Special Report

Countries Spending the Most on War

The United States spent $611 billion on its military last year, up slightly from about $596 billion the year prior. American military spending dwarfs that of every other nation in the world.. Second-place China spent barely one-third as much on its armed forces.

While it will not likely be surpassed any time soon, U.S. military spending has declined by about 5% over the past decade. Meanwhile, China, Russia, and other major powers have substantially increased spending — China’s spending is up by 118% over the same period.

Based on annual military spending estimates from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 15 countries with the largest military expenditure in 2016.

Click here to see the countries spending the most on war.

While it is not The United States’ long history of involvement in foreign conflicts helps explain why its military dwarfs that of any other nation. Long considered the world’s policeman, the United States has nearly 800 bases in over 70 countries.

The U.S. spending decline over the past decade has been accompanied with either minimal growth or even decline in spending in a number of Western nations. In the U.K., which at one time was America’s primary ally in the war in Afghanistan, spending fell by 12% over the last 10 years. Several major U.S. allies also spend relatively little compared to the size of their economies. Germany, Japan, and Italy each spent less than 2% of GDP on their military compared to the U.S. expenditure of 3.3% of GDP.

Many of the top military spenders spend disproportional amounts to the size of their economies and populations. The United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are each among the top 15 military spenders despite being less populous than most other nations on this list. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE are among the 40 most populous nations, and Israel ranks 92nd overall. Each also spends more than 5% of GDP on defense.

Each of these three nations has relatively high GDP per capita, but these nations spend more proportional even to their wealthier economies. Each spends at least 5% of GDP on the military. Saudi Arabia, which has the world’s fourth largest defense budget, spends 10% of GDP on its armed forces. The three are also all in the Middle East — a relatively unstable region that in recent years has been the site of several major wars, uprisings, and insurgencies. The area’s constant conflicts may also explain the need for high spending on military.

To identify the countries countries spending the most on war, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2016 military expenditures estimated by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its most recent annual “Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2016” report. Spending as a share of GDP, per capita expenditure, and absolute spending figures for 2016 and 2007 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
• Procurement
• Military research and development
• Military aid (in the military expenditure of the donor country)

These are the countries spending the most on the military.


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