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SIPRI details trends in World Military Expenditure 2020

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Read: 6476     14:41     26 April 2021    

World military expenditure in 2020 is estimated to have been $1981 billion, the highest level since 1988—the earliest year for which SIPRI has a consistent estimate for total global military spending. Dr. Diego Lopes da Silva, Dr. Nan Tian and Alexandra Marksteiner, researchers at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), present their analysis.


In 2020 was 2.6 percent higher in real terms than in 2019 and 9.3 percent higher than in 2011. The global military burden—world military expenditure as a share of global gross domestic product (GDP) —rose by 0.2 percentage points in 2020, to 2.4 percent. This increase was largely due to the fact that most countries in the world experienced severe economic downturns in 2020 related to the Covid-19 pandemic, while military expenditure continued to rise overall.

This Fact Sheet highlights the regional and national military expenditure data for 2020 and trends over the decade 2011–20. The data is from the updated open-access SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, which provides military spending data by country for the years 1949–2020.

The top 15 military spenders in 2020

Military expenditure by the top 15 countries reached $1603 billion in 2020 and accounted for 81 percent of global military spending. There were some changes in the composition and rank order of the top 15 between 2019 and 2020. Most notably, Israel entered the top 15 in place of Turkey, and the United Kingdom moved above Saudi Arabia—whose military spending fell by 10 percent—to become the fifth-largest spender in 2020.

All but three countries in the top 15 had higher military expenditure in 2020 than in 2011. The exceptions were the United States (–10 percent), the UK (–4.2 percent) and Italy (–3.3 percent). China’s increase in military spending of 76 percent was by far the largest among the top 15 over the decade 2011–20. Other top 15 countries with substantial increases between 2011 and 2020 were South Korea (41 percent), India (34 percent), Australia (33 percent) and Israel (32 percent).

With a military budget of an estimated $778 billion, the USA remained the world’s largest spender in 2020, accounting for 39 percent of global military spending (see figure 2). In 2020 the USA spent almost as much on its military as the next 12 largest spenders combined. The US military burden amounted to 3.7 percent of GDP in 2020, up by 0.3 percentage points on the previous year. US military expenditure in 2020 was 4.4 percent higher than in 2019. The 2020 financial year was the third consecutive year of growth in US military spending, following continuous real-terms decreases between 2010 — when US spending peaked—and 2017. The increases in the financial years covering 2018–20 can be attributed to focused investment in research and development and implementation of several long-term projects such as modernizing the US nuclear arsenal and largescale arms procurement. The main drivers of the increases in recent years were perceived threats to the USA from strategic competitors such as China and Russia and the push by former US President Donald J. Trump to build up what he saw as a depleted military.

China, the world’s second-largest military spender in 2020, is estimated to have accounted for 13 percent of the global total. The $252 billion spent on the military in 2020 was 1.9 percent higher than in 2019 and amounted to 1.7 percent of GDP. China’s military expenditure has increased for 26 consecutive years. This growth is the result of China’s long-term military modernization and expansion process. According to China’s Ministry of National Defense, the increase in 2020 was in part motivated by perceived threats to China’s national security-related to ‘power politics’.

At $72.9 billion, India’s military spending in 2020 was 2.1 percent higher than in 2019 and 34 percent higher than in 2011. This increase can be largely attributed to India’s ongoing conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir and renewed border tensions with China, as well as India’s more general rivalry with China as the main regional power in Asia and Oceania.

Russia’s military expenditure was $61.7 billion in 2020, 2.5 percent higher than in 2019 and 26 percent higher than in 2011. The increases in Russian spending in 2019 and 2020 followed decreases in 2017 and 2018. Before 2017, Russia’s military spending had risen for 18 straight years. Although Russia’s military spending grew overall in 2020, the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic appeared to have an immediate impact: Russia’s actual military spending in 2020 was 6.6 percent lower than its initial military budget.

Military expenditure by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members totaled $1103 billion in 2020. Six of the top 15 military spenders are members of NATO: the USA, the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Canada. Together, these six accounted for 90 percent ($995 billion) of total NATO spending and 50 percent of global military expenditure.

Among the top 15 spenders, the military burden increased between 2019 and 2020 in all countries except China. The GDPs of almost all the countries in the world decreased in 2020 largely as a result of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. In most countries, this led to an increase in the military burden irrespective of whether their military spending rose or fell in 2020 (see box 1). The most notable increases in military burden among the top 15 spenders in 2020 included Saudi Arabia (+0.6 percentage points), Russia (+0.5 percentage points), Israel (+0.4 percentage points) and the USA (+0.3 percentage points).

Regional trends

World military expenditure is heavily concentrated in two of the world’s five regions: in 2020 the Americas (43 percent) and Asia and Oceania (27 percent) together accounted for more than two-thirds of the global total (see table 2). Europe accounted for 19 percent of global military expenditure in 2020, making it the third-largest spending region. Africa had the smallest regional share, accounting for 2.2 percent of global military expenditure. Military spending in the Middle East is estimated to have accounted for roughly 9.0 percent of the world total in 2020 based on the limited data available for this region.

Military spending as a share of GDP

A country’s military expenditure as a share of GDP—also known as the military burden—is the simplest measure of the relative economic burden of the military on the country. The global military burden increased by 0.2 percentage points in 2020, which was the biggest annual increase since the global financial and economic crisis in 2009. The rise is mainly due to the fact that most countries in the world experienced severe economic downturns in 2020 related to the Covid-19 pandemic, while military expenditure continued to increase overall. For the same reasons, the average military burden increased in all five regions. The Americas had the lowest average military burden in 2020, at 1.5 percent of GDP. For countries in Africa, Asia and Oceania, and Europe, the average was slightly higher, at 1.8 percent of GDP. The highest average, 4.9 percent, was for the Middle East, based on countries for which data is available.

Of the 150 countries for which SIPRI provides military burden data for 2020, 24 had a military burden of 3.0 percent or more and 96 had a burden of 1.0–2.9 percent of GDP (see figure 4). Thirty countries had a military burden of less than 1.0 percent. The country with the lowest military burden in 2020 was Haiti (less than 0.01 percent of GDP), which re-established its military in 2017. Costa Rica, Iceland and Panama do not have a military and therefore have no military burden.

Five of the 10 countries with the highest military burdens in the world are in the Middle East: Oman, which spent 11 percent of its GDP on the military, Saudi Arabia (8.4 percent), Kuwait (6.5 percent), Israel (5.6 percent) and Jordan (5.0 percent). The other five are Algeria (6.7 percent), Azerbaijan (5.4 percent), Armenia (4.9 percent), Morocco (4.3 percent) and Russia (4.3 percent).

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