Total military expenditure worldwide increased by 2.6% in 2020 reaching almost $2 trillion (€1.65 trillion), despite the global coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn, according to a report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on Monday.
Due to the global fall in gross domestic product (GDP), the so-called military burden — military spending as a share of GDP — rose to an average of 2.4%, up from 2.2% in 2019, the biggest year-on-year increase since the financial crisis of 2009.
"We can say with some certainty that the pandemic did not have a significant impact on global military spending in 2020," said Diego Lopes da Silva, a researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.
"It remains to be seen whether countries will maintain this level of military spending through a second year of the pandemic," he added.
Just five countries — the US, China, India, Russia and the UK — made up 62% of all military spending.
US responsible for two-fifths of global military spending
Some countries, such as Chile and South Korea, redirected funds from planned military expenditure to their pandemic response. Brazil and Russia also spent much less than their initial 2020 military budgets had planned for, SIPRI reported.
Chinese military expenditure grew for the 26th year in a row. However, military spending by the world's most populous country still fell behind the world's biggest military spender — the US, where spending in 2020 increased by 4.4% over 2019 to reach an estimated $778 billion.
The US accounted for 39% of total global military spending. Under former President Donald Trump, spending increased for three consecutive years after seven years of reductions.
"The recent increases in US military spending can be primarily attributed to heavy investment in research and development, and several long-term projects such as modernizing the US nuclear arsenal and large-scale arms procurement," said Alexandra Marksteiner, a researcher with SIPRI's Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.
"This reflects growing concerns over perceived threats from strategic competitors such as China and Russia, as well as the Trump administration's drive to bolster what it saw as a depleted US military," Marksteiner added.
More NATO countries hit spending targets
Germany increased its spending by 5.2% to a total of $52.8 billion in 2020, making it the world's seventh-largest military spender. The country's 2020 budget represented an increase of 28% over 2011.
Spending across Europe increased by 4% while 12 NATO member countries reached their spending target of 2% of GDP, up from just nine members in 2019. France achieved its NATO military spending target for the first time since 2009.
SIPRI researcher Lopes da Silva explained, however, that some countries likely met the threshold due to a fall in GDP as much as to a rise in spending.
"Although more NATO members spent more than 2% of GDP on their militaries in 2020, in some cases this probably had more to do with the economic fallout of the pandemic than a deliberate decision to reach the alliance's spending target," he said.