The world saw a military spending boom in 2018, driven largely by the US and China, which now account for almost half of the world’s military expenditure, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in a new report.
Among the Asian nations that have increased their defence spending the most in 2018 are China, Pakistan and India, in that order, according to the Swedish think tank. India still ranks as the fourth highest defence spender.
SIPRI, in its 2019 report published Tuesday, found that the US leads the world in terms of military expenditure, having spent $649 billion in 2018, while China, Saudi Arabia, India and France round off the top 5.
China’s spending went up for the 24th consecutive year with Beijing increasing its defence spending by 5% to reach $250 billion, which is 10 times higher than the amount it spent in 1994. “Growth in Chinese military spending tracks the country’s overall economic growth,” according to Dr Nan Tian, a researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure (AMEX) programme.
China has allocated 1.9% of its GDP to the military every year since 2013, the SIPRI release said.
Entering the top 20 defence spending countries, Pakistan reportedly spent a total of $11.4 billion on acquiring military technologies last year, increasing its spending by 11% last year, which is still less than longtime regional rival India’s military spending that stood at $66.5 billion despite increasing its spending by only 3.1%.
What about India?
India continues to be the largest importer of arms in the world, reflecting geopolitical tensions facing its borders, as well as the country’s reliance on imported weapons.
India’s defence budget is still 6 times that of Pakistan but the hike is a hefty one especially in view of the escalating conflict between the two nations post-Pulwama attack, and after a damning report that suggests most of India’s artillery is vintage-grade. This means the money is not being invested on state-of-the-art equipment, but for salaries and pensions for roughly 1.4 million serving personnel and more than 2 million veterans. That said, India is currently undergoing a $100-billion upgrade of its outdated hardware which remains mired in many controversies.
The global military expenditure was reported to have increased by 2.6%, with the US, China, India Saudi Arabia and France accounting for 60% of the total $1.82 trillion spent on arms in 2018.
The total amount accounts for 2.1% of the world’s GDP which comes to around $239 per person. Saudi Arabia spent the highest portion of its GDP (8.8%) even after cutting its military budget due to debt and overspending.
“In 2018 the USA and China accounted for half of the world’s military spending,” Dr Tian reportedly said, adding “The higher level of world military expenditure in 2018 is mainly the result of significant increases in spending by these two countries.”
Data available since 1988 also shows that this is the highest ever spending on arms in 30 years, for the second year in a row. World spending is now 76% higher than the post-cold war low in 1998.
The report also found that the US expenditure was almost equal to that of the next eight largest-spending countries on the list put together; American defence spending also increased for the first time in ten years.
“The increase in US spending was driven by the implementation from 2017 of new arms procurement programmes under the Trump administration,” according to Dr Aude Fleurant, the director of the SIPRI AMEX programme.
In France, on the other hand, the consecutive increases through 2014 to 2017 were driven by costs associated with external military operations and a large domestic military operation to guard key public locations after the terrorist attacks in Paris in 201, said the report.
In the middle east, Turkey emerges as a compulsive spender at rank 15, increasingly spending to procure arms and fund operations in 2018 against Kurdish armed groups in Syria. Israel’s military expenditure is also among the world’s highest.
Russia has dropped out of the top 5 defence spending countries after a budget cut (it is number 6 now), according to the latest report. But “growing perceptions of a threat” from Russia have reflected in large increases in military spending in several Central and Eastern European countries like Ukraine and Poland.
“Spending by Poland rose by 8.9% in 2018 to $11.6 billion, while Ukraine’s spending was up by 21% to $4.8 billion. Spending by Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania also grew (ranging from 18% to 24%) in 2018,” the report said.
As for Western Europe, increasing military expenditure in line with NATO is on the cards, Tian said of pressure by the Trump administration on NATO allies to increase defense spending to meet the “2% of GDP” target.
Taking a step back
In countries like India where military strength often yields a populist vote, the report subconsciously translates to another achievement of the Narendra Modi government, even though no real reform is visible in India’s defence infrastructure yet.
“The tensions between countries in Asia as well as between China and the USA are major drivers for the continuing growth of military spending in the region,” Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher with the SIPRI AMEX programme, is reported as saying by the India Defence Research Wing. As terror feeds and funds more terror, the arms race continues to cripple poor countries as they clamour to defend themselves, often compelling them to become pawns in proxy wars. Furthermore, as modern warfare throws curveballs like biological and cyber weapons, the race more dire and dear.
We are at a point in history when global leaders, policymakers, corporations including the arms manufacturing grid need to be more mindful of their investments, and perhaps contribute equally handsome portions of the global GDP to climate and social justice.
It is time, therefore, we ask ourselves: Can we really afford something as expensive as wars?
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.