Last year, some hoped the world after the covid-19 pandemic was going to be a better place. Others, arguably more realistic, felt that this “world after” would be like the one before only worse. And this is reflected in the evolution of military spending at the global level, which again increased significantly in 2020, despite an economy weakened by health measures.
At the end of the 2000s, the banking and financial crisis linked to the “subprime” crisis had resulted in a drastic reduction in military budgets in most Western countries. So it will not have been the same as that caused by the pandemic.
Thus, according to figures put forward by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute [SIPRI], total defense spending worldwide amounted to $ 1.981 billion in 2020. This value increases in real terms of 2.6% per year compared to the previous year when they had already reached their highest level since the end of the Cold War. And this, in an economic context marked by a drop of 4.4% of world GDP, according to projections made last October by the International Monetary Fund [IMF].
2.4% of GDP
As a percentage of GDP, global military spending reached 2.4%, up from 2.2% in 2019. “This is the largest annual increase in such spending since the global economic and financial crisis of 2009”, underlines SIPRI. However, this increase should be put into perspective as the share of defense budgets in national wealth increases automatically when the latter contracts.
Moreover, this increase in global military spending could have been even more substantial if certain countries had not reallocated funds intended for the fight against the pandemic. South Korea and Chile have done that. Also, SIPRI notes, countries like Brazil and Russia “have spent considerably less than their initial military budgets for 2020.”
Still, for the Swedish Institute, it “can be said with virtual certainty that the pandemic did not have a significant impact on global military spending in 2020”. And the question is whether “countries will maintain this level of military spending during the second year of the pandemic.”
Five countries concentrate 62% of world military spending. The United States leads the way, followed by China, India, Russia, and the United Kingdom. France is in 8th place, behind Saudi Arabia and Germany.
39% of global military spending is on the US
As for the United States, the Pentagon’s budget dedicated to foreign operations amounted to $ 778 billion in 2020. This value represents 39% of world military spending. “The recent increases in US military spending are mainly explained by heavy investments in research and development, by several long-term projects such as the modernization of the American nuclear arsenal and the large-scale acquisition of weapons,” explains Alexandra Marksteiner, researcher in the Weapons and Military Expenses program of SIPRI.
He added, “This reflects growing concerns over perceived threats from strategic competitors such as China and Russia, as well as the Trump administration’s willingness to bolster what it saw as an impoverished US military. “
China has increased its military spending by 1.9%
As for China, whose economy has suffered much less than that of other countries, SIPRI estimates its military spending at $ 252 billion, an amount much higher than that officially announced by Beijing [$ 212 billion / 175 billion euros]. Compared to 2019, the budget of the People’s Liberation Army [PLA] and other paramilitary militias would have increased by 1.9%.
“China’s military spending is increasing for the 26th consecutive year,” notes SIPRI. A continuous increase due “in part to the long-term plans for the military modernization and expansion of the country, following the stated desire to catch up with the other major military powers,” he said.
India is third
In this context, India is trying to keep pace with China, its military spending reaching $ 72.9 billion in 2020. For New Delhi, it is about countering a direct threat [such as we showed the tensions in the Himalayas last year], accentuated by a Chinese military superiority. This superiority continues to assert itself, with the bonus of naval ambitions in the Indian Ocean and a strategic relationship with Pakistan, which continues to grow to deepen.
Chinese aims in the Indo-Pacific region and, for some, the North Korean threat, are pushing other countries in the area to increase their military spending. This is the case for Japan [$ 49.1 billion], South Korea [$ 45.7 billion], and Australia [$ 27.5 billion].
Russia has spent 2.5% more
The fourth-largest spending country, Russia, posted a military budget of $ 61.7 billion in 2020, an increase of + 2.5%. But according to SIPRI, Mocou’s “real military expenditure” will have been -6.6% lower than the initial budget. At the same time, the share of this expenditure in the GDP increased by + 0.5%.
$ 59.2 billion spent on defense by Britain
Finally, the UK spent $ 59.2 billion on defense last year, 2.9% more than 2019. However, this level is 4.2% lower than in 2011. At the same time, German military expenditure increased by + 28% during the period 2011-20. More generally, military budgets increased by + 4% in Europe in 2020.
Africa, Middle East, and South America
In Africa, military spending has also increased, sometimes significantly for some countries, especially those grappling with the jihadist threat. This is the case of Mali [+ 22%], Mauritania [+ 23%], Nigeria [+ 29%] and Chad [+ 31%]. Note that faced with a rebellion by the Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA] as well as instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, also involved militarily in Somalia [via AMISOM], agreed on a significant budgetary effort for its armed forces [+ 41%].
However, this upward trend is not the same everywhere. For example, in the Middle East, the combined military spending of the 11 countries in the region fell 6.5% overall to $ 143 billion. This is notably the case of Saudi Arabia [-10%] and Kuwait [-5.9%]. One of the reasons for this decline is undoubtedly the pressure on oil prices.
We also saw the decline in South America, where military spending overall fell 2.1% last year, to $ 43.5 billion. This trend is due to Brazil, whose defense budget was reduced by -3.1%, to 19.7 billion dollars.