Military spending hit record levels worldwide in 2021, passing $2 trillion for the first time despite the economic fallout from the pandemic, according to a new report.
Among the report’s key findings was the boost Russia gave to its military budget in the lead-up to the war in Ukraine. Moscow’s official military spending in 2021 increased by 2.9 percent to $65.9 billion, or just over 4 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product, according to SIPRI.
The Kremlin tapped into its high oil and gas revenues last year to fund the expenditures, said Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, director of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Program. In the years following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, low energy prices and the impact of Western sanctions had hobbled Moscow’s military spending.
But in 2021, Russia repeatedly revised its “national defense” budget line, which allocates funds for operational costs and arms procurement, eventually making a 14 percent increase over its 2020 budget.
Nan Tian, a senior researcher at SIPRI, said operational costs could be linked to Russia’s movement of troops to the Ukrainian border. But the exact distribution of funds is not included in the budgets made available to SIPRI, which does not have access to classified or off-the-book spending.
“Looking back, maybe there were signs that many people might have missed that there was this imminent threat,” Nan said of Russia’s military spending and its invasion of Ukraine.
But, he said, “what we really see is that Russia’s military spending is very much tied to its economy.”
Overall, SIPRI says that global military spending has risen for seven consecutive years, including as the world struggled with the financial impact of the covid-19 pandemic.
“I thought that maybe countries would decrease military spending in favor of, say, health care,” Nan said. Instead, many countries increased spending on both, taking on more debt or loans and deprioritizing funds for other sectors.
The United States remains by far the world’s biggest military spender, comprising 38 percent of the global share. China ranked second, making up 14 percent of global expenditures, and marking an increase for 27 consecutive years.
China’s spending has also pushed others to boost expenditures. Japan reported its highest increase in military spending since 1972. Australia also raised its budget by 4.0 percent to $31.8 billion, bringing its spending percentage in line with Italy and Canada.
There were some other notable changes as well. Saudi Arabia’s military budget declined, moving it down in rank from the world’s fourth to eighth largest spender. Iran’s budget, meanwhile, increased to the fourteenth largest, its first time in twenty years being part of the top fifteen spending countries.