Knowledge for policy

World military expenditure and weapons trade

  • Global military expenditure increased 75% over the past 20 years, but stands at around $1.7 trillion annually since 2009. In 2018, it was $1.774 trillion. The 2% growth compared to 2017 was mainly run by China, Turkey and Soudi Arabia. 
  • The top five military spenders in 2018 were the USA, China, Saudi Arabia, India, and France, which together accounted for 60% of global military spending.
  • Over the past decade, China increased its military spending by 83%, while the USA's spending decreased by 17%. Their shares of world total in 2018 were 14% and 36% respectively, compared to 5.8% and 45.3% a decade ago.  
  • By 2030, the countries with top defence spending are expected to be: USA with over 1 trillion, China with $736 billion, and India with $213 billion (from respectively 633.6 billion, $240 billion and 66.6 billion in 2018.)
  • In 2018, Asia and Oceania region rose its military expenditure for the 30th successive year, led by China at 5% and India at 3% increase compared to 2017, and Pakistan with an impressive 10.6% growth compared to 2017.
  • By 2020, Asia-Pacific military spending will be on par with North America, which will only account for 33% of global defense (from almost 50% now).
  • World's military arsenals are expected to double in size by 2030, compared to 2016.
  • By 2045, India's defence expenditure might reach $654 billion, about the same as all European Union countries combined. 
  • NATO 29-members' spending was $900 billion (out of which, $610 billion was USA), accounting for 52% of world's spending in 2017.
  • NATO guidelines suggest that countries spend 2% of their GDP on defense, with at least 20% of it for defense-related R&D and major equipment acquisitions. Only the USA (NATO's biggest defense spender), Greece, and Estonia met the 2% guideline in 2016. If all NATO European countries were to meet the 2% of GDP target, their defence spending would have needed to rise by over 40%.
  • The volume of international transfers of major weapons has grown continuously since 2004, in 2012–16 reaching their highest volume for any five-year period since the end of the cold war. Only Asia and Oceania and the Middle East increased imports.
  • The five biggest weapons exporters together accounted for 74% of the total volume of arms exports -- the United States (33%), Russia (23%), China (6.2%), France (6%), and Germany (5.6%).
  • Of global imports in 2012–16, Middle East accounted for 29%. Saudi Arabia was the world's second largest arms importer (after India) with an increase of 212%; Qatar's imports grew 245% and the majority of the other states in the region also increased arms imports in 2012-16 compared to 2007-11. Some Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, are buying their weapons from different suppliers to diversify their dependence on other countries, especially the United States.

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