Global Policy Forum

UN Big Powers World's Top Military Spenders



By Thalif Deen

June 11, 2009



The world's biggest military spenders last year were countries which were either permanent members of the Security Council or aspiring to hold that privileged rank, according to the latest figures released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The United States, China, France, Britain and Russia - all veto-wielding members of the Security Council - were the top five military spenders in 2008, accounting for a hefty 60 percent of global military spending totaling 1.5 trillion dollars.

The four countries desperately knocking at the Security Council door for permanent membership - Germany, Japan, India and Brazil - were not far behind, ranking among the top 15.

The "war on terror" has encouraged many countries to see their problems through a highly militariSed lens, says Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of SIPRI's Military Expenditure Project. As a result, he points out, many countries have justified high military spending as part of their fight against terrorism. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost 903 billion dollars in additional military spending by the United States alone.

The United States accounted for the majority (58 percent) of the global increase between 1999 and 2008, according to SIPRI's 2009 'Yearbook on Armaments, Disarmament and International Security.' Still, China and Russia, with absolute increases of 42 billion dollars and 24 billion dollars, respectively, nearly tripled their military expenditures over the decade. The countries in the top 15, including India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, Brazil, South Korea, Algeria and Britain, also made substantial contributions to the overall increase.

The 1.5-trillion-dollar global military spending last year represents an increase of four percent in real terms, compared with 2007, and 45 percent over the 10-year period 1999-2008.

"The only winners from increases in global military spending are (U.S.) weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman," says Frida Berrigan, senior programme associate with the New America Foundation's Arms and Security Initiative.

She pointed out that almost every sector has been affected by the global economic downturn, "but thanks to the fact that nations around the world are putting more and more of their precious (and ever more scarce) resources into the coffers of their militaries, the weapons industry continues to report regular profit."

According to Berrigan, Lockheed Martin, the world's largest weapons manufacturer, reported sales of 42.7 billion dollars in 2008. The U.S.-based company, which just released its first quarter 2009 report, recorded 10.3 billion dollars in net sales, an increase of four percent over the same quarter last year. The company makes the Joint Strike Fighter (a 300-billion-dollar programme), the F-22 Raptor, missiles for planes, helicopters and land bases systems, and many other weapons of warfare.

Asked whether the rising trend in military spending would continue, Berrigan told IPS: "It is almost impossible to see how we can sustain these continued military spending increases." But, in the midst of record deficits, record job losses and the world economic outlook in generations, U.S. military spending increased by 20 billion dollars from 2008 to 2009.

The SIPRI data, she said, points to a strange corollary to the economic maxim, "A rising tide lifts all boats."


"One increased military budget causes other nations to feel insecure and put more money into their security budgets as well," Berrigan added. The SIPRI lists the 2008 U.S. military budget at 607 billion dollars followed by China (84.9 billion dollars), France (65.7 billion), Britain (65.3 billion) and Russia (58.6 billion).

The 2008 spending by the four aspirants to Security Council permanent membership reads: Germany (46.8 billion), Japan (46.3 billion), India (30 billion) and Brazil (23.3 billion).

According to the Yearbook, almost all regions and sub-regions have shared in the general increase in global military spending over the period 1999-2008. The major exception is Western and Central Europe, "where modest economic growth rates and the lack - as perceived by most countries - of a threat susceptible to conventional military responses has led to almost flat levels of real military spending."

Within this overall trend, however, some Central European countries' aspirations for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and interoperability have led to increased spending. In contrast, the sub-region with the most rapid growth in military expenditure between 1999 and 2008 was Eastern Europe, with a 147 percent increase.

The SIPRI Yearbook says the bulk of this growth (87 percent) is accounted for by Russia, whose military spending has been driven by high economic growth and the desire to re-establish its major power status.

The other sub-regions with the largest increases since 1999 are: North Africa (94 percent), North America (66 percent), East Asia (56 percent), and the Middle East (56 percent).


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