Global Military Spending Increased Despite COVID-19 Pandemic

Global military spending increased by 2.6 per cent to US$1.964 trillion (€1.637 trillion) last year, despite the economic toll of the coronavirus (COVD-19) pandemic.

The global military burden—world military expenditure as a share of global gross domestic product (GDP)—rose by 0.2 percentage points in 2020, to 2.4 per cent. This increase was largely due to the fact that most countries in the world experienced severe economic down-turns in 2020 related to the Covid-19 pandemic, while military expenditure continued to rise overall.

Many countries choose to avoid austerity policies and are instead looking to economic stimulus measures, according to Nan Tian, a senior researcher with SIPRI.

Regional military spending (US Dollars billion) in 2020:
China 252; India 72.9; Russia 61.7; Saudi Arabia 57.5; Israel 21.7; Turkey 17.7; Iran 15.8; Pakistan 10.4

Percent change +/- 2020 regional military spending:
China +1.9; India +2.1; Russia +2.5; Saudi Arabia -10; Israel +2.7; Turkey -5; Iran -3; Pakistan -2.8

The United States continues to spend the most on its defense (world share 39%), followed by China (world share 13%), but military spending also rose by 4 per cent across Europe, according to a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Only a few countries reallocated part of their planned spending to their healthcare systems, including Chile and South Korea. Others, such as Hungary, boosted their military expenditure as part of broader efforts to revive their economy.

The five biggest spenders in 2020, which together accounted for 62 per cent of global military expenditure, were the United States, China, India, Russia and the United Kingdom.

According to a defense and security analyst based in the Asia-Pacific, when the international security system, which is the sum total of inter-state insecurity dynamics centered around the ‘core’ comprising superpowers, changes in polarity, the entire system changes. “Change is unsettling because the end-state is unknown and unknowable, state-actors have grown used to a familiar set of dynamics, and shifting power-balances generate massive uncertainty,” he says. “In this era of ‘systemic transitional fluidity’ characterized by the primate-power, the USA, being afflicted with ‘displacement anxiety’, all actors seek to internally balance by boosting defensive capacity. That drives rising military expenditures.”

Under pressure

While this changing ratio has a lot to do with countries’ GDP shrinking last year, it’s also the result of increased pressure for NATO members to beef up their defense spending, says Tian.

“Since Crimea in 2014, there’s been an increased pressure that European countries essentially increase their military spending given the increased threat perception of Russia,” Tian told Euronews.

“And of course, over the past couple of years, we’ve seen this increased call by Trump for European countries to increase their essential burden-sharing within NATO.”