Special Report

Countries Spending the Most on War

4. Saudi Arabia
> Military expenditure:
$80.8 billion
> Pct. change military expenditure, 2005-2014: 112.1%
> Expenditure as pct. of GDP: 10.4%
> Military expenditure per capita: $2,747

Saudi Arabia’s military spending exploded by 112% from 2005 to 2014, vaulting the Middle Eastern kingdom from 10th place. Saudi Arabia has an all-volunteer army of about 251,500 active personnel in 2013 for its more than 27 million residents. Saudi military spending was about 10.4% of the country’s GDP, second only to Oman’s 11.6%. The Saudis allocate 25.9% of all government spending to military, more than any other nation. Against that spending, though, the kingdom’s international disputes appear relatively minor. The kingdom had to reinforce security barriers along sections of its border with Yemen to forestall illegal cross-border activities. At the end of March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition began air strikes in an effort to repel Shiite rebels supported by Iran.

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3. Russia
> Military expenditure:
$84.5 billion
> Pct. change military expenditure, 2005-2014: 97.4%
> Expenditure as pct. of GDP: 4.5%
> Military expenditure per capita: $593

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and began aiding pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, the West claims. As a result, the United States and European Union imposed sanctions on Russia, causing heightened tensions between the powers and leading some to suggest the Cold War has resumed. The international drama intensified as Russia continued to ramp up its military spending. The 97.4% growth in spending since 2005 was one of the largest growth rates of all nations, largely due to spending hikes in the last three years. Not only has there been an absolute growth in spending, but also military spending has steadily increased as a share of the nation’s GDP, from 3.7% in 2011 to 4.5% in 2014, 12th most in the world. Because of its size — 142.5 million people making it the 10th most populous country in the world — Russia’s 2014 per capita military spending of $593 was 20th highest in the world, down slightly from one year earlier. Russia’s 1.26 million-person conscripted military force is the fifth largest in the world.

2. China
> Military expenditure:
$216.4 billion
> Pct. change military expenditure, 2005-2014: 167.4%
> Expenditure as pct. of GDP: 2.1%
> Military expenditure per capita: $155

China’s military spending increased by 167.4% since 2005 to a total of $190,974 billion last year — in 2011 dollars — the largest expenditure after only the U.S. The spending growth was the 10th largest increase and mostly reflects the country’s rapid economic growth in recent years. While China’s tax base is not as strong as many other developed nations, its population is so large that a bulk of its revenue still comes from taxation. China’s 2013 GDP of $9.5 trillion was the second-largest in the world and up substantially from 2005. The country had a standing army of about 3 million soldiers in 2013, the largest worldwide. In a recent report published by the state-run military news outlet, China’s People’s Liberation Army is ready to fight a war with Japan, another top military spender.

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1. United States
> Military expenditure:
$609.9 billion
> Pct. change military expenditure, 2005-2014: -0.4%
> Expenditure as pct. of GDP: 3.5%
> Military expenditure per capita: $1,891

While U.S.’ military expenditure in 2014 was relatively flat from 2005, it is still by far the largest military spending in the world and several times greater than second-place China. U.S. military spending has fluctuated over the years, but the country has outspent every other nation in the world since at least 2005. Last year, military spending equalled 3.5% of U.S. GDP, the 22nd highest share among countries reviewed. Dr. Perlo-Freeman suggested that the nation’s exceptionally high spending reflects its role as the dominant global superpower and the perception that there are “potentially military threats everywhere.” The U.S. has an estimated 7,100 nuclear warheads, trailing only Russia. The country is also home to several top arms companies, including United Technologies, Raytheon, and Boeing. Still, largely as a result of fiscal austerity and the scaling back of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, U.S. military spending as a percent of total government spending fell from 10.4% in 2013 to 9.5% in 2014.