World military expenditure passes $2 trillion; increases slightly in Africa


Total world military expenditure increased fractionally in 2021 to reach $2 113 billion, surpassing the $2 trillion mark for the first time, new research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has revealed. Military spending also increased in Africa.

SIPRI on 25 April said 2021 saw the seventh consecutive year of spending increases, with the five largest spenders last year being the United States, China, India, the United Kingdom and Russia, together accounting for 62% of expenditure.

“Even amid the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, world military spending hit record levels,” said Dr Diego Lopes da Silva, Senior Researcher with SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme. “There was a slowdown in the rate of real-terms growth due to inflation. In nominal terms, however, military spending grew by 6.1%.”

As a result of a sharp economic recovery in 2021, the global military burden — world military expenditure as a share of world gross domestic product (GDP) — fell by 0.1 percentage points, from 2.3% in 2020 to 2.2% in 2021.

African expenditure on the rise

Military expenditure in Africa increased by 1.2% in 2021 to an estimated $39.7 billion, SIPRI reported. The total for Africa was almost evenly split between North Africa (49% of the regional total) and sub-Saharan Africa (51%). Over the decade 2012–21, African military spending followed three distinct trends. It first rose continuously between 2012 and 2014, followed by four years of decline until 2018 and then three consecutive years of growth until 2021, to give an overall increase of 2.5%.

In 2021 North African military expenditure totalled $19.6 billion, 1.7% lower than in 2020, but 29% higher than in 2012. The long-standing tensions between the two largest spenders in North Africa — Algeria and Morocco — worsened in 2021. Algeria’s military expenditure fell by 6.1% in 2021, to reach $9.1 billion, while Morocco’s spending grew by 3.4%, to $5.4 billion.

In 2021 military expenditure in sub-Saharan Africa totalled $20.1 billion, 4.1% higher than in 2020, but 14% lower than in 2012. The increase in 2021 was the first in sub-Saharan Africa since 2014 and was primarily driven by Nigeria, the biggest spender in the subregion. Between 2020 and 2021, Nigeria raised its military spending by 56%, to reach $4.5 billion. The increase came in response to Nigeria’s various security challenges, such as attacks by Islamist extremists and separatist insurgents.

South Africa, the second largest spender in the subregion, cut its military expenditure by 13%, to $3.3 billion in 2021. The country’s prolonged economic stagnation has severely impacted its military budget.

In 2021 Kenya, Uganda and Angola were, respectively, the third, fourth and fifth largest military spenders in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the decade 2012–21, Kenya and Uganda have both faced insurgencies that have influenced their military spending. Between 2012 and 2021, military expenditure rose by 203% in Uganda but remained relatively stable in Kenya (down by 4.5%). Military spending by Angola fell by 66% over the same period. The worsening economic conditions in Angola from around 2015 — largely caused by low oil prices and slumps in its oil production — and the slow pace of economic recovery in more recent years were central to the sharp drop in Angolan military spending over the decade.

Global trends

US military spending amounted to $801 billion in 2021, a drop of 1.4% from 2020. The US military burden decreased slightly from 3.7% of GDP in 2020 to 3.5% in 2021.

US funding for military research and development (R&D) rose by 24% between 2012 and 2021, while arms procurement funding fell by 6.4% over the same period. In 2021 spending on both decreased. However, the drop in R&D spending (–1.2%) was smaller than that in arms procurement spending (–5.4%).

“The increase in R&D spending over the decade 2012–21 suggests that the United States is focusing more on next-generation technologies,” said Alexandra Marksteiner, Researcher with SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme. “The US Government has repeatedly stressed the need to preserve the US military’s technological edge over strategic competitors.”

Russia increased its military expenditure by 2.9% in 2021, to $65.9 billion, at a time when it was building up its forces along the Ukrainian border. This was the third consecutive year of growth and Russia’s military spending reached 4.1% of GDP in 2021.

“High oil and gas revenues helped Russia to boost its military spending in 2021. Russian military expenditure had been in decline between 2016 and 2019 as a result of low energy prices combined with sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014,” said Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, Director of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme.

The ‘national defence’ budget line, which accounts for around three-quarters of Russia’s total military spending and includes funding for operational costs as well as arms procurement, was revised upwards over the course of the year. The final figure was $48.4 billion, 14% higher than had been budgeted at the end of 2020.

As it has strengthened its defences against Russia, Ukraine’s military spending has risen by 72% since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Spending fell in 2021, to $5.9 billion, but still accounted for 3.2% of the country’s GDP.

China, the world’s second largest spender, allocated an estimated $293 billion to its military in 2021, an increase of 4.7% compared with 2020. China’s military spending has grown for 27 consecutive years. The 2021 Chinese budget was the first under the 14th Five-Year Plan, which runs until 2025.

Following initial approval of its 2021 budget, the Japanese Government added $7.0 billion to military spending. As a result, spending rose by 7.3%, to $54.1 billion in 2021, the highest annual increase since 1972. Australian military spending also increased in 2021: by 4.0%, to reach $31.8 billion.

“China’s growing assertiveness in and around the South and the East China seas have become a major driver of military spending in countries such as Australia and Japan,” said SIPRI Senior Researcher Dr Nan Tian. “An example is the AUKUS trilateral security agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States that foresees the supply of eight nuclear-powered submarines to Australia at an estimated cost of up to $128 billion.”