Global Military Spending Hit Record Levels in 2020 Amid Pandemic: Think Tank

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Chinese military medics arrive at the Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan last year. (Li Yun/Xinhua via AP)

LONDON (AFP) — Global military spending, driven in part by Chinese naval expansion, reached record levels in 2020 despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic contraction, a British think-tank said on Thursday.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said military spending reached $1.8 trillion last year — a 3.9% increase in real terms over figures for 2019.

The London-based think-tank said in its annual “Military Balance” publication that expenditure rose “despite the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent contraction in global economic output.”

The United States remained the world’s largest defense spender in 2020, IISS said, accounting for 40% of $738 billion globally. 

China, by comparison, accounted for 10.6% or $193.3 billion.

Beijing’s military spending was the driving force behind growth in Asia’s overall defense expenditure, and accounted for 25% of the continent’s spending in 2020. 

Asia’s upward trend in military expenditure continued last year albeit at a slightly slower pace than in 2019.

“Several countries adjusted their defense budgets to redirect funds to crisis relief or economic stimulus measures,” the IISS said. 

“However, others simply reduced or deferred planned spending growth rather than implementing cuts,” it added.

The IISS also highlighted Chinese military expansion and the significant growth of its naval fleet, a response driven in part by to Beijing’s ambitions in the South China Sea.

Total European defense spending grew by 2% in real terms in 2020, the IISS said.

Europe’s NATO members also continued increasing military expenditure, continuing a trend seen every year since 2014 as threat perceptions sharpened following Russia’s seizure of Crimea.

However, most NATO members are still far from the objective of devoting 2% of their GDP to defense by 2024. 

In 2020 only nine of the alliance’s European members met the target.

“The commitment by key players to increase their defense budgets in 2021 and beyond signals an intention to avoid the cuts that followed the 2007−08 financial crisis,” the report said referring to European nations like the UK, France, Germany and Italy.

In 2019, the world saw the largest recorded increase in military spending a decade, with 4% growth, fueled by rivalry between major powers and a race for new technologies.  

© Agence France-Presse

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