Special Report

17 Countries Adding $100 Billion or More to Weapons Imports this Year

In the wake of its devastating defeat in World War II, Japan was completely demilitarized under the U.S. Post-Surrender Policy aimed at ensuring it would not again “become a menace to the United States or to peace and security of the world.” Japan turned to building its crippled nation, and over the ensuing decades, grew to become the world’s third-largest economy — all largely without much in terms of military spending.

But the situation changed in 2017, when then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that his budget proposal would scrap a cap on military spending, set at 1% of GDP, and commit to bolstering Japan’s armed forces amid China’s growing military might in the region. 

In fact, Japan’s military spending has continued to grow since, with weapons imports growing by more than $1 billion from 2019 to 2021 compared to the three previous years. This was the fourth largest import growth amount over that period, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Japan spent $2.6 billion on weapons imports in those years.

To compare, as a group, the North American Treaty Organization spent $665 million on military weapons imports from 2019 to 2021, up from just $58 million in the previous three-year period. (Also see, the largest weapons manufacturers outside the U.S..)

To identify the countries with the largest increases in weapons imports, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed historical data on military spending from independent conflict, armament, and arms control research institute SIPRI’s Arms Transfers Database. Countries were ranked based on the increase in dollar terms in weapons imports from the three-year period of 2016-2018 to 2019-2021. We only considered countries with data for all six years. All other data came from SIPRI, except for 2021 population figures, which are from the World Bank.

The world’s military exports, and military spending as a whole, are on the rise. Three other countries besides Japan increased their weapons imports by more than $1 billion in the three years ending in 2021 compared to the three years ending in 2018, led by India, which increased weapons import spending by $2.9 billion, Qatar ($2.7 billion increase) and the Netherlands ($1.4 billion increase).

Seventeen countries, including eight NATO members, increased their weapons imports by more than $100 million in 2019-21 compared to 2016-18. The United States ranks fifth, increasing weapons imports by $972 million, followed by Kuwait and the Philippines. After Germany’s $137 million increase, no country had an increase of more than $100, with the next highest being the United Kingdom’s $94 million increase. 

The U.S. is the largest source of weapons imports to seven countries, with five of them importing aircraft from the U.S., one importing missiles (Poland), and one importing armored vehicles (Kuwait). In general, the most commonly imported weapon is aircraft, with 12 countries most commonly importing those. (These are the countries buying the most weapons from the U.S. government.)

Here are the countries where weapons imports are increasing the fastest.

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