Explore how the world spent $1.74 trillion (that’s $1 739 000 000 000) on the military in 2017 and how this has changed over the past 10 years
Global military spending in 2017 was $1.74 trillion.
The 10 countries with the highest military spending accounted for nearly three quarters (73%) of this total. These countries are the USA, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, France, UK, Japan, Germany and South Korea.
US military spending in 2017 was $610 billion—nearly 3 times as much as China's military spending, which was the second highest in 2017 at $228 billion. US military spending is larger than the next 7 biggest military spenders combined.
Saudi Arabia was the third largest spender in 2017 following a 9.2 per cent increase in military expenditure to $69.4 billion. Among the 10 largest spenders, Saudi Arabia had the highest ‘military burden’ - military spending as a share of GDP’ in 2017, at 10 per cent of GDP.
Russia’s military spending fell by 20 per cent to $66.3 billion, making it the fourth largest spender.
Military spending is not only money spent on weapons; it includes spending on wages, pensions, equipment, research and development.
Military expenditure in Africa was $42.6 billion in 2017. This is a marginal decrease of 0.5 per compared to 2016. (Note that Egypt is included in the total for the Middle East and not Africa.)
This continued the downward trend from the post-cold war peak reached in 2014, although the decrease tapered off in 2017.
Despite the recent decrease in military spending, African military spending is 28% higher than it was 10 years ago (in 2008).
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 crowds out the ability to spend one dollar on something else. Security can be measured by military means, but one must not forget about social security (e.g. living standards). The question thus becomes whether the ‘biggest bang for the buck’ can be delivered via high military spending which may improve military security or a healthier and better educated workforce to improve social security.
In Africa, a common comparison is between military spending and public health spending. African countries spend 1.8% 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. The loss of healthy life years of those that died, was born and live with HIV/AIDS was and is substantial economic and social cost in South Africa today.
Military spending in the Americas accounted for 40 per cent of global military spending.
Military spending in the Americas was $695 billion in 2017. North America's military spending made up 91% of this total.
Military spending in the region was unchanged from 2016 but was 11 % lower than in 2008.
There are regional differences: spending in Central America and the Caribbean increased by 39% and spending in South America increased by 17%, while military spending in North America decreased by 13% between 2008 and 2017.
Explore 10 years of American and Caribbean countries' military spending in the graph below.
Military spending in Asia and Oceania was $477 billion in 2017. This is an increase of 3.6% compared to 2016.
It was the second largest region in terms of military spending in 2017.
Military expenditure in Asia and Oceania rose from 17 per cent of global military spending in 2008 to 27 per cent in 2017. This was due primarily to China’s spending rising from 5.8 per cent to 13 per cent of world military expenditure over the period.
Explore 10 years of Asian and Oceanian countries' military spending in the graph below.
Military spending in Europe was $342 billion in 2017, a decrease of 2.2% compared to 2016.
Between 2016 and 2017 military spending increased in Central Europe by 12 % to $24.1 billion and in Western Europe by 1.7 % to $245 billion, while it fell substantially in Eastern Europe, by 18 % to $72.9 billion.
The decline in Eastern Europe was due almost entirely to the fall in Russian military expenditure, which in 2017 accounted for 91 per cent of the subregional total. Despite the sharp drop in Russian military spending by 20% in 2017, Russia is still one of the biggest military spenders in the world, taking the 4th place.
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.
Compared to 2016, Russia’s military spending decreased by 20% and was $66.3 billion in 2017. Although, since 2008, Russia’s military spending increased by 36%. The Russian economy has suffered a number of setbacks since 2014, including a significant drop in oil export revenues, and government spending has been falling since then. However, military spending kept increasing until 2017, when it fell for the first time since 1998.
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 13 times more on the military in 2017 than Russia.
Together, the European NATO members spent over 4 times more on the military in 2017 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 does not have a total for military spending in the Middle East in 2017 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).
Saudi Arabia is by far the largest military spender in the region and was the third largest in the world in 2017.
Its military spending increased by 74 per cent between 2008 and 2015 to a peak of $90.3 billion. It then fell by 29 per cent in 2016, but increased again by 9.2 per cent in 2017 to $69.4 billion.
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, Qatar, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and North Korea.
One more problematic issue is the use by many countries of off-budget funding: spending that is not included in the state budget. It often includes funds earned from the export of natural resources. Some parts of these off-budget funds can be allocated for military expenditure. For example, Peru’s off-budget expenditure mechanism was created by a 2004 law that established the Fund for the Armed Forces and National Police (Fondo para las Fuerzas Armadas y Policía Nacional) and funded it with revenue from natural gas fields. Since 2004 it has been used to fund the acquisition, modernization, technological innovation, repair and maintenance of military equipment.
It is hard to know if military spending data published by governments 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 2017 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.
In 2017 military expenditure as a share of GDP (known as the ‘military burden’) was the highest in the Middle East, at 5.2 per cent. No other region in the world allocated more than 1.8 per cent of GDP to military spending.
In 2017 countries in the Middle East with the highest military burden are Oman (12 per cent of GDP), Saudi Arabia (10 per cent of GDP), Kuwait (5.8 per cent of GDP), Jordan (4.8 per cent of GDP), Israel (4.7 per cent of GDP), Lebanon (4.5 per cent of GDP) and Bahrain (4.1 per cent of GDP).
Click on the regions in the chart below to see individual countries' military spending as a share of their GDP.
Web development and design: Kate Blanchfield
Update of the web page: Lovisa Inserra and Alexandra Kuimova
Research and data: Nan Tian, Aude Fleurant, Alexandra Kuimova, Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman
All military spending figures are given in current 2017 US$. The line graphs that show changes over time are in constant 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.