Mapped: The World’s Top Countries for Military Spending

by visualcapitalist

Mapped The World's Top Military Spenders in 2020

By practically any measure, the world today is more peaceful and less war-torn on a global scale, relative to the past.

For instance, declarations of war between nations and soldier casualties have both dropped drastically since the 20th century. Yet, military spending has not followed this trend.

The Top 10 Military Spenders

According to SIPRI, global military spend reached almost $2 trillion in 2020. The top 10 countries represent roughly 75% of this figure, and have increased their spending by $51 billion since the year prior.

Here’s how the worlds top 10 military spenders compare to each other:

Rank Country Military Spend 2020 ($B) % Change Military Spend 2019 ($B)
#1 🇺🇸 United States $778.0 +6.2% $732.0
#2 🇨🇳 China $252.0 -3.4% $261.0
#3 🇮🇳 India $72.9 +2.5% $71.1
#4 🇷🇺 Russia $61.7 -5.2% $65.1
#5 🇬🇧 United Kingdom $59.2 +21.5% $48.7
#6 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia $57.5 -7.1% $61.9
#7 🇩🇪 Germany $52.8 +7.1% $61.9
#8 🇫🇷 France $52.7 +5.1% $50.1
#9 🇯🇵 Japan $49.1 +3.1% $47.6
#10 🇰🇷 South Korea $45.7 +4.1% $43.9
Total $1,481.6 +3.5% $1,430.7

The U.S. isn’t labeled as a global superpower for nothing. The country is by far the largest military spender, and its $778 billion budget trumps the remainder of the list’s collective $703.6 billion. On its own, the U.S. represents just under 40% of global military spending.

This year, Saudi Arabia has lost out on a top five seat to the UK, after a 7.1% decline in spending compared to a 21.5% increase for the UK.

Military Spend as a Percentage of GDP

Military expenditures as a percentage of GDP can be used to compare military spending relative to the size of a country’s economy.

Military Spend as a Share of GDP

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When looking at things this way, many of the top spenders above do not appear. This may be an indication of their economic prowess or a demonstration that the money might be used for other vital areas such as education, healthcare, or infrastructure.

Rank Country Region Spend as a % of GDP (2020)
#1 🇴🇲 Oman Middle East 11.0%
#2 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia Middle East 8.4%
#3 🇩🇿 Algeria North Africa 6.7%
#4 🇰🇼 Kuwait Middle East 6.5%
#5 🇮🇱 Israel Middle East 5.6%
#6 🇷🇺 Russia Europe/Asia 4.3%
#7 🇲🇦 Morocco North Africa 4.3%
#8 🇮🇶 Iraq Middle East 4.1%
#9 🇺🇦 Ukraine Europe 4.1%
#10 🇵🇰 Pakistan South Asia 4.0%

It’s pretty rare for countries to reach double digits for military spending as a percentage of GDP. In this case, Oman is an outlier, as the Middle Eastern country’s spending relative to GDP grew from 8.8% last year, to 11% in 2020.

Many of the countries with the highest military spending to GDP are located in the Middle East—a reflection of the escalating conflicts that have persisted in the region for well over two decades.

It’s worth noting that some data for the Middle Eastern region are estimates, due to the aforementioned regional instability.

More Spending to Come?

Global military spending figures are at a 32-year high, despite the pandemic’s effect on shrinking economic output.

World Military Spend 1988-2020

Although a major war hasn’t occurred in some time, it’s not to say the geopolitical mood hasn’t been tense.

The last 12 months or so have witnessed some nail-biting moments including:

  • Border disputes between China and India
  • Heightening tensions between China and Taiwan
  • Russia’s military presence in eastern Ukraine
  • The hacking of SolarWinds, a Texas-based company, by Russia
  • The ongoing Yemen crisis
  • An Israel-Iran feud

Will 2021 extend the trend of peace, or will rising military spending mean even higher tensions?


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