The increase of military spending in the world in light of the “Covid-19”

The U.S‭. ‬and its allies are using a new forum started by the Pentagon’s top artificial intelligence office to work toward developing Artificial Intelligence‭ (‬AI‭) ‬systems that can connect in the future to help them fight better together‭.‬

Despite the‭ “‬Covid-19‭” ‬pandemic‭, ‬which was supposed to reduce global military spending in favor of spending on other aspects‭, ‬health‭, ‬social‭, ‬humanitarian and relief‭, ‬to alleviate the burden of this pandemic‭, ‬the latest estimates indicate the opposite‭, ‬according to the latest report issued by the Stockholm International Research Institute‭. ‬Peace‭ (‬SIPRI‭), ‬in April 2021‭, ‬the total global military spending rose to 1.981‭ ‬trillion dollars in 2020‭, ‬an increase of 2.6%‭ ‬compared to 2019‭, ‬and this in turn raises a host of questions about the factors behind the continuous increase behind global military spending‭? ‬What are the geopolitical indications for the continuation of this increase‭? ‬And its potential repercussions on international peace and security‭?‬

Mmilitary spending

There are many theoretical trends around the concept of military spending‭, ‬one of which focuses on the narrow meaning that is limited to a country’s defense budget‭, ‬and the abstract numbers that represent it‭, ‬which include spending on the armed forces‭, ‬whether in terms of armament‭, ‬development‭, ‬modernization‭, ‬or training‭. ‬Another trend that adopts a more comprehensive view is that‭ ‬military spending includes‭, ‬in addition to the above‭, ‬civilian projects in which the state invests in civilian sectors related to the armed forces‭, ‬such as infrastructure and basic projects and other service projects that are reflected in one way or another on the performance of the armed forces‭.‬

However‭, ‬the prevailing trend is the most comprehensive of military spending‭, ‬which is adopted by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute‭ (‬SIPRI‭), ‬which views military spending as including all aspects of spending related to the armed forces‭, ‬the tasks that they perform both inside and outside the country‭, ‬and joint projects with civilian bodies‭. ‬Defense and military industries‭, ‬investment in modern technology‭, ‬spending on maintenance‭, ‬research and development‭, ‬military assistance provided from‭ ‬one country to another‭, ‬and military participation in external missions‭, ‬whether in crisis and conflict areas or in peacekeeping operations‭.‬

The military spending of a country is affected by its economic conditions‭, ‬the nature of its relations with its neighbors‭, ‬and developments in the regional and international environments‭, ‬in other words‭, ‬a country that has a strong economy tends to increase its military spending as it is a strategic necessity to maximize its armed strength‭, ‬and then its comprehensive strength‭, ‬on the basis that the armed force is in any state constitutes the main pillar of maximizing its comprehensive power and enhancing its political weight in the international system‭. ‬Meanwhile‭, ‬countries that face economic problems will reduce their military spending‭, ‬because their priorities will be focused on the development and service aspects that are related to the lives of their citizens‭.‬

Military spending in a country is also affected by the nature of its relations with its neighbors‭, ‬and if these relations are dominated by the conflict side‭, ‬it increases its military spending‭ – ‬even if it suffers from economic problems‭ – ‬on the basis that‭ ‬this would maximize its military deterrent power in the face of its opponents‭. ‬At the same time‭, ‬developments in the regional and international environments are reflected in one way or another on global military spending‭, ‬as happened during the Cold War era in which the world witnessed a sharp polarization between the western camp led by the United States of America and the eastern camp led by the Soviet Union‭, ‬when the axes and alliances appeared‭, ‬which was embodied in NATO in the face of the‭ “‬Warsaw‭” ‬alliance‭, ‬and there was a fevered arms race and increased spending on unconventional‭, ‬biological and nuclear weapons between the two superpowers‭, ‬which ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the eighties of the last century‭.‬

With the end of the Cold War‭, ‬military spending declined‭ – ‬temporarily‭ – ‬and then quickly returned to the rise in the last decade of the third millennium‭, ‬as a result of competition between major powers over conflicts and influence in the world‭, ‬and the emergence of new types of wars such as trade‭, ‬technological‭, ‬space and cyber wars‭, ‬which led to a return to the phenomenon of the‭ ‬global arms race‭.‬

Indicators of Global Military spending in Light of COVID-19

The annual report issued by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute‭ (‬SIPRI‭), ‬in April 2021‭, ‬confirms the continued‭ ‬increase in global military spending‭, ‬despite the‭ “‬Covid-19‭” ‬pandemic‭, ‬which led to the contraction of the global economy and a‭ ‬decline in growth rates in most countries of the world‭. ‬According to the report data‭, ‬total global military spending rose to 1.981‭ ‬trillion dollars in 2020‭, ‬an increase of 2.6%‭ ‬compared to 2019‭.‬

