Global military expenditure reached its highest level last year since the end of the Cold War, mainly fueled by increased spending by the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies, a leading defence think-tank has said.
In its annual report published on Monday, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said overall global military spending in 2018 hit $1.82 trillion, up by 2.6 percent on the previous year.
That is the highest figure since 1988, when such data first became available as the Cold War began winding down.
US military spending rose for the first time in seven years to reach $649bn, leaving it still by far the world’s biggest spender. It accounted for 36 percent of total global military expenditure, nearly equal to the following eight biggest-spending countries combined, SIPRI said.
China, the second-biggest spender, saw military expenditure rise five percent to $250bn last year, the 24th consecutive annual increase.
“In 2018, the US and China accounted for half of the world’s military spending,” Nan Tian, a researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure (AMEX) programme, said.
US President Donald Trump has committed to a strong national defence, despite reducing troop numbers in conflict zones such as Syria and Afghanistan. His defence spending request to Congress this year is the largest ever in dollar terms before adjustment for inflation.
“The increase in US spending was driven by the implementation from 2017 of new arms procurement programmes under the Trump administration,” Aude Fleurant, the director of the SIPRI AMEX programme, said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia, which is leading a military coalition battling Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen, remained in third place at $67.6bn, in spite of spending cuts of more than six percent compared with 2017, followed by India and France.
India’s spending rose for the fifth consecutive year, mainly driven by tensions with China and Pakistan, according to the think-tank.
The top five spenders accounted for 60 percent of global military spending.
Russia slipped to sixth place, spending an estimated $61.4bn, marking the first time the European nation was not among the top five since 2006.
The other top 10 spenders were Britain, Germany, Japan and South Korea.
Pakistan, which came to the brink of war with neighbouring India earlier this year in the aftermath of a suicide attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy in the disputed Kashmir region, spent $11.4bn, an 11 percent increase.
“The tensions between countries in Asia as well as between China and the US are major drivers for the continuing growth of military spending in the region,” said Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher with the SIPRI AMEX programme.
According to SIPRI, military spending as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen in all regions since 1999.
It said that six of the 10 countries where military spending was estimated to account for the highest portion of GDP – also labelled as the military burden – were in the Middle East.
They included Saudi Arabia at 8.8 percent, Oman at 8.2 percent, and Israel at 4.3 percent.
Trump has criticised some of Washington’s NATO allies in Europe, especially Germany, for failing to meet the alliance’s spending target of 2 percent of GDP.
SIPRI data showed military spending equalled 1.2 percent of GDP in Germany – Europe’s largest economy – last year, based on GDP estimates for 2018 from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Britain and France, the two other largest economies in Europe, spent 1.8 percent and 2.3 percent of GDP respectively on defence in 2018.
Military expenditure by all 29 NATO members amounted to just over half of global spending, SIPRI added.