Global arms spending hits record despite downturn
2010-06-03 0:00

By Niklas Pollard |

Worldwide military spending surged to a record $1.5 trillion last year, defying an economic downturn caused by the global financial crisis, a leading think tank said on Wednesday.

Military spending last year rose 5.9 percent in real terms compared to 2008 with the United States accounting for more than half of that increase, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in its annual report on arms spending.

"The far-reaching effects of the global financial crisis and economic recession appear to have had little impact on world military expenditure," the think tank said.

"Although the USA led the rise, it was not alone. Of those countries for which data was available, 65 percent increased their military spending in real terms in 2009."

Global gross domestic product (GDP) suffered a rare contraction last year, shrinking 0.9 percent according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, as the financial crisis sent economies across the world into recession.

SIPRI, which conducts independent research on international security, armaments and disarmament, said the rise in spending reflected the mild economic slowdown for some major purchasers, such as China, but also longer-term strategic aims.

"Many countries were increasing public spending generally in 2009, as a way of boosting demand to combat the recession. Although military spending wasn’t usually a major part of the economic stimulus packages, it wasn’t cut either," said Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure Project.

"The figures also demonstrate that for major or intermediate powers such as the USA, China, Russia, India and Brazil, military spending represents a long-term strategic choice which they are willing to make even in hard economic times."


U.S. military spending, burdened by huge costs for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, rose 7.7 percent in real terms to hit $661 billion, more than six times as much as China, the second biggest spender ahead of France, Britain and Russia.

But China’s rise as a global military power becomes clearer when viewed over the past decade. During that period its military spending has surged 217 percent compared to a 76 percent rise for the United States and an increase of 49 percent globally.

The economic crisis severely strained public finances in many countries, not least in southern Europe, and the daunting task of cutting gaping budget deficits might hold back arms spending in the coming years, the think tank said.

"For many countries, the need to cut deficits will mean a reckoning in 2010 or 2011, in which military spending will likely be one area that comes under scrutiny for potential cuts," SIPRI said in the report.

"For others, however, this reckoning may be delayed, or may not come at all. In the USA, the Obama administration’s budgets for financial years 2010 and 2011 show U.S. military spending -- boosted by the escalating conflict in Afghanistan -- continuing its seemingly inexorable rise -- crisis or no."

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