It was remarkable in this context that the proportion of military spending as a share of the gross domestic product reached a global average of 2.4%‭ ‬in 2020‭, ‬up from 2.2%‭ ‬in 2019‭, ‬and this is the largest annual increase since the global financial and economic crisis in 2009‭. ‬This was contrary to the expectations that the‭ “‬Covid-19‭” ‬pandemic would lead to a reduction in global military spending in favor of other economic and social priorities‭, ‬to mitigate the repercussions of this pandemic on the world‭.‬

According to the report‭, ‬the countries and regions with the highest spending on arms in the world‭, ‬are as follows‭:‬

1‭ ‬The United States‭, ‬China‭, ‬India‭, ‬Russia‭, ‬and the United Kingdom‭ ‬were among the five largest spending countries in the military field in 2020‭, ‬and together they accounted for 62%‭ ‬of total global military spending‭, ‬as US military spending reached‭ $ ‬778‭ ‬billion‭, ‬an increase of 4.4%‭ ‬over 2019‭, ‬to account for 39%‭ ‬of total global military spending‭. ‬China came in second place‭. ‬The value of its military expenditures in 2020‭ ‬reached 13‭ ‬percent of the total global military spending‭. ‬In the third place came India‭, ‬with its military spending amounting to 72.9‭ ‬billion dollars‭ (‬about‭ ‬3.7‭ ‬percent of the global military expenditure‭). ‬In fourth place is Russia‭, ‬with its military spending amounting to 61.7‭ ‬billion dollars‭, ‬about‭   (‬3.1%‭ ‬of global spending‭), ‬and in fifth place is the United Kingdom‭ (‬59.2‭ ‬billion dollars‭, ‬equivalent to 3%‭ ‬of total global military spending‭.‬

2‭ ‬Military spending in the countries of the Asia and Oceania region continued to rise‭, ‬in addition to China and India‭, ‬Japan spent‭ ($ ‬49.1‭ ‬billion‭), ‬South Korea‭ ($ ‬45.7‭ ‬billion‭), ‬and Australia‭ ($ ‬27.5‭ ‬billion‭), ‬and Asia is one of the regions experiencing a continuous increase in military spending since 1989‭, ‬due to considerations related to border tensions and geopolitical conflicts taking place‭.‬

3‭ ‬Military spending for most of NATO countries increased in 2020‭, ‬as 12‭ ‬of its members spent about 2%‭ ‬or more of GDP on developing their armies‭, ‬with an increase of three countries compared to‭ ‬2019‭, ‬for example‭, ‬Germany ranked seventh where it spent‭ $ ‬52.8‭ ‬billion‭, ‬an increase of 5.2%‭. ‬France‭, ‬which ranks eighth in the‭ ‬world in terms of military spending‭, ‬surpassed the 2%‭ ‬threshold for the first time since 2009‭. ‬These estimates are consistent with what was stated in the annual report of NATO issued in March 2021‭, ‬which indicated that 2020‭ ‬was the sixth year in a row in‭ ‬which there was an increase in defense spending by various European allies and Canada‭, ‬with an actual increase of 3.9%‭, ‬as the total military spending of the thirty members of the Alliance reached‭ $ ‬1,028‭ ‬trillion‭ (‬860‭ ‬billion euros‭).‬

4‭ ‬The combined military spending of 11‭ ‬Middle Eastern countries decreased by 6.5%‭ ‬in 2020‭, ‬and reached‭ $ ‬143‭ ‬billion‭, ‬equivalent to 9%‭ ‬of global military spending‭. ‬But according to the report’s data‭, ‬only four countries increased their military spending rates‭, ‬as Egypt increased its spending by 7.3%‭, ‬Israel by 2.7%‭, ‬Jordan by 2.5%‭, ‬and the Sultanate of Oman by 1.7%‭.‬

5‭ ‬Military spending in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 3.4%‭ ‬in 2020‭, ‬to reach‭ $ ‬18.5‭ ‬billion‭. ‬The largest increase was made by Chad‭, ‬Uganda‭, ‬Nigeria‭, ‬Mali and Mauritania‭, ‬due to considerations related to tensions and conflicts and confronting extremist and terrorist organizations in this region‭.‬

An analytical reading of military spending trends in the world

The previous statistics contain a set of important military‭, ‬political and strategic implications‭, ‬as follows‭:‬

1‭ ‬The general trend of military spending in the world is constantly increasing‭, ‬regardless of the global crises‭, ‬disasters and pandemics that burden the global economy‭, ‬at a time when the‭ “‬Covid-19‭” ‬pandemic was supposed to lead to a decline in this spending or at least its stability at its previous levels‭, ‬especially in countries that faced difficulties in dealing with the pandemic and mitigating its repercussions‭, ‬many countries of the world continued to have high military spending‭, ‬and the map of the countries that spent the most in the year 2020‭ (‬the first year of the pandemic‭) ‬did not change from the previous year‭. ‬Without denying that‭, ‬a limited number of countries in the world have reconsidered their priorities as part of their response to deal with the repercussions left by the pandemic‭, ‬by reducing part of their military spending and directing it to spending on health and social aspects‭.‬

