US Drives Down Global Defense Spending

The countries with the 15 largest military budgets in 2013 accounted for a whopping 79 percent of global defense spending.

US Drives Down Global Defense Spending
Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The United States drove down global defense spending for the second year in a row, according to new data released by a European think tank today.

On Monday the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its annual military expenditures data. It found that global defense spending declined by nearly 2 percent in 2013 even as it rose everywhere outside of the West.

According to a SIPRI press release: “The fall in the global total comes from decreases in Western countries, led by the United States, and despite increases in all other regions. In fact, military spending in the rest of the world excluding the USA increased by 1.8 percent.”

Overall, the world spent $1.75 trillion on defense in 2013. This was the second straight year in which global defense spending declined. As The Diplomat previously reported, 2012 marked the first global defense spending had fallen since 1998. The rate of decline hastened in 2013, however, with defense spending falling 1.9 percent compared to just 0.4 percent in 2012.

U.S. defense spending fell 7.8 percent in real terms in 2013, with Washington spending $640 billion on the military. Roughly half of the nominal decline ($20 billion of a total of $44 billion) was due to cuts to the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, which has been used primarily to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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America’s $640 billion defense expenditure was still far and away the largest amount spent by any country. SIPRI estimated that China, the country with the next highest defense expenditure, spent some $188 billion on the military in 2013. This accounted for 2 percent of its GDP, 0.1 percent less of its GDP than China is estimated to have spent on defense a decade ago.

Still, SIPRI estimates that China’s defense expenditure rose 7.4 percent in 2013 compared with 2012, and that Beijing’s military spending increased by 170 percent between 2004 and 2013. By way of comparison, SIPRI estimates that U.S. military spending only increased 12 percent during this time. At the same time, the U.S. defense budget accounts for 37 percent of global military expenditures while China only accounts for 11 percent of worldwide defense spending. Combined, the countries with the 15 largest military budgets in 2013 accounted for a whopping 79 percent of global defense spending.

Russia, the country with the third largest military budget, saw a sizeable increase in the amount it spent on defense in 2013. SIPRI estimates that Russia spent just short of $88 billion of the military in 2013, a 4.8 percent increase in real terms from 2012. SIPRI attributed this increase to the armament plan Russia is implementing through 2020. Russia’s defense spending accounted for 4.1 percent of its GDP, more than twice as large a military burden as China. Defense now constitutes a greater burden on the Russian economy than on America’s. This is the first time this has happened over the last decade, according to a fact sheet published by SIPRI.

Overall, SIPRI reports that “military expenditure in Asia and Oceania increased by 3.6 percent in 2013, to reach $407 billion.” East Asia comprises the vast majority of that spending, with $282 billion of defense spending in that part of Asia. China leads the way in Northeast Asian nations. Indeed, for all the talk from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan’s defense spending remained essentially unchanged in 2013, and it fell from having the fifth largest defense budget in 2012 to having just the eighth largest in 2013. India also fell from the eighth largest military budget worldwide to the ninth largest. South Korea’s military budget increased slightly in 2013. With other budgets declining, Seoul moved up the ranks from the twelfth largest defense spender in 2012 to the tenth largest in 2013.