Top dollar. Now that’s what I call American exceptionalism! According to figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States did $610 billion of the world’s $1,776 billion of military expenditure last year. That’s almost three times as much as the second highest spenders, China. In fact, it’s nearly as much as all of the rest of the top ten – shown in the chart above – combined.
Rising yuan. But, thanks to the dictates of the US Budget Control Act of 2011, America’s military spending is on a downwards trend. Last year’s total was 19.8 per cent lower than the peak of 2010, even after inflation is accounted for. China’s, by contrast, has increased by 40.2 per cent in that time. Russia’s and Saudi Arabia’s budgets have also risen significantly.
The UK’s slide. This is the great divide in military spending: between governments in the West, who are cutting back after the financial crisis, and those everywhere else, who are doing the opposite and then some. The UK is part of this, of course. Our own military spending has been reduced by 12.7 per cent in the past five years. We’ve slipped from fifth in the top ten chart to sixth.
Another perspective. Admittedly, there are a thousand ways to look at the figures. As a proportion of GDP, the UK’s military spending is actually higher than China’s – 2.2 per cent against 2.1 per cent. But that’s not much to shout about. Both countries are pushed far out of the top ten on this measure, into 43rd and 44th. Oman sits at the top of the heap.
What now? I don’t say any of this to fetishise military spending. Like any budgets, defence budgets are beset by waste and can be streamlined. But what a tricky context for the Spending Review and Strategic Defence Review, as well as for other countries’ equivalents. The cuts were made in expectation of reduced military action. As it is, the entanglements of the past decade are proving difficult to unwind – and there could be new ones ahead.