2‭ ‬Although global military spending mainly focused on modernizing and developing states‭’ ‬conventional and non-conventional military capabilities‭, ‬another aspect has started to gain more attention recently‭, ‬which is investment in research and development and artificial intelligence technology‭, ‬which is of great importance for the defense‭, ‬military and technological industries‭, ‬and to the race between the major powers for control of the arms market in the world‭.‬

3‭ ‬Since the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s until 2020‭, ‬the world has witnessed a steady increase in military spending‭, ‬but it is worth noting that while military spending increased in the four regions‭ (‬the Americas‭, ‬Europe‭, ‬Asia and Africa‭), ‬it‭ ‬decreased in the Middle East in 2020‭, ‬as shown in the figure below‭, ‬which is a testament to the continuing atmosphere of conflict and tension in the regional and international environments‭.‬

What is behind the increase in military spending in the world‭?‬

There is no doubt that the increase in military spending in the world is behind a set of factors and considerations‭, ‬which can be explained as follows‭:‬

1‭ ‬The domination of the nature of tension and conflict over international relations‭, ‬not only between the major powers that compete with each other for influence and position in the post‭-“‬Covid-19‭” ‬world‭, ‬but also between many regional powers in different regions around the world‭, ‬each of which seeks to achieve strengthening its regional‭ ‬role at the expense of others‭, ‬and all this represents one of the main reasons that explains the continued increase in its military spending and the modernization of its arsenal of weapons‭.‬

2‭ ‬The vast majority of countries in the world‭, ‬especially the international and regional powers‭, ‬still view military power as a title of their comprehensive strength‭, ‬a symbol of their political influence‭, ‬and a deterrent force in the face of challenges and dangers that pose a threat to their‭ ‬national security and supreme interests‭. ‬Therefore‭, ‬they maintain constant rates of the level of their military spending which‭ ‬may increase or decrease sometimes‭, ‬depending on the economic situation and nature of changes and developments in the regional and international security environment‭.‬

3‭ ‬Conflicts and military confrontations taking place in many regions around the world‭, ‬in part‭, ‬explain the continued increase in‭ ‬global military spending‭, ‬which pushes the parties involved in them to spend more on modernizing and developing their arsenals of conventional and non-conventional weapons‭, ‬especially in light of the faltering efforts to settle these disputes‭. ‬According to the report of the International Institute for Strategic Studies for the year 2021‭, ‬the map of conflicts in many regions around the world is experiencing more complexity‭, ‬as clearly embodied in the Middle East region‭, ‬where the conflicts in Libya‭, ‬Syria and Yemen continue‭, ‬and the conflict continues in Ukraine as well‭. ‬In Africa‭, ‬many armed conflicts still rage‭, ‬and their impact on global military spending cannot be ignored‭.‬

4‭ ‬Combating terrorism and extremist organizations‭:‬‭ ‬The increase in global military spending is partly related to the ongoing war against terrorism in many regions around the world‭, ‬which witness the presence of many extremist and terrorist organizations‭, ‬as is the case in the Sahel and Sub-Saharan regions‭ ‬in Africa‭, ‬whose countries came among the countries that spend the most on weapons in the year 2020‭, ‬as the threat of terrorism‭ ‬has increased significantly in this region since the beginning of the year 2021‭, ‬as many of its countries have been subjected to terrorist operations by organizations affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIS‭. ‬According to the Global Terrorism Index for 2020‭, ‬the‭ ‬increase in ISIS activity in sub-Saharan Africa is the main factor behind the escalation of the threat of terrorism in that region‭, ‬as the organization carried out 41%‭ ‬of its total attacks in this region‭. ‬There is no doubt that confronting the threat of terrorism and confronting extremist organizations across borders explains‭, ‬in part‭, ‬the steady increase in global military spending‭, ‬not only for countries that are already facing the threat of terrorism‭, ‬but also for the major powers that allocate part of‭ ‬their defense budgets to external participations aimed at addressing this threat‭, ‬as is the case in Sub-Saharan Africa‭, ‬Afghanistan‭, ‬and some countries in the Middle East‭.‬

Finally‭, ‬the steady increase in the rates of global military spending in the year 2020‭, ‬although it reflects the dominance of the nature of tension and conflict in international relations‭, ‬and the escalation of competition between major and regional powers‭ ‬to enhance their influence in the post‭-“‬Covid-19‭” ‬world‭, ‬it indicates at the same time to the return of the global arms race in‭ ‬a way that surpasses the stage of the Cold War‭, ‬especially in light of the escalation of the role of technology‭, ‬especially artificial intelligence and cyber-attacks‭, ‬in reshaping future wars‭.

Sources and references

Stockholm International Peace Research InstituteSIPRI‭, ‬World military spending rises to almost‭ $‬2‭ ‬trillion in 2020,26‭ ‬April 2021‭,‬https‭://‬


‮»‬‭ ‬By‭: ‬Gamal Nazi
‭(‬Military Affairs‭’ ‬Researcher‭)‬

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