Written by Piero Messina
“Military spending on the military level is growing all over the world.” This is not true, because “since the end of the Cold War in 1990, defense spending has fallen both as a share of public spending and of the economy’s total output.” Who is telling the truth? Does anyone lie? Like every year, at the end of the year, we try to understand where the world is going. Military spending is a good indicator of the health of the planet. As always, however, it is a question of giving context to the information that comes from research centers and international organizations. Thus, it is possible that the same data, the same number, is read in a diametrically opposite way from two different sources.
And this is exactly what happens when reading and comparing the data provided by Sipri (the prestigious Stockholm think tank) with the analyzes carried out by the International Monetary Fund.
For the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the total volume of military spending grew by 2.9 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year. Furthermore, that value has increased by ten percentage points compared to 2011, a year marked by a very clear “before and after”, with the attack on the Twin Towers in New York and the launch of the anti-terrorism campaign by the United States.
Covid-19 hasn’t stopped the boom in military spending. Indeed, as predicted by analysts and experts, the virus has made the world even more insecure, pushing up defense budgets, which increased by 2.9% in 2020, against an estimated 4.4% decline in world GDP
The point of view of the analysts who signed the report for IMF is different: “The volume of international transfers of major arms in the five-year period 2016–20 was at almost the same level as in 2011–15 and remained at its highest level since the end of the cold war. However, the volume of transfers in 2016–20 was still 35 per cent lower than the peak reached in 1981–85, at the height of the cold war”.
It’s not just about the details. At stake is a precise and icastic “weltanschauung”.
One thing, however, is certain. The volume of world spending on the military sector is an enormous treasure, a total expenditure of nearly $ 2 trillion a year. In addition, $ 1.981 billion spent globally on defense is the largest value registered since 1988.
And it is an underestimate value, because it is impossible to establish the budget of some Middle Eastern countries with scientific precision. Hence, it is quite evident that Covid-19 hasn’t stopped the boom in military spending. Indeed, as predicted by analysts and experts, the virus has made the world even more insecure, pushing up defense budgets, which increased by 2.9% in 2020, against an estimated 4.4% decline in world GDP. The military sector, therefore, not only has not suffered negative effects from the pandemic from Covid 2019, but has even recorded the greatest increases since the financial and economic crisis of 2008.
In the analysis dedicated to 2020 data, the latest available to date, the SIPRI researchers explain that the “world military expenditure is estimated to have been US$1981 billion in 2020. Total spending was 2.9 per cent higher than in 2019 and 9.3 per cent higher than in 2011”.
Military spending is growing to varying degrees on each continent. According to swedish report, “military spending increased in at least four of the world’s five regions: by 5.1 per cent in Africa, 4.0 per cent in Europe, 3.9 per cent in the Americas and 2.5 per cent in Asia and Oceania”.
The United States remains dominating the ranking, with 778 billion dollars, 4.4% more than in 2019 and a military budget equal to 4.8% of GDP. China follows, with expenses of 252 billion, 1.9% more on 2019, but 76% more on 2011, confirming the constant rise of the Dragon (here a focus). Beijing’s budget increases have been steady for 26 years. Third place in the podium is India, which had already overtaken Saudi Arabia last year. New Delhi’s budget is $ 73 billion, 1.2% more than in 2019. In fourth place is Russia, with 61.7 billion dollars, + 2.5% compared to 2019 and + 26% on 2011. Already last year, the increase in military spending in Moscow indicated a reversal of trend after two years of reductions (2017-2018). The quintet of “big spenders” includes the United Kingdom, with a budget of over 59 billion dollars (+ 2.9% compared to 2019), equal to 2.5% of its GDP. The data on Saudi Arabia go against the trend. For the third year in a row, Prince Bin Salman has cut military spending. In 2020, it cut its budget by 10 percent, which is now estimated at around $ 57 billion. According to analysts, Saudi Arabia’s spending is directly linked to cash availability and, therefore, to oil revenues. But this, after all, is already another story.
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