China’s military spend beats India, Japan, Korea & Australia

IDD Explainer

The Indo-Pacific is now global military hotspot. Military spends of countries have risen constantly in the past three decades. China is leading the dangerous race of weaponisation in the region. It is now spending much more on military than what India, Japan, South Korea and Australia spend collectively in an year.

The data on military spending was released by Swedish think-tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The report titled ‘Trends in world Military expenditure, 2019’ was released on April 27. Read the report here.

Global military expenditure is estimated to have been $1917 billion in 2019. “The total for 2019 represents an increase of 3.6 per cent from 2018 and the largest annual growth in spending since 2010,” the report said.  Global military spending in 2019 represented 2.2 per cent of the global gross domestic product (GDP), which equates to approximately $249 per person.

Dr Nan Tian, a SIPRI researcher and an author of the  report said “Global military expenditure was 7.2 per cent higher in 2019 than it was in 2010, showing a trend that military spending growth has accelerated in recent years”.

The top five account for 62 percent of all spending.

The United States is the leading spender  with $732 billion and accounts for 38 per cent of global military spending. China ( $ 261 billion) and India ( $ 71.1 billion) occupy the second and third spots. This is the first time that two Asian giants — India and China —  have featured among the top three military spenders.

Russia ( $ 65.1 billion) and Saudi Arabia ($ 61.9 billion) are at the fourth  and fifth spots, respectively.

The five largest spenders in 2019, accounted for 62 per cent of global expenditure.

Asian powers collectively  cannot match China

China  spent  a whopping $ 261 Billion on its military. This is much more than the $ 188.5 Billion which was spent collectively by India  ( $ 71.1 billion) , South Korea ( $ 43.9 Billion ), Japan ( $ 47.6 billion) and Australia ( $ 25.9 billion).

China’s $ 261 Billion spend is equivalent to 14 per cent of global military expenditure. Its military spending in 2019 was 5.1 per cent higher than in 2018 and 85 per cent higher than in 2010.

“China’s military expenditure has increased continuously since 1994.” 

SIPRI Report

The growth in its military spending has closely matched the country’s economic growth. Between 2010 and 2019, China’s military burden remained almost unchanged, at 1.9 per cent of its GDP

Weaponisation of the Indo-Pacific.

The Indo-Pacific is a strategic term and the SIPRI report defines Asia and Australia as part of a region as ‘Asia and Oceania’ hence covering the entire Indo-Pacific. Military spending in Asia and Oceania was $523 billion in 2019 and accounted for 27 per cent of the global total.

“The increase was due primarily to the rise in Chinese military spending of $ 261 Billion , in 2019 accounted for 50 per cent of total spending in the region. In 2010 China accounted  for 36 per cent of the share in the region”

Five of the top 15 global spenders in 2019 are in Asia and Oceania: China (rank 2), India (rank 3), Japan (rank 9), South Korea (rank 10) and Australia (rank 13).

The 4.8 per cent rise in the region’s military spending in 2019 continued an uninterrupted upward trend dating back to at least 1989. Asia and Oceania is the only region with continuous growth since 1989 and the growth of 51 per cent  over the decade 2010–19 was by far the largest of any region. Large part of this is going into the ‘carrier race’ in Asia. Read the IDD perspective on this here

There were substantial increases in all of Asia and Oceania’s subregions between 2018 and 2019 and over the decade 2010–19.

Defining  India’s  spend

At $71.1 billion, India had the highest military spending in South Asia in 2019. It was 6.8 per cent higher in 2019 than in 2018. “India’s military expenditure has risen significantly over the past few decades. It grew by 259 per cent over the 30-year period 1990–2019 and by 37 per cent over the decade 2010–19.”, says the report.

However, India’s military burden fell from 2.7 per cent of GDP in 2010 to 2.4 per cent in 2019. 

“India’s tensions and rivalry with both Pakistan and China are among the major drivers for its increased military spending”

Siemon T. Wezeman, SIPRI Senior Researcher

Pakistan’s own military expenditure rose by 70 per cent over the decade 2010–19, to reach $10.3 billion. Its military burden increased from 3.4 per cent of GDP in 2010 to 4.0 per cent in 2019.

Japan South Korea  and Australia

In addition to China, Japan and South Korea are the largest military spenders in East Asia. Military spending by Japan was $47.6 billion in 2019, 0.1 per cent lower than in 2018. Its spending increased by 2.0 per cent between 2010 and 2019. In South Korea the upward trend in military spending since 2000 continued. In 2019 its military spending reached $43.9 billion, an increase of 7.5 per cent on 2018 and of 36 per cent on 2010.

Australia is by far the largest military spender in Oceania and its military expenditure in 2019 was $25.9 billion. This was 2.1 per cent higher than in 2018 and 23 per cent higher than in 2010.

“Australia perceives heightened military threats in its neighbourhood, including from China, and globally.”

South East Asia reacting to events in South China Sea

Military spending in South East Asia increased by 4.2 per cent in 2019 to reach $40.5 billion, after a 4.1 per cent fall in 2018. Over the decade 2010–19 spending increased by 34 per cent. Seven of the eight states in the subregion for which data is available increased their military spending between 2010 and 2019. The largest spenders in the subregion in 2019 were Singapore (28 per cent of the subregional total), Indonesia (19 per cent) and Thailand (18 per cent).

“For several states the increases in the past decade are partly to pay for expansion of the capabilities of their armed forces as a reaction to Chinese claims and activities in the South China Sea”.

 United States drives global growth in military spending

The USA spent almost as much on its military in 2019 as the next 10 highest spenders combined.  Military spending by the United States grew by 5.3 per cent to a total of $732 billion in 2019 and accounted for 38 per cent of global military spending. The increase in US spending in 2019 alone was equivalent to the entirety of Germany’s military expenditure for that year.

“The recent growth in US military spending is largely based on a perceived return to competition between the great powers,” Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher at SIPRI.

This is the second year of growth in US military spending following seven years of continuous decline—between 2010 and 2017 spending fell by 22 per cent. The growth in the USA’s military spending between 2017 and 2019 can be attributed to an increase in personnel costs from the recruitment of 16 000 additional military personnel and the ongoing modernization of its conventional and nuclear weapon inventories. However, despite the recent increases, US military expenditure in 2019 remained 15 per cent lower than its peak in 2010 when the USA’s military burden was 4.9 per cent of GDP.

Can Covid disrupt

World military spending rose in each of the five years from 2015, having decreased steadily from 2011 until 2014 following the global financial and economic crisis. 2019 had the highest level of spending since the 2008 global financial crisis and probably represents a peak in expenditure. Data from previous global economic downturns suggests that the economic crisis flowing out of the Covid-19 pandemic could impact spending

“COVID-19 pandemic will probably disrupt future military spending. SIPRI is monitoring current developments to assess the extent of this crisis on military spending”.

Military expenditure refers to all government spending on current military forces and activities, including salaries and benefits, operational expenses, arms and equipment purchases, military construction, research and development, and central administration, command and support.

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