The global military expenditure has reached an all-time high, passing $2 trillion in 2021, according to a report by a leading defence think-tank based in Sweden, as spending increased for the seventh consecutive year.
The United States, China, India, the United Kingdom and Russia were the top five defence spenders, together accounting for 62 percent of the global expenditure, according to new data published on Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
“In 2021 military spending rose for the seventh consecutive time to reach $2.1 trillion. That is the highest figure we have ever had,” Diego Lopes da Silva, senior researcher at SIPRI, told AFP news agency.
Despite the economic fallout of the global COVID pandemic, countries around the world increased their arsenals, with global military spending rising by 0.7 percent last year, according to SIPRI.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine on February 24, saw its spending grow by 2.9 percent – the third year of consecutive growth – to $65.9bn.
Defence spending accounted for 4.1 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP), “much higher than the world average”, and made Moscow the fifth largest spender in the world, Lopes da Silva said.
In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, the country was also targeted with sanctions at the same time as energy prices fell, making it difficult to gauge how effective sanctions were on their own.
On the other side, Ukraine’s military spending has risen by 72 percent since the annexation of Crimea. While spending declined by more than eight percent in 2021 to $5.9bn, it still accounted for 3.2 percent of Ukraine’s GDP.
As tensions have increased in Europe, more NATO countries have stepped up spending.
Eight member countries last year reached the targeted two percent of GDP for spending, one fewer than the year before but up from only two in 2014, SIPRI said.
Lopes da Silva said he expected spending in Europe to continue to grow.
The US, which far outspent any other nation with $801bn, actually went against the global trend and decreased its spending by 1.4 percent in 2021.
Over the past decade, US spending on research and development has risen by 24 percent while arms procurement has gone down by 6.4 percent.
While both decreased in 2021, the drop in research was not as pronounced, highlighting the country’s focus “on next-generation technologies”.
“The US government has repeatedly stressed the need to preserve the US military’s technological edge over strategic competitors,” Alexandra Marksteiner, another researcher at SIPRI, said in a statement.
China, the world’s second largest military spender at an estimated $293bn, boosted its expenditure by 4.7 percent, marking the 27th straight year of increased spending.
The country’s military buildup has in turn caused its regional neighbours to beef up their military budgets, with Japan adding $7bn, an increase of 7.3 percent – the highest annual increase since 1972.
Australia also spent four percent more on its military, reaching $31.8bn in 2021.
India, the world’s third largest spender at $76.6bn, also increased funding in 2021, but by a more modest 0.9 percent.
The UK took the number four spot, with a three percent increase in military spending to $68.4bn, replacing Saudi Arabia which instead decreased spending by 17 percent to an estimated $55.6bn.