So the latest numbers are in and it looks like global military spending rose again last year despite economic turmoil. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, countries around the world increased their military budgets by 3.9 percent in 2023 compared to the previous year. That’s an extra $51 billion spent on tanks, fighter jets, and other tools of war at a time when most economies contracted due to the lingering effects of the global pandemic.
The US remains the undisputed leader, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the total global spend. China and India also significantly boosted their military budgets. At the same time, more than 130 million people were pushed into extreme poverty and unemployment rose sharply in many countries. Priorities, right? While the world grappled with containing a virus and avoiding economic catastrophe, the major military powers chose to pour money into their armed forces rather than fund healthcare, job support, or climate change mitigation. What’s wrong with this picture? If the goal is truly global security and stability, maybe it’s time to rethink how we define and achieve that.
Military Expenditures Reach Record Highs According to SIPRI Report
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)’s newly released report, countries around the globe spent a whopping $1.98 trillion on their militaries in 2023. This marks the seventh consecutive year of rising military spending and the largest expenditure in 30 years.
The increases come as no surprise given the geopolitical tensions and conflicts that dominated the headlines. The top three spenders were the United States, China, and India, accounting for 62% of total global military spending. The U.S. spent $766 billion, while China increased its spending by 4.7% to $261 billion.
- Defense budgets grew in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania. Only three regions—Central America and the Caribbean, North America, and South America—saw declines.
- Spending rose most rapidly in Western and Central Europe (8.4%), Eastern Europe (4.8%), North Africa (10%), and East Asia (5.2%). The increases reflect intensifying rivalries and conflicts, as well as efforts to modernize weapons systems.
- Arms manufacturers should continue to see rising profits and revenues. The largest contractors that provide equipment, vehicles, weapons, and services to militaries around the world stand to gain the most.
While global economic growth has slowed, nations remain willing and able to pour money into their armed forces. At a time when humanity faces existential threats like climate change, it’s concerning to see countries prioritizing guns over butter. One can only hope that leaders work to defuse tensions and reduce conflicts so we can divert funds to more pressing needs.
The US and China Lead the World in Military Spending
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the world’s military spending rose again in 2023, marking the seventh consecutive year of growth. The United States and China led the way, accounting for about half of the global total.
The U.S. remained the world’s largest spender, allocating $778 billion to its military. That’s about 38% of the global total. China came in second at an estimated $252 billion. Together, the two nations made up nearly half of the world’s military expenditures.
Russia ranked third in spending at $65.9 billion, followed by Saudi Arabia at $62.8 billion and India at $57.5 billion. Military spending by Russia grew by 2.9% and Saudi Arabia’s grew by 17%, while India’s decreased by 2.4%.
- Spending rose in other parts of the world as well, increasing by 3.9% in Africa, by 4.8% in the Americas, and by 5.2% in the Middle East.
- Only Europe and Oceania saw declines in military spending, dropping by 4.2% and 1.5% respectively.
While global military spending remains at an all-time high, its rate of growth has slowed. Overall increases continue to be driven primarily by the U.S. and China, but spending also rose in other areas like Africa, the Americas and the Middle East. At a time of global economic crisis, many critics argue that funds would be better spent on healthcare, education and fighting poverty. However, military spending seems likely to continue increasing worldwide without major policy changes.
Russia Surpasses Saudi Arabia as Third Highest Military Spender
Russia’s military spending has been on the rise for over a decade and it has now surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s third largest military spender, according to SIPRI.
Increased Tensions Drive Up Spending
Geopolitical tensions with Western nations have been driving Russia’s military spending increases. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, leading to international sanctions and a breakdown in relations with the West. Russia has also intervened in the Syrian civil war since 2015 to support the Assad regime, requiring resources and funding.
- In response to these actions, NATO members in Europe have boosted their own military spending and cooperation. This tit-for-tat escalation fuels an arms race as each side seeks to gain a strategic advantage.
Modernization Efforts Cost Big
A large portion of Russia’s spending goes toward modernizing its military equipment and technology. Much of Russia’s arsenal dates back to Soviet times, so upgrades are sorely needed to remain competitive. Modern fighter jets, naval vessels, missiles, and other advanced weapons systems don’t come cheap though.
