In the first year of the Covid19 pandemic, the world’s military spending increased by 2.6%. Weaponry investment as a percentage of the global GDP (which, due to diffused lockdowns and restrictions, have decreased by 3%) reached a global average of 2.4% in 2020, compared to 2.2% in 2019. This represents the largest increase in military load since the financial and economic crisis of 2009.

A complete picture is provided by Sipri, in the new dossier published on 26 April. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute monitors all developments in military spending around the world, and has the most comprehensive, consistent and extensive publicly available data on military spending.

Regional Trends - Africa and the Near East

The world’s military spending is densely concentrated in two continents: in 2020, the Americas (43%) and the Asia-Pacific region (27%) together accounted for more than two thirds of the global total. Third is Europe, which accounted for 19% of world military spending in 2020. The Near East (based on the limited data available for this region) contributed around 9% of the world total in 2020. Africa is trailing behind, with 2.2% of global military spending.

Military spending in Africa was estimated at $ 43.2 billion in 2020, with an abundant 5.1% more than in 2019 and 11% more than in 2011. The military spending of North African countries has increased by 6.4 % in 2020, reaching 24.7 billion dollars. In the first place among the continent’s spenders is Algeria with 9.7 billion dollars in 2020, although this represents a 3.4% decrease from the investments of 2019. Another investor in the Continent is Morocco, with 4.8 billion dollars in spending, the 29% more than in 2019 and 54% compared to 2011. 

Military spending in Sub-Saharan Africa was $ 18.5 billion in 2020 (3.4% more than in 2019, but 13% less than to 2011). The biggest increases in spending were recorded by Chad (+ 31%), Mali (+ 22%), Mauritania (+ 23%) and Nigeria (+ 29%), all in the Sahel region and Uganda (+ 46%).

The combined military spending of the 11 countries of the Near East (according to available data) amounts to 143 billion dollars in 2020, marking a -6.5%. According to the surveys, only four of these Countries increased their military spending in 2020: Egypt (7.3%), Israel (2.7%), Jordan (2.5%) and Oman (1.7%). Eight of the nine members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have instead cut their military spending in 2020.

Regional trends - Europe, the Americas, Asia and Oceania

Military spending in the Americas was $ 853 billion in 2020 (3.9% more than in 2019, but 8.4% less than in 2011). Three countries of the Region have landed in the top 15: the United States (permanently in first place), Canada (thirteenth) and Brazil (fifteenth). South America’s share of the regional total fell from 6.3% in 2019 to 5.1% in 2020, while that of Central America and the Caribbean remained almost unchanged, at around 1%. The decline in spending in South America is mainly due to the 3.1% decline in Brazil, whose military spending appears to have been affected by the harsh impact of Covid19.

Military spending in Asia and Oceania was $ 528 billion in 2020, 2.5% more than in 2019 and 47% more than in 2011, thus continuing an uninterrupted upward trend that has been going on since at least 1989. The increase is mainly due to the increase in spending by China and India, which together account for 62% of the total armed forces spending in the region in 2020. 

Over the decade 2011-2020, there were substantial increases in all five sub-regions, ranging from a 35%  growth in Oceania, to a 53% rise in East Asia. With a total of 49.1 billion, Japan was the second largest investor in East Asia in 2020, just behind China. South Korea’s military spending amounted to 45.7 billion in 2020, up 4.9% over 2019 and 41% over 2011. In 2020, Australia’s spending accounted for 90% of Oceania’s military spending. Weaponry and defence spending in Southeast Asia increased by 5.2%, reaching 45.5 billion dollars in 2020. In the 2011-2020 decade, military spending in the region increased overall by 36%. The three largest investors in the area in 2020 are: Singapore (at 10.9 billion per year), Indonesia (9.4 billion) and Thailand (7.3 billion). All three have significantly increased their military spending in 2020.

