Worldwide spending on defense is a whopping $1686 billion. But, 80% of this amount was spent by the top 15 countries alone. The US spent $611 billion, more than any other country in the world, which is 36% of the worldwide total.
Here is the List of top 15 countries as per total defense spending (nominal)
Number 15: Israel
- Defense Expenditure: $18 billion
- Percent of GDP: 5.8
- Comments: Israel is the smallest country in this list in terms of area, population and GDP. But, due to its history and presence of some hostile countries in its vicinity, means that out always has to stay prepared for a war. Israel’s defense spending is in part funded by the US in the form of military aid. Israel is one of the few countries on this list to have mandatory conscription (although there are some restrictions based on religion). Israel has a highly developed defense industry, why three of the hundred largest defense companies located there.
Number 14: UAE
- Defense Expenditure: $22.8 billion
- Percent of GDP: 5.7
- Comments: UAE (United Arab Emirates) is the second largest defense spender in the Middle East and fourteenth largest in the world. Although it’s defense spending in absolute number as well as a share of GDP is very large, it produces a few weapons on its own, is heavily dependent on arms import from other countries primarily the US and European countries. But the situation is changing very fast. UAE now not only produces arms but exports them also, although in small numbers.
Number 13: Brazil
- Defense Expenditure: $23.7 billion
- Percent of GDP: 1.3
- Comments: Brazil is the fifth most populated country in this world and eighth largest as per GDP PPP, but its defense spending is very small as a share of its GDP. In the last decade, Brazil was spending big on its military, largely due to high economic growth led by its commodities export to China. However, China’s economy is not in a very good shape right now, which means fewer imports. Brazil is one of the countries affected by this. Current Brazilian President Michael Temper is taking austerity measures, which means that defense spending will further reduce.
Number 12: Australia
- Defense Expenditure: $24.6 billion
- Percent of GDP: 2.0
- Comments: Australia is the twelfth largest defense spender in the world and the largest among its neighbors. Australia’s neighboring country Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world, but it is not military minded. But, China’s rise as a major military power is a big concern for Australia. That’s why Australia is spending big on its armed forces, especially its Navy and Air Force. Australia is one of the few countries in the world which has aircraft carriers in its Navy.
Number 11: Italy
- Defense Expenditure: $27.9 billion
- Percent of GDP: 1.5
- Comments: Italy’s defense spending is the fourth largest in Europe and eleventh largest in the world, however that is very small as a share of Italy’s GDP. There is an interesting pattern in this list that, all the countries which were on the losing side of the Second World War (Italy, Japan, and Germany) spend very less as a share of their GDP on their defense. Italy is committed to NATO, but otherwise, it is not involved in any major conflict in the world. The US, under President Donald Trump, is pressing countries in NATO to spend more on their defense, or as he says, “pay their fair share”, but that also is also not going to change things much.
Number 10: South Korea
- Defense Expenditure: $36.8 billion
- Percent of GDP: 2.7
- Comments: South Korea has a very complicated relationship with the only country it shares its land borders with, North Korea. Both North Korea and South Korea got separated as a result of Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union and the Korean War. Both the neighbors are heavily militarized, and the land border between them is one of the most heavily defended in the world. Another major concern for South Korea is an increasingly militarily dominating China. South Korea is the only country on this list other than Israel to have conscription (compulsory only for males).
Number 9: Germany
- Defense Expenditure: $41.1 billion
- Percent of GDP:1.2
- Comments: Germany, like Italy and Japan, was on the losing side of the second world war. German people desperately wanted to improve their image, especially because of the Nazi history. So, the Germans kept themselves out of foreign conflicts. Similar to Italy, Germany’s defense spending as a share of GDP is very low. Although two of its neighbor France, and the UK are involved in many conflicts around the world, Germany remains distant from conflicts, at least militarily.
Number 8: Japan
- Defense Expenditure: $46.1 billion
- Percent of GDP: 1.0
- Comments: Japan’s post World War 2, pacifist constitution gives permission only for a self-defense force. Which means that Japan’s defense spending as a share of its GDP is minuscule. However, China’s rise as a military power and Shinzo Abe’s desire for a militarily stronger Japan is changing the scene very fast. Japan is rapidly developing modern warfighting technologies, becoming one of a few countries in the world which are developing stealth aircraft. As Japan’s defense spending increases further, Japan will soon take over as the seventh or sixth biggest spender in the world.
Number 7: The UK
- Defense Expenditure: $48.3 billion
- Percent of GDP: 1.9
- Comments: The UK is Europe’s second largest defense spender, and the world’s ‘seventh’ biggest. Brexit will have some impact on the UK’s economy, but its defense spending is not going to change much. In fact, the UK just commissioned its latest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy. However, the rise in Japan’s defense spending means that the UK will not remain in the seventh rank on this list for long.
Number 6: France
- Defense Expenditure: $55.7 billion
- Percent of GDP: 2.3
- Comments: France is Europe’s biggest defense spender. Defense plays a big role in France’s economy, with one of the biggest defense companies in the world located there. France has made some big military commitments overseas, especially in the African continent, hence there is no slowing down of defense spending. France will continue to be Europe’s biggest defense spender but eventually, Japan will take its place as the ‘sixth’ biggest defense spender in the world.
Number 5: India
- Defense Expenditure: $55.9 billion
- Percent of GDP: 2.5
- Comments: Indian Government under Narendra Modi is likely to continue massive increases in defense spending in the coming years. While Indian economy is not in a very good shape, it is not in a bad shape either. The economic growth rate is much better than that of Saudi Arabia and Russia. In a few years, India is expected to become the third biggest defense spender, pushing aside both Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Number 4: Saudi Arabia
- Defense Expenditure: $63.7 billion
- Percent of GDP: 10
- Comments: Saudi Arabia slipped to number 4, primarily because of decline in oil prices, which forced it to cut spending. Unless there is rebound in oil prices, which is unlikely, Saudi defense spending will decrease further. This means that it will have a hard time keeping up the number ‘four’ position. Another important fact is that Saudi Arabia does not have a defense industry, meaning that almost everything related to defense is imported, that too from a few western countries (depending upon only a few countries is a very dangerous situation for a military).
Number 3: Russia
- Defense Expenditure: $69.2 billion
- Percent of GDP: 5.3
- Comments: Russia regained its position as the third biggest defense spender, after the decline in oil prices forced Saudi Arabia to cut spending. Oil prices are not going to ever recoup their former glory hence, their position as the third biggest defense spender is safe, at least as of now.
Number 2: China
- Defense Expenditure: $215 billion
- Percent of GDP: 1.9
- Comments: China’s defense spending growth slowed this year, and it will continue this way given the shape of the economy. Although defense spending will continue to increase in absolute numbers, it will remain number ‘two’ as it spends a third of the US’ spending, and three times the number three (Russia).
Number 1: The USA
- Defense Expenditure: $611 billion
- Percent of GDP: 3.3
- Comments: The US spends more on defense than any other country. Its defense spending is more than that of the next five countries combined. With a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers and hundreds of foreign military bases, the US is the only country in the world to have the capability of projecting its forces on multiple places in the world simultaneously. In the near future, even in the coming decades, the US will continue to hold number ‘one’ position, as it spends approximately three times the nearest competitor, China.
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