- Russia hopes to gain prestige and global influence through displays of military might. New high-tech weaponry is meant to project an image of Russia as a major power on the world stage.
- Of course, all this spending on guns and war comes at the cost of investing in the country’s citizens. Social and infrastructure programs are underfunded while the Kremlin pours money into the military. But in Russia’s view, hard power takes priority.
With rising geopolitical tensions and ambitious modernization programs driving spending upward, Russia’s military budget is likely to continue its ascent for the foreseeable future. Barring improved relations with the West or a drop in energy prices reducing funds available, Russia seems poised to remain a top military spender and a concern for nations in Europe and beyond.
Global Arms Trade Sees First Increase in 6 Years
The global arms trade has risen for the first time in six years, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). After declining steadily since 2014, the volume of international transfers of major arms increased by 3.9% between 2019 and 2020. The United States and France were the main drivers of the growth.
The U.S. Increases Exports
The U.S. increased its exports of major arms by 11% in 2020, accounting for 39% of total global arms exports. U.S. arms exports were 58% higher in 2020 than in 2010. The Trump administration loosened restrictions on arms sales abroad, making it easier for U.S. companies to sell weapons like fighter jets, drones, and precision-guided munitions to foreign partners and allies. Top importers of U.S. arms include Saudi Arabia, India, Australia, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.
France Seals Major Deals
France increased its exports by 44% due to several large deals sealed in 2020, including a $19 billion agreement to sell fighter jets and air defense systems to India and Egypt. The French arms industry has sought to fill the void left by declining U.S. and German exports in recent years. Other major exporters like Russia, Germany, and China saw their international arms sales decrease in 2020 according to SIPRI.
The global arms market remains dominated by the U.S. and Western European nations, though China and others are trying to gain more market share. The rise in global arms transfers could drive further conflict, regional instability and human rights violations in parts of the world. There is also a risk of these weapons ending up in the hands of terrorist groups. The increase highlights the need for tighter controls and transparency on global arms sales.
Spending Priorities Shift Amid Pandemic
The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has significantly impacted government budgets and spending priorities around the world. However, global military expenditure still rose by 2.6% in real terms in 2020, according to the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). While spending has increased overall, some countries have reevaluated how funds are allocated in response to new threats.
Shift from personnel to technology
Several nations have prioritized investing in new military technologies over increasing personnel costs. The US, for example, raised its military R&D budget to develop hypersonic weapons, space systems, and autonomous vehicles. Likewise, Russia and China increased spending on fighter jets, submarines, and precision missiles. Diverting money to advanced weapons aims to improve military capabilities without expanding troop numbers.
Focus on health crisis response
Some countries temporarily reassigned military funds to support domestic health efforts during the pandemic. For instance, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands deployed soldiers to help enforce lockdowns, staff testing centers, and distribute medical supplies. Although health-related spending was fairly small relative to total military budgets, it signals how some nations have adapted to current events.
While the full impact of COVID-19 on military spending remains to be seen, reduced economic activity could constrain budgets for years to come. At the same time, the crisis has highlighted the need to prepare for unforeseen threats – whether pandemics, cyber attacks, or climate change effects. Balancing these competing demands will likely shape future spending priorities and force militaries to do more with less.
Overall, global military spending continues to rise in the face of economic headwinds. However, some countries have made strategic shifts in how funds are used by investing more in advanced technologies, supporting pandemic response efforts, and preparing for emerging threats. The coming years will determine whether these spending priorities persist as governments work to overcome budget shortfalls and balance security concerns with health and economic realities.
So at the end of the day, governments around the world seem to be prioritizing guns over butter. Even with economies struggling, military budgets keep rising across the board. You have to wonder if leaders think that’s really the best use of resources right now. Maybe it’s time citizens speak up and ask if some of that money would be better spent improving healthcare, education, infrastructure-you know, things that actually make people’s lives better. Unless there are threats the public doesn’t know about, it’s hard to understand why militaries require even more money when they already have so much. But for now at least, global military spending continues its steady march upward.
What do you think-is it money well spent or misplaced priorities? The debate continues.