Military Expenditures Remain Near Peak

Michael Renner | Nov 19, 2013

In 2012, world military expenditures ran to $1,740 billion, expressed in constant 2011 dollars ($1,753 billion in current prices).1 According to the World Military Expenditure Database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), this is just slightly below the peak value of $1,749 billion in 2011, but still higher than in any other year since the end of World War II.2 

The A lack of transparency limits data availability for some countries. Excluding the four countries for which there are no consistent data over the years (Afghanistan, Honduras, Iraq, and Qatar), SIPRI offers a time series of global military spending for the past 25 years. After the end of the cold war, spending declined by about one third, from $1,613 billion in 1988 to $1,053 billion in 1996.3 But it did not take long for budgets to bottom out and grow again. Starting in 1998 and particularly following the September 2001 attacks in the United States, military budgets were resurgent, expanding by 65 percent.4 (See Figure 1.)

A variety of factors drive military expenditures, although the precise circumstances and motivations differ substantially across the world. In some countries warfare—against either a neighboring country or a domestic opponent—is the key driver. Other countriess maintain considerable military establishments even though they face little prospect of attack. Deterrence is often invoked as a key reason, but some countries—like the United States, the United Kingdom, and France—routinely intervene in the affairs of other countries. 

Military Expenditures Figure 1

The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organization known around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. Learn More