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Explained: The world’s top military spenders, what the latest SIPRI report says

In 2020, the United States’ military spending was 3.7 per cent of its GDP while the corresponding numbers for China and India were 1.7 per cent and 2.9 per cent respectively.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 29, 2021 11:30:33 am
An Indian Army convoy in Ladakh during the India-China border dispute (File photo)

In its report on trends in global military expenditure in 2020, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has found that the world’s top military spenders — the US, China and India — saw their military spending go up compared to 2019, even during a pandemic year.

Last year, the US spent a total of $778 billion, China spent $252 billion and India’s military expenditure was $72.9 billion. While India’s spending since 2019 grew by 2.1 per cent, the increase for China was more moderate, at 1.9 per cent. The US saw a 4.4 per cent growth over its 2019 expenditure.

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In total, the global military expenditure rose to $1981 billion last year, an increase of 2.6 per cent in real terms from 2019, the report said. It mentioned that the “2.6 per cent increase in world military spending came in a year” when the global GDP shrank by 4.4 per cent (October 2020 projection by the International Monetary Fund), “largely due to the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

What SIPRI does

The Sweden-based SIPRI is an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament. It was established on the basis of a decision by the Swedish Parliament and receives a substantial part of its funding in the form of an annual grant from the Swedish Government.

Established in 1966, SIPRI provides data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public.

What the 2020 report says

In 2020, the United States’ military spending was 3.7 per cent of its GDP while the corresponding numbers for China and India were 1.7 per cent and 2.9 per cent respectively.

From 2011 to 2020, American military expenditure dropped by 10 per cent, but China saw a 76 per cent growth while India’s military spending grew by 34 per cent.

SIPRI said that military spending in Asia and Oceania “was 2.5 per cent higher in 2020 than in 2019 and 47 per cent higher than in 2011, continuing an uninterrupted upward trend since at least 1989” and attributed the rise “primarily to increases in spending by China and India, which together accounted for 62 per cent of total military expenditure in the region in 2020”.

The other top spenders included Russia with $61.7 billion, the UK at $59.2 billion, Saudi Arabia at $57.5 billion, followed by Germany and France at just under $53 billion each.

Releasing the latest data, SIPRI said that the total “global military expenditure rose to $1981 billion last year, an increase of 2.6 per cent in real terms from 2019” and the “five biggest spenders in 2020, which together accounted for 62 per cent of global military expenditure”.

As a consequence of the reduction in global GDP last year, it said that “military spending as a share of GDP—the military burden—reached a global average of 2.4 per cent in 2020, up from 2.2 per cent in 2019,” which, it said, “was the biggest year-on-year rise in the military burden since the global financial and economic crisis in 2009”.

While military spending did rise globally, some countries explicitly reallocated part of their planned military spending to pandemic response, such as Chile and South Korea, and many others, including Brazil and Russia, spent considerably less than their initial military budgets for 2020, the report said.

‘We can say with some certainty that the pandemic did not have a significant impact on global military spending in 2020,’ said Dr Diego Lopes da Silva, Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. ‘It remains to be seen whether countries will maintain this level of military spending through a second year of the pandemic.’

What SIPRI has said about India in the past

Earlier in March, a SIPRI report found that India’s arms imports came down by a third between 2011-2015 and 2016-2020, at a time when the government has been trying to reduce the import dependence when it comes to defence platforms and weapons.

However, India remained the second highest importer, only behind Saudi Arabia. The top five global arms exporters were the US, Russia, France, Germany and China in 2016-2020.

In the study, SIPRI stated, “Arms imports by India decreased by 33 per cent between 2011–15 and 2016–20. Russia was the most affected supplier, although India’s imports of US arms also fell, by 46 per cent.”

The report attributed the fall not to the government’s push to make India self-reliant in defence manufacturing, but to factors including reducing the dependence on Russian arms, and the complex procurement procedure.

“The drop in Indian arms imports seems to have been mainly due to its complex procurement processes, combined with an attempt to reduce its dependence on Russian arms.

Alexandra Kuimova, Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, said, “Russia substantially increased its arms transfers to China, Algeria and Egypt between 2011–15 and 2016–20, but this did not offset the large drop in its arms exports to India.”

The report stated that “international transfers of major arms stayed at the same level between 2011–15 and 2016–20” as the “substantial increases in transfers by three of the top five arms exporters — the USA, France and Germany — were largely offset by declining Russian and Chinese arms exports”. The report said middle eastern arms imports grew by 25 per cent during this period, and was driven by Saudi Arabia, with a 61 per cent increase, and Egypt and Qatar, which saw a jump of 136 per cent and 361 per cent, respectively.

Before that, in its 2019 yearbook, SIPRI found that the worldwide total of nuclear warheads had decreased since 2018 but countries are modernising their nuclear arsenals, and said that nine nuclear-armed countries (including India) had a total of some 13,865 nuclear weapons at the start of 2019, which is a decrease of 600 nuclear weapons from 14,465 at the start of 2018.

The report separately counted “deployed warheads” (warheads placed on missiles or located on bases with operational forces) and “other warheads” (stored or reserve warheads and retired warheads awaiting dismantlement). For India, it gave a figure of 130-140 “other warheads” in 2019, the same as in 2018.

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