The total military spending in Europe in 2020 was $ 378 billion, 4.0% higher than in 2019 and 16% higher than in 2011. Military spending increased in all three sub-regions in 2020 and in decade 2011-20. In Western Europe, military spending was $ 273 billion, an increase of 3.9% compared to 2019 and 8.5% compared to 2011. Spending in Eastern Europe reached $ 71.7 billion in 2020, 3.4% more than in 2019 and 31% more than in 2011. Military spending by Central European countries increased by 6% compared to 2019 and 74% compared to 2011. With a total of $ 59.2 billion in 2020, the UK is the largest army in Western Europe and the fifth largest in the world. In 2020, Germany (ranked seventh) increased its military spending by 5.2% to 52.8 billion (1.4% of GDP). France’s military spending (eighth in the ranking) increased by 2.9% in 2020 reaching 52.7 billion (2.1% of GDP).

WHO DOES WHAT: The top 15

The military spending of the top 15 countries (see table 1) reached $ 1603 billion in 2020, representing 81% of global military spending. In 2020, Israel entered the top 15 in place of Turkey, while the United Kingdom overtook Saudi Arabia, whose military spending fell by 10%. All but three countries in the top 15 recorded higher military spending in 2020 compared to 2011. The exceptions are the United States (–10%), the United Kingdom (–4.2%) and Italy (–3.3%). . The biggest increase is the Chinese one, which with its 76% growth in military expenses is by far the most significant among the top 15 in the decade 2011-20. Other substantial increases between 2011 and 2020 were those of South Korea (41%), India (34%), Australia (33%) and Israel (32%).

With a military budget of approximately $ 778 billion, the United States remained the largest investor in 2020, accounting for 39% of global military spending (3.7% of the global GDP). U.S. military spending in 2020 was 4.4% higher than in 2019.

China, the world’s second largest buyer in military equipment in 2020, represents 13% of the global total (+ 1.9% compared to 2019, with 1.7% of the global GDP). Chinese military spending has increased for 26 consecutive years. In third place we find India, with its 72.9 billion dollars (2.1% more than the previous year and 34% higher than in 2011). This increase can be largely attributed to the ongoing conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir and renewed border tensions with China, as well as India’s more general rivalry with China as the main regional power in Asia and Oceania.

Russia came fourth with $ 61.7 billion in 2020, 2.5% more than in 2019 and 26% higher than in 2011. Although Russia’s military spending increased overall in 2020, the economic consequences of the pandemic Covid19 seem to have an immediate impact: military spending in 2020 was 6.6% lower than the initial announced budget.

The military spending of six NATO members in the top 15 (United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Canada) amounted to 1103 billion in 2020. Six countries in the top 15 military are NATO members. With $ 995 billion, these six countries accounted for 90% of the Atlantic Alliance’s total and 50% of global military spending. Almost all members of the Alliance saw their military load increase in 2020. Twelve NATO members spent 2% or more of their GDP on the military, as required by the Pact. For example, France – the eighth largest investor globally – crossed the 2% mark for the first time since 2009.

FOCUS 1: Some salient features

The global military spending ($ 1981 billion in 2020) has increased by 2.6% compared to 2019 in real terms. Total military spending accounted for 2.4% of global gross domestic product in 2020.7

The five largest investors in 2020 were the United States, China, India, Russia and the United Kingdom, which together account for 62% of world military spending. U.S. military spending grew 4.4% in 2020 to $ 778 billion. In 2020, military spending increased in Africa (5.1%), Europe (4%), the Americas (3.9%) and Asia and Oceania (2.5%). The total military spending of the 11 Near Eastern countries for which data are available decreased by 6.5%.

FOCUS 2: Covid and military spending

Although most countries experienced a decline in gross domestic product in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, military spending has increased. However, SIPRI notes that the general impact of the pandemic on military spending cannot yet be definitively measured and will only become evident in the coming years.

The pandemic has in fact highlighted an important issue regarding the use and interpretation of data on military spending, namely the difference between planned and actual expenditure. Indeed, military spending data is generally available in three forms: the initial budget, a revised budget, and actual spending.

While military spending has increased globally, some countries have, for example, reallocated some of their planned military spending to respond to the pandemic, as was shown by Chile and South Korea. Many others, including Brazil and Russia, have spent significantlyless than the 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 Diego Lopes da Silva, researcher for the Sipri Arms and Military Expenditure program. “It remains to be seen whether countries will maintain this level of military spending during the second year of the pandemic.”