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Cold War foes US, Russia, spark biggest military spending jump in a decade

Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization pose for the Family Photo | July 11, 2018 (Shealah Craighead/White House)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Global military spending surged the most in a decade last year, boosted by Cold War foes the United States and Russia, as well as China, Saudi Arabia, and India.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said on April 27 that those five countries accounted for 62 percent of the $1.92 trillion doled out in global military expenditures in 2019.

Compared to 2018, total global military spending rose by 3.6 percent and represented the largest annual growth in spending since 2010.

U.S. military spending increased by 5.3 percent to $732 billion, accounting for 38 percent of global expenditures. That sum is almost as much as the next 10 highest spenders combined.

Russia, meanwhile, continued two decades of rising military expenditures at $65.1 billion in 2019, a 4.5 percent increase from 2018.

“The recent growth in U.S. military spending is largely based on a perceived return to competition between the great powers,” said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher at SIPRI.

China’s military expenditure reached $261 billion in 2019, or a 5.1 percent increase compared to the year before.

Russia’s military expenditure last year, the fourth highest in the world, was 175 percent higher than in 2000 and now accounts for 88 percent of military spending in Eastern Europe.

“At 3.9 percent of its GDP, Russia’s military spending burden was among the highest in Europe in 2019,” said Alexandra Kuimova, a researcher at SIPRI.

NATO Spending

Meanwhile, all 29 NATO member states combined spent $1.04 trillion, with large increases from Germany and Central and Eastern European alliance members.

In 2019, Bulgaria increased spending by 127 percent due to the purchase of new combat aircraft and Romania spent 17 percent more. Poland, which accounted for 38 percent of the total for Central Europe in 2019, has increased its military spending by 51 percent in the past decade.

Germany, which has come under pressure from the United States and other NATO members for not hitting alliance defense-spending targets, upped military spending by 10 percent to $49.3 billion.

“The growth in German military spending can partly be explained by the perception of an increased threat from Russia, shared by many North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states,” said Diego Lopes da Silva, a researcher at SIPRI.

In the Middle East, Iran’s military expenditure in 2019 dropped by 15 percent to $12.6 billion compared to a year earlier despite escalating tensions with the United States and regional rivals. This followed a 23-percent decrease in 2018.

SIPRI said the steep fall in Iranian military expenditures coincided with U.S. sanctions following Washington’s exit from the 2015 international nuclear accord.

The drop in Iranian military spending came despite its main regional rival Saudi Arabia spending $62 billion on its military in 2019, a high 8 percent of economic output.