Military spending in the United States totaled $596 billion in 2015, far and away the largest annual military expenditure in the world at nearly three times that of second-place China. While the U.S. military will likely not be outspent any time soon, American defense expenditures have fallen each year since its most recent peak in 2010.
The nations of the world spent $1.68 trillion on their militaries in 2015, up slightly from 2014, the first global increase since 2011. Based on annual military spending estimates from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 with the largest military expenditures.
According to Dr. Sam Perlo-Freeman, senior researcher at SIPRI, the world’s top military spenders do not tend to change very much. Military expenditures by global super powers are so great that spending decreases often have little to no effect on a country’s ranking. For example, the United States military spending was $13.9 billion lower last year compared to the year before, the second-largest absolute decline after only Russia. Both countries still rank in the top 10 for military spending.
However, Perlo-Freeman added, there has been a considerable shift in the long term. “There has been this general tendency of the Western traditional European powers falling down the list, either because they have been cutting spending, or just because others have been increasing it so much.”
The United Kingdom had occupied the second-place position for many years as of 2006. Since then, it has fallen slowly to its current fifth place position. Meanwhile, China and Saudi Arabia have overtaken the U.K. and other major Western countries. China increased its military spending by $15.1 billion last year, by far the largest absolute increase. Saudi Arabia also bolstered its defense budget, adding $6.4 billion to its expenditure.
For Perlo-Freeman, the rise of Saudi Arabia’s military is extraordinary. The country started investing heavily in its military a few years ago, but while it started acquiring expensive equipment, the trained personnel and apparatus necessary to use it was severely lacking. Now, the country’s not-insubstantial military power is being used both internally to maintain the power of the regime, and externally in military exploits in Syria, Yemen, and other countries.
The fight against terrorism has been a factor in military spending for a long time. Most of the world’s largest military powers are engaged either in fighting wars overseas against terrorist groups, against states that claim to support them, or both. Perlo-Freeman noted that there is also a domestic aspect, of particular relevance for France. “They recently justified their planned increases to the defense budget in the coming years on the basis of using the military on the streets in a counter terror role.”
To identify the countries with the fastest rising and fastest falling military budgets, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2015 military expenditures estimated by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its most recent annual “Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2015” report. Spending as a share of GDP, per capita expenditure, and absolute spending figures for 2015, 2014, and 2006 also came from SIPRI. Military expenditure data include all current and capital expenditure on:
• The armed forces, including peacekeeping forces
• Defence ministries and other government agencies engaged in defence projects
• Paramilitary forces, when judged to be trained and equipped for military operations
• Military space activities
• Military and civil personnel, including retirement pensions and social services for military personnel
• Operations and maintenance
• Military research and development
• Military aid (in the military expenditure of the donor country)
We also considered 2015, 2014, and 2006 per capita GDP from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Gross domestic product is based on purchasing power parity (PPP) and is in current international dollars.
These are the countries spending the most on the military.