in the international military purchasing market, and just how much are they spending? Elliot Gardner maps the data to visualise the trends.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has revealed its figures on international military spending for 2017. Figures remain high, with $1.7tn being spent globally – a 1.1% increase from 2016 – the highest level since the Cold War.

Military expenditure amounts to all spending on current military forces and activities, including operational expenses, arms and equipment, research and development, and salaries and benefits, alongside any other physical or administrative expenses.

Together the 29 NATO member states accounted for 52% of spending, with the US making up 35% of the world share. Despite this, the boost in global military expenditure in recent years has largely been attributed to growth in countries in Asia, Oceania and the Middle East.

/ us
tops rankings, unchanged from 2016

While the US’s military expenditure is 14% lower than in 2008, the country remains the top buyer globally, with $610bn spent year-on-year. Despite overall spending as a percentage of GDP dropping over the 2008-2017 period, at 35% the US still holds the largest share of the military spending marketplace, more than the next highest seven countries combined.

According to SIPRI AMEX director Dr Aude Fleurant, the downward trend seen in US military spending has now come to an end, with figures set to rise significantly in 2018 as the country supports increases in military personnel and the modernisation of conventional and nuclear weapons.

/ china
largest absolute increase in spending

According to SIPRI estimates, China allocated $228bn to its military in 2017, an increase in spending of 5.6% from 2016. While this was the lowest increase since 2010, the figure is in line with the country’s GDP growth, meaning the country maintains its figure of 1.9% of total GDP being spent on military expenditure.

China’s economic growth has meant that while spending hasn’t increased as a percentage of GDP, the actual monetary value contributed has increased by 110% since 2008. According to SIPRI, China accounts for the largest absolute increase in spending of any country analysed.

/ Saudi Arabia 
the top military burden

Saudi Arabia replaced Russia as the third highest spender in 2017 following a 9.2% increase in military expenditure, meaning a rise to an estimated $69.4bn in spending. The Middle Eastern country had the highest military burden of any of the top 15 spenders in 2017, with 10% of GDP being contributed to military expenditure, up from 7.4% in 2008. Overall, Saudi Arabia has spent 34% more.

“Despite low oil prices, armed conflict and rivalries throughout the Middle East are driving the rise in military spending in the region,” explained SIPRI AMEX senior researcher Pieter Wezeman.

/ russia
the first dip in spending in 20 years

Dropping down to the fourth highest spender, Russia’s military spending in 2017 decreased by 20% compared to its 2016 highpoint. This stark drop was the country’s first annual decrease since 1998. Still, since 2008 Russia’s overall spending has risen 36%. Spending in 2017 reached $66.3bn, only $3.1bn below Saudi Arabia.

According to SIPRI AMEX senior researcher Pieter Wezeman, while military modernisation remains a priority for the country, Russia’s economic problems since 2014 have limited its budget. Incidentally, concern of threats from Russian may have contributed to increased military spending in Central and Western Europe.

/ india
modernising India’s military

India’s military spending increased to $63.9bn in 2017, pushing the country to become the fifth highest spender, overtaking France from 2016. While a slightly smaller portion of the GDP in India is being contributed to military expenditure, overall the country has seen a 45% increase in spending since 2008.

SIPRI report that the Indian government is expanding and modernising its military capabilities, alongside plans to enhance operational capabilities, due to tensions with China and Pakistan. The Doklam dispute between China and India led to fears of military confrontation in 2017, part of a continued deterioration of relations between the two counties in recent years.

/ france
reversing budget cuts

Between 2016 and 2017 France’s military spending dropped by 1.9%, contributing to the country being replaced by India as a top five spender. France spent $57.8bn in 2017, with 2.3% of the French GDP going towards military expenditure, the same proportion as in 2008.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to reverse a decade of budget cuts in February 2018, approving nearly €300bn in additional spending for the military by 2025, including plans for a €37bn revamp of the country’s nuclear arsenal over the next seven years.

/ uk
falling behind rivals

Overall, the UK contributed $47.2bn towards military expenditure in 2017. UK military spending has dropped over the last decade, falling 15% since 2008. This dip has meant that, as of 2017, only 1.8% of UK GDP is being spent on defence, compared to 2.3% ten years ago.

In January of 2018, head of the British Army General Sir Nick Carter warned that the country’s armed forces risked falling behind Russia and other potential enemies if there was no additional investment from the country. Analysis from the House of Commons Library in December 2017 found that the budget of the Ministry of Defence had fallen by £8bn between 2010 and 2015.

