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Explore how the world spent $1.69 trillion (that’s $1 690 000 000 000) on the military in 2016 and how this has changed over the past 10 years
Global military spending in 2016 was $1.69 trillion.
The 10 countries with the highest military spending accounted for nearly three quarters (73%) of this total. These countries are the USA, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, UK, Japan, Germany and South Korea.
US military spending in 2016 was $611 billion—nearly 3 times as much as China's military spending, which was the second highest in 2016 at $215 billion. US military spending is larger than the next 8 biggest military spenders combined.
Russia overtook Saudi Arabia to be the world's third highest military spender in 2016, due to a sudden decrease in Saudi military spending.
Military spending is not only money spent on weapons; it includes spending on wages, pensions, equipment, research and development.
Military spending in Africa was $37.9 billion in 2016, a 1.3% decrease compared to 2015.
This is the second year of decreasing military spending, after 12 consecutive years of increased military spending. (Note that Egypt is included in the total for the Middle East and not Africa.)
Despite the recent decrease in military spending, African military spending is 48% higher than it was 10 years ago (in 2007).
Explore 10 years of African countries' military spending in the graph below.
Military spending often raises questions about its ‘opportunity cost’—what else the money could have been spent on.
This is particularly important in developing countries since governments with limited money must choose carefully what to spend it on. This leads to a tradeoff, where one dollar spent on the military means one dollar not spent on something else.
In Africa, a common comparison is between military spending and public health spending. African countries spend 2% of their GDP on the military and 5.5% of their GDP on healthcare. This is far below the world average of 9.9% for health spending.
A famous tradeoff between military and public health spending occurred in South Africa. In 1999, the South African Government announced a huge arms deal worth about $5 billion to modernize its national defences. The same year, South Africa’s health minister argued that there was no money for Anti-Retroviral (ARV) medication for people who are HIV positive, saying:
Over the next five years (1999 to 2004) no mass-scale provision of ARV medication was provided in South Africa and about 5 million people (19% of the population) were affected by HIV. It is estimated that the choice made by the South African Government to not fund ARV medication led to more than 330,000 people dying and 35,000 babies being born with HIV who could otherwise have been protected
Military spending in the Americas was $693 billion in 2016. North America's military spending made up 90% of this total.
Military spending in the Americas increased by 0.8% compared to 2015, although this hides big regional differences. Spending in North America increased by 1.7% while Central America and the Caribbean decreased by 9.1% and South America decreased by 7.5%.
Overall military spending in the Americas in 2016 is 4.4% lower than spending 10 years ago.
Again there are regional differences. Spending in North America decreased by 4.8% and spending in South America decreased by 5.5%, while military spending in Central America and the Caribbean has increased by 50% between 2007 and 2016.
Explore 10 years of American and Caribbean countries' military spending in the graph below.
Military spending in Asia and Oceania was $450 billion in 2016. This is an increase of 4.6% compared to 2015.
Military spending in Asia and Oceania in 2016 increased by 64% over the past 10 years.
Explore 10 years of Asian and Oceanian countries' military spending in the graph below.
Military spending in Europe was $334 billion in 2016, an increase of 2.8% on 2015.
European military spending increased by 5.7% in 2016 compared to spending 10 years ago in 2007.
There are large differences between different parts of Europe. Military spending in Western Europe decreased by 6.2%, military spending in Central Europe increased by 4.2% and military spending in Eastern Europe increased by 78% between 2007 and 2016.
Explore 10 years of European countries' military spending in the graph below.
There is a wide range of factors that can explain military spending in Europe. This includes perceptions of the world being an uncertain place in general, European states being involved in wars in the Middle East, the use of the military against violent extremists and possibly also the arms industry’s efforts to sell its products.
However, the growing tension between Russia and most of the rest of Europe is often mentioned as a particularly important reason for the recent trend of increasing military expenditure in Europe.
Russia’s military spending in 2016 was $69.2 billion, an increase of 87% since 2007. The increased spending is a heavy burden on its economy, which is in serious trouble due to low oil and gas prices. Russia has used its increased military spending to modernize its armed forces and use them in the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
NATO is an organization built up of 25 European countries plus the USA, Canada and Turkey. These countries work together on military matters and have agreed that an attack against one or several NATO members is considered to be an attack against all NATO members.
Together, NATO members spent over 12 times more on the military in 2016 than Russia. Together, the European NATO members spent over 3 times more on the military in 2016 than Russia.
The figures on military spending in Europe do not tell the whole story because they do not show what actual military capability is generated by the spending or how this capability can be used in different contexts.
For example, several NATO members deploy their military throughout the world and not just in Europe, and Russia is still rebuilding its armed forces after years of decay. However, the data helps to raise questions about threat perceptions and the policies that states develop to deal with them.
SIPRI is not publishing a total for military spending in the Middle East in 2016 as data is unavailable for several countries (including the United Arab Emirates, which was the second highest military spender in the Middle East in 2014).
For those countries where data is available, military spending increased by 19% compared to 2007.
Governments must be open about their choices on public spending in order for citizens to be able to contribute to decision-making and to hold their governments accountable. This includes choices about military spending. Governments often argue that funding an efficient and effective military can contribute to peace and security without wasting scarce resources.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) contributes to transparency of military spending by collecting government data, carefully assessing it and making it available online.
In most countries, governments release information on their military spending in budget documents or other overviews. These are often published by the Ministry of Finance or the Central Bank, and are usually available on the internet.
Some governments publish no information at all on their military spending. These countries include the United Arab Emirates (which SIPRI estimates is between the 10th and 15th biggest military spender in the world), Qatar, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and North Korea.
Other countries provide only minimal information. Saudi Arabia (the fifth largest military spender in 2016) sums up its military spending in one line.
It is hard to know if military spending data is accurate and complete. Information might be hidden, wrong or presented in a way that’s hard to understand. For example, the Nigerian Government publishes a budget with many details about its military spending. However, in 2015 an investigation into large-scale corruption suggested that billions more dollars had been allocated to the Ministry of Defence between 2007 and 2015.
To put countries' military spending into perspective, we can look at what each country spends on the military as a share of their GDP (gross domestic product).
Global military spending in 2016 was 2.2% of global GDP. There are very large regional differences though, with countries in the Middle East spending the largest shares of their GDP on the military.
Click on the regions in the chart below to see individual countries' military spending as a share of their GDP.
By: Kate Blanchfield, Nan Tian and Pieter D. Wezeman
All military spending figures in the graphs are given in constant 2015 US$ to allow for comparisons over time. As a result they might not match the military spending figures in the text, which are expressed in current 2016 US$.
Credits: Highcharts, Natural Earth
This webpage has been made possible with funding from the FBA grant Fredsmiljonen, a Swedish government grant that aims to strengthen the voice of civil society in the areas of peace and security.