By practically any measure, the world today is more peaceful and less war-torn on a global scale, relative to the past.
For instance, declarations of war between nations and soldier casualties have both dropped drastically since the 20th century. Yet, as Visual Capitalist's Aran Ali notes, military spending has not followed this trend.
The Top 10 Military Spenders
According to SIPRI, global military spend reached almost $2 trillion in 2020. The top 10 countries represent roughly 75% of this figure, and have increased their spending by $51 billion since the year prior.
Here’s how the worlds top 10 military spenders compare to each other:
The U.S. isn’t labeled as a global superpower for nothing. The country is by far the largest military spender, and its $778 billion budget trumps the remainder of the list’s collective $703.6 billion. On its own, the U.S. represents just under 40% of global military spending.
This year, Saudi Arabia has lost out on a top five seat to the UK, after a 7.1% decline in spending compared to a 21.5% increase for the UK.
Military Spend as a Percentage of GDP
Military expenditures as a percentage of GDP can be used to compare military spending relative to the size of a country’s economy.
When looking at things this way, many of the top spenders above do not appear. This may be an indication of their economic prowess or a demonstration that the money might be used for other vital areas such as education, healthcare, or infrastructure.
It’s pretty rare for countries to reach double digits for military spending as a percentage of GDP. In this case, Oman is an outlier, as the Middle Eastern country’s spending relative to GDP grew from 8.8% last year, to 11% in 2020.
Many of the countries with the highest military spending to GDP are located in the Middle East—a reflection of the escalating conflicts that have persisted in the region for well over two decades.
It’s worth noting that some data for the Middle Eastern region are estimates, due to the aforementioned regional instability.
More Spending to Come?
Global military spending figures are at a 32-year high, despite the pandemic’s effect on shrinking economic output.
Although a major war hasn’t occurred in some time, it’s not to say the geopolitical mood hasn’t been tense.
The last 12 months or so have witnessed some nail-biting moments including:
Border disputes between China and India
Heightening tensions between China and Taiwan
Russia’s military presence in eastern Ukraine
The hacking of SolarWinds, a Texas-based company, by Russia
The ongoing Yemen crisis
An Israel-Iran feud
Will 2021 extend the trend of peace, or will rising military spending mean even higher tensions?