Even as global GDP dropped by 4.4% owing to the coronavirus pandemic last year, the world continued decade-long trend of buying more weapons.

As per a report compiled by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), worldwide military spending last year rose 2.6% compared to 2019 figures, reaching $1.981 trillion. The United States ($778 billion or ~39% of global total), China ($252 billion), India ($72.9 billion), Russia ($61.7 billion), and the United Kingdom ($59.2 billion) are named among those nations with the largest military budgets.

Military expenditure by the top 15 countries reached $1.603 trillion in 2020 and accounted for 81% 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 U.K. moved above Saudi Arabia—whose military spending fell by 10%—to become the fifth largest spender in 2020.

The report notes that the growth occurred amid a significant 4.4% decrease in global GDP, caused mainly by the pandemic, with the global military burden (as a share of global GDP) reaching 2.4 percent, and breaking the previous record of 2.2 percent. This is the highest military expenditure since the severe financial crisis of 2008-9.

The main drivers of the increases in U.S. military spending in recent years were perceived threat 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, the SIPRI report said.

The share of world military expenditure of the 15 countries with the highest spending in 2020 @SIPRI

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% higher than in 2019. 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.

While COVID-19 did not have a significant impact on global military spending in 2020, some countries such as Brazil and Russia allocated significantly less funds for military purposes than originally planned.

Russia’s military expenditure was $61.7 billion in 2020, 2.5% higher than in 2019. Although its military spending grew overall in 2020, the actual amount spent was 6.6% lower than its initial military budget.

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