African military spending continues to decrease


Military expenditure in Africa has fallen for the fourth consecutive year, with major decreases recorded by Algeria, Angola and Sudan, according to new research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Whilst world military spending rose to $1.822 trillion in 2018, representing a 2.6% increase from 2017, spending in Africa fell by 8.4% last year to an estimated $40.6 billion or 2.2% of global military spending. This was the largest relative annual decrease since the post-cold war peak reached in 2014, SIPRI noted.

Despite four consecutive years of decreases, military expenditure in Africa was still 9.2% higher in 2018 than in 2009. Military spending in North Africa totalled $22.2 billion in 2018. This was a decrease of 5.5% compared with 2017 and the second consecutive year of decline. Nonetheless, spending in 2018 was 74% higher than in 2009.

In sub-Saharan Africa, military spending was $18.4 billion in 2018, down by 11% from 2017 and 21% lower than in 2009. The large decrease meant that, for the first time, North Africa (with only four countries) spent more than sub-Saharan Africa (with 45 countries). With a total of $9.6 billion in 2018, Algeria had by far the highest military spending in Africa. While in nominal terms Algeria’s military spending has remained the same since 2016, inflation meant that military expenditure fell in real terms by 6.1% between 2017 and 2018.

The decreases in spending by Angola and Sudan (–18% and –49%, respectively) largely accounted for the decline in military spending in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018. Angola’s military expenditure fell for the fourth consecutive year in 2018 to reach $2.0 billion. Lower oil prices since mid-2014 have placed the Angolan economy under severe stress, leading to cuts in government expenditure, including military spending. Sudan has faced a combination of economic crisis, continued violent conflict in the Darfur region and a surge in anti-government protests. This has contributed to the volatile development of Sudan’s military spending over the past five years, with decreases in spending in three years (2014, 2015 and 2018) and increases in two years (2016 and 2017).

Another notable decrease in military spending in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018 occurred in South Sudan (–50%). The fall in South Sudan’s military spending, the seventh over the past 10 years, arose in the context of the civil war in the country, which pushed the economy into further disarray. At $59.4 million, South Sudanese military spending in 2018 was only 4.2 % of the peak reached in 2011. This is a low figure and does not include the unknown level of funding to the military that is reportedly channelled from South Sudan’s state-owned oil company.

In contrast to the cuts described above, Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest spender behind South Africa, increased its military spending for the first time in six years, by 18% to $2.0 billion in 2018.

Internationally, SIPRI said that the five biggest military spenders in 2018 were the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, India and France, which together accounted for 60% of global military spending. Military spending by the USA increased for the first time since 2010, while spending by China grew for the 24th consecutive year. World spending is now 76% higher than the post-cold war low in 1998.

World military spending in 2018 represented 2.1% of global gross domestic product (GDP) or $239 per person. “In 2018 the USA and China accounted for half of the world’s military spending,” said Dr Nan Tian, a researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure (AMEX) programme. “The higher level of world military expenditure in 2018 is mainly the result of significant increases in spending by these two countries.”

US military spending grew—for the first time since 2010—by 4.6%, to reach $649 billion in 2018. The USA remained by far the largest spender in the world, and spent almost as much on its military in 2018 as the next eight largest-spending countries combined. “The increase in US spending was driven by the implementation from 2017 of new arms procurement programmes under the Trump administration,” said Dr Aude Fleurant, the director of the SIPRI AMEX programme.

China, the second-largest spender in the world, increased its military expenditure by 5.0% to $250 billion in 2018. This was the 24th consecutive year of increase in Chinese military expenditure. Its spending in 2018 was almost 10 times higher than in 1994, and accounted for 14% of world military spending. “Growth in Chinese military spending tracks the country’s overall economic growth,” says Tian. “China has allocated 1.9% of its GDP to the military every year since 2013.”

Military expenditure in Asia and Oceania has risen every year since 1988. At $507 billion, military spending in the region accounted for 28 % of the global total in 2018, compared with just 9.0 % in 1988.

In 2018 India increased its military spending by 3.1% to $66.5 billion. Military expenditure by Pakistan grew by 11% (the same level of growth as in 2017), to reach $11.4 billion in 2018. South Korean military expenditure was $43.1 billion in 2018—an increase of 5.1% compared with 2017 and the highest annual increase since 2005.

“The tensions between countries in Asia as well as between China and the USA are major drivers for the continuing growth of military spending in the region,” says Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher with the SIPRI AMEX programme.

Several countries in Central and Eastern Europe made large increases in their military expenditure in 2018. Spending by Poland rose by 8.9% in 2018 to $11.6 billion, while Ukraine’s spending was up by 21% to $4.8 billion. Spending by Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania also grew (ranging from 18% to 24%) in 2018.

“The increases in Central and Eastern Europe are largely due to growing perceptions of a threat from Russia,” said Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher with the SIPRI AMEX programme. “This is despite the fact that Russian military spending has fallen for the past two years.”

At $61.4 billion, Russian military spending was the sixth highest in the world in 2018. Its spending decreased by 3.5% compared with 2017.

Military spending in South America rose by 3.1% in 2018. This was mainly due to the increase in Brazilian spending (by 5.1%), the second increase in as many years.

Military spending by states in the Middle East for which data is available fell by 1.9 % in 2018. Six of the 10 countries with the highest military burden (military spending as a proportion of GDP) in the world in 2018 are in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia (8.8% of GDP), Oman (8.2%), Kuwait (5.1%), Lebanon (5.0%), Jordan (4.7%) and Israel (4.3%). The biggest decrease in military spending came from Saudi Arabia, which spent $4.6 billion less in 2018.