US world military spending plummets

Ashley Chhibber 24 April 2013

According to figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) this month, 2012 saw the first drop in world military expenditure since 1998, as Australia, Japan and multiple countries in North America and Western and Central Europe implemented wide-ranging spending cuts.

Perhaps most significant is the fall in military spending by the United States, a trend which is set to continue with additional military cuts planned for 2013. Although the drop in 2012 only amounted to 6 percent or $682 billion, this has nonetheless resulted in the America's military expenditure slipping below 40 percent of the world share for the first time since the Cold War.

Yet due to increased military expenditure elsewhere, particularly in China (7.8 percent), Russia (16 percent) and the Middle East, the worldwide fall in real terms only amounts to 0.5 percent, leaving current world expenditure at a staggering $1.75 trillion.

Oman showed the largest increase worldwide (51 percent), although in Latin America, Paraguay (43 percent) and Venezuela (42 percent) were not far behind. Saudi Arabia showed the largest military expenditure as a percentage of GDP (8.9 percent); the figure for the USA was 4.4 percent, while that for the UK was 2.5 percent, approximately $60 billion (£38 billion).

In a press release, the Director of SIPRI's Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme, Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman, has suggested that the data might show "the beginning of a shift in the balance of world military spending from the rich Western countries to emerging region."

The small size of the net drop, despite austerity measures in many more developed countries, suggests that the importance in international relations of ‘soft' economic power is yet to completely remove that of ‘hard' military might. Although the West shows an increasing preference for the former, countries less able to wield economic influence continue to seek security in the threat of violence, or in a physical defence.

However, if China continues to develop hard power alongside the soft power seen in its economic expansion in Africa, as suggested by the 7.8 percent rise in military expenditure, America – especially after President Obama completes his term of office – may have no choice but to do the same, or risk being finally toppled from its superpower status. Only time will tell.

Ashley Chhibber

Photo – mikebaird