Global military spending rose again in 2021, setting new records as Russia continued to build up its military ahead of its invasion of Ukraine, a leading institute said on Monday, predicting the trend would continue especially in Europe.
Despite the economic fallout from the covid-19 pandemic, global military spending grew by 0.7% last year, according to the report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).
“In 2021, military spending increased for the seventh consecutive year, reaching $2.1 trillion. This is the highest figure we have ever recorded,” Diego Lopes da Silva, a researcher at Sipri, told AFP.
Russian spending ‘much higher’ than average
Russia’s spending rose 2.9%, for the third year in a row, to $65.9 billion. Russian military spending accounted for 4.1% of the country’s GDP, a level “much higher than the world average”, said Diego Lopes da Silva.
Revenues from oil and gas exports allowed the country to fund these large military expenditures. It is difficult to predict whether Russia will be able to maintain this level of spending, however, said Diego Lopes da Silva, due to the wave of sanctions imposed by the West in response to aggression in Ukraine.
In 2014, during the annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the country was also targeted by sanctions as energy prices plummeted, making it difficult to assess the effectiveness of the sanctions.
“Now (…) we have even tougher sanctions, but we have higher energy prices which can help Russia keep its military spending at this level,” he added.
American Technological Advantage
On the other hand, Ukraine’s military spending has increased by 72% since the annexation of Crimea. Although these expenditures have decreased by more than 8% in 2021 to reach $5.9 billion, they still represent 3.2% of the country’s GDP.
As tensions in Europe increased, NATO member countries increased their spending. Last year, eight members of the alliance reached their target of 2% of GDP devoted to the military budget.
Diego Lopes da Silva said he expected military spending to continue to rise. The United States, which far outpaced all other nations with $801 billion spent in 2021, bucked the global trend and cut spending by 1.4%.
Over the past decade, US spending on research and development has increased by 24%, while arms purchases have fallen by 6.4%.
“The US government has repeatedly stressed the need to preserve the technological advantage of the US military over its strategic competitors,” said Alexandra Marksteiner, another Sipri researcher.
China drags its neighbors in its wake
China, the world’s second-biggest military spender with an estimated $293 billion, increased spending by 4.7 percent, marking the 27th consecutive year of spending increases. The strengthening of Chinese military capabilities has prompted its regional neighbors to in turn increase their military budgets.
Japan spent $7 billion, a 7.3% increase, the biggest annual increase since 1972. Australia also spent 4% more on its military, reaching $31.8 billion in 2021. India, the world’s third biggest spender at $76.6 billion, also increased its funding in 2021, but by a more modest 0.9%.
The UK is in fourth place, with a 3% increase in military spending to $68.4 billion. It replaces Saudi Arabia, which cut spending by 17% to an estimated $55.6 billion.
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