/ japan
unchanged despite regional threats

Japan had the lowest military burden of the top 15 global spenders, with 0.9% of GDP being contributed to military expenditure. At $45.5bn, spending was unchanged from 2016 to 2017, though this was 4.4% higher than in 2008. SIPRI names perceived threats from China and North Korea as the largest factors in Japan’s security strategy.

While the country’s military burden remained low, 2017 marked the sixth year in a row that defence spending rose in Japan, representing a change in policy from the 2012 cut to the Japanese defence budget.

/ germany
plans to invest in defence

Germany maintained the position of ninth of the top 15 spenders, with $44.3bn being contributed to military spending. Germany’s military burden, equalling 1.2% of GDP, is notably lower than its European allies – 0.6% lower than the UK, and 1.1% lower than France.

The country’s military spending rose by 3.5% in 2017 from 2016, following a 4.2% rise the previous year. The $44.3bn figure is the most Germany has contributed to military expenditure since 1999. Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel has announced plans for increased defence spending of €5.5bn over the next four years, though the German defence ministry has described that figure as ‘inadequate’.

/ south korea
the lowest increase since 2011

South Korea’s military expenditure has risen 29% since 2008, though the country has maintained a military burden of 2.6% of GDP. The country’s spending increased 1.7% from 2016 to 2017, to $39.2bn. This was the lowest rise in annual military spending for South Korea since 2011, though since 2008 the country has seen an overall rise of 29%.

The South Korean Ministry of National Defense has stated that its defence budget in 2018 will rise by 6.9% in 2018, linked to the need to strengthen capabilities in response to threats from North Korea - though it is uncertain whether this figure will change if relations continue to improve.

/ brazil
a surprise boost in funding

From 2016 to 2017, military spending rose by 6.3% to $29.3bn in Brazil. This was the first rise in annual spending for the South American country since 2014, and the largest since 2010. The SIPRI report states that this boost to spending comes as a surprise given political and economic turmoil in the region, though the Brazilian government did loosen its budget deficit targets for 2020 and released funds for major economic sectors, including military spending. Since 2008 spending has risen by 21%, with the country contributing 1.4% of GDP to defence expenditure.

/ italy
the largest dip in spending

Italy’s spending dropped the most of any of the top 15 countries on the report, contributing $29.2bn in 2017, 17% less than in 2008 – a larger percentage drop than both the US and UK. The country’s military expenditure amounted to 1.5% of GDP.

The country’s military funding system is rather convoluted, with armed forces receives money from a number of different ministries rather than a central governmental department. Italy’s politicians were recently urged by a leading national think tank to pass a bill introducing a new six-year defence spending plan to provide stability to the Italy’s armed forces.

/ australia
in line with targets

Australia spent $27.5bn in 2017, a 33% rise from 2008. The Australian government has announced in its annual budget statement on 8 May 2018 that spending for the 2018/2019 period will rise by A$1.2bn, meaning 1.9% of GDP will be contributed to the country’s defence funding, in line with the target of 2% of GDP by 2020/2021.

According to the SIPRI report, this 2% target was reached in 2017. The Australian government set out their long-term plans for the country’s defence interests in the 2016 Defence White Paper.

/ canada
increased funding after US pressure

While dwarfed by the only other North American country, the US, Canada’s military spending still amounted to $20.6bn in 2017 - to 1.3% of Canadian GDP, and a 13% rise in spending from 2008 figures.

In 2017, the Canadian government announced plans to increase its defence budget by nearly three quarters over the next decade – largely due to pressure from the US to increase military expenditure. Canadian Defence Minister Hiarjit Sajjan claimed the budget would rise 73% to C$32.7bn by 2026-2027, saying the new policy would result in “a Canada that is strong at home, secure in North America and engaged in the world.”

/ turkey
bottom of the top

At the bottom of the top 15 in terms of military expenditure is Turkey. The Eurasian country spent $18.2bn in 2017, and since 2008 spending has risen by 46%, a larger figure than the other 14 top countries, bar China. Turkey has stepped up its military capacity over the last decade by significant investment in the defence industry, particularly in domestic arms manufacturing.

While Turkey is listed as the 15th highest spender on SIPRI’s report, the body did recognise that if spending figures were available for the United Arab Emirates, the country would probably instead rank 16th.