The Top 10 Countries by Military Spending in 2021
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has continued, military spending and technology has come under the spotlight as the world tracked Western arms shipments and watched how HIMAR rocket launchers and other weaponry affected the conflict.
But developing, exporting, and deploying military personnel and weaponry costs nations hundreds of billions every year. In 2021, global military spending reached $2.1 trillion, rising for its seventh year in a row.
Using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), this visualization shows which countries spent the most on their military in 2021, along with their overall share of global military spending.
Which Countries Spend the Most on Military?
The United States was the top nation in terms of military expenditure, spending $801 billion to make up almost 38% of global military spending in 2021. America has been the top military spending nation since SIPRI began tracking in 1949, making up more than 30% of the world’s military spending for the last two decades.
U.S. military spending increased year-over-year by $22.3 billion, and the country’s total for 2021 was more than every other country in the top 10 combined.
|Country||Military Spending (2017)||Military Spending (2018)||Military Spending (2019)||Military Spending (2020)||Military Spending (2021)|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$51.6B||$55.7B||$56.9B||$60.7B||$68.4B|
The next top military spender in 2021 was China, which spent $293.4 billion and made up nearly 14% of global military spend. While China’s expenditure is still less than half of America’s, the country has increased its military spending for 27 years in a row.
In fact, China has the largest total of active military personnel, and the country’s military spending has more than doubled over the last decade.
While Russia was only the fifth top nation by military spending at $65.9 billion in 2021, it was among the higher ranking nations in terms of military spending as a share of GDP. Russia military expenditures amounted to 4.1% of its GDP, and among the top 10 spending nations, was only beaten by Saudi Arabia whose spending was 6.6% of its GDP.
Military Collaboration Since the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has resulted in seismic geopolitical shifts, kicking off a cascade of international military shipments and collaboration between nations. The security assistance just sent by the U.S. to Ukraine has totaled $8.2 billion since the start of the war, and has shown how alliances can help make up for some domestic military spending in times of conflict.
Similarly, Russia and China have deepened their relationship, sharing military intelligence and technology along with beginning joint military exercises at the end of August, alongside other nations like India, Belarus, Mongolia, and Tajikistan.
Since China’s breakthrough in hypersonic missile flight a year ago, Russia has now been testing its own versions of the technology, with Putin mentioning Russia’s readiness to export weaponry he described as, “years, or maybe even decades ahead of their foreign counterparts”.
Sanctions and Energy Exports: New Weapons in Modern Warfare
Along with advanced weaponry, sanctions and energy commodities have become new tools of modern cold warfare. As Western economic sanctions attempted to cripple Russia’s economy following its invasion, Russian gas and oil supplies have been limited and forced to be paid in rubles in retaliation.
Global trade has been turned into a new battlefield with offshore assets and import dependencies as the attack vectors. Along with these, cyberattacks and cybersecurity are an increasingly complex, obscure, and important part of national military and security.
Whether or not Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ends in 2022, the rise in geopolitical tensions and conflict this year will almost certainly result in a global increase in military spending.
Ranked: Share of Global Arms Exports in 2022
The U.S. is the biggest weapons exporter in the world, but which other countries take up a significant share of global arms exports in 2022? And how has that share changed over time?
Ranked: Share of Global Arms Exports 2018–2022
In 2022, global military budgets hit $2.2 trillion, an eighth consecutive year of increase.
Part of those budgets were used for the procurement of arms, but which countries are major weapons suppliers, and how do they influence the global arms trade?
We chart out the top 10 countries with the biggest share of global arms exports using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Which Country Exports the Most Weapons?
The U.S. is the biggest weapons exporter, accounting for 40% of the total volume of international arms transfers between 2018–2022. Nearly one-fifth of these exports headed to Saudi Arabia, and other significant amounts went to Japan (8.6%) and Australia (8.4%).
Below we rank the biggest weapons exporters by share of total volume traded in 2018–2022, as well as their growth or decline from trends recorded in 2013–2017.
|Rank||Country||% share of global arms exports|
|% change between
2013-17 & 2018-22
|9||🇰🇷 South Korea||2%||+74%|
|N/A||🌐 Rest of World||9%||N/A|
Russia (16%) and France (11%) rank close together, followed by China (5%) and Germany (4%) to round out the top five major arms exporters.
However France’s export volumes grown considerably (+44%) from the previous five-year period, thanks to big sales to India, which included 62 combat aircraft and four submarines, one-third of all French weapons trade. This has resulted in France leapfrogging the U.S. as India’s second-largest weapons supplier after Russia.
On the other hand, Russia’s exports by volume has decreased (-31%) even before sanctions kicked in after the invasion of Ukraine. Its biggest trade partners, India and China, have prioritized developing their own weapons industries.
South Korea’s Surging Weapons Exports
Another country whose arms sales are skyrocketing is South Korea, which ranks 9th in the overall share of global arms exports, but has seen a 74% increase in its export volumes. Key recipients include the Philippines, India, and Thailand.
South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol has pledged to grow his country into the world’s fourth largest arms exporter by 2027.
Interestingly, South Korea is one of three countries which is both a top-10 arms exporter and importer (along with China and the U.S.) as it has many takers for domestically produced military equipment, while simultaneously being reliant on American-produced long-range missiles and advanced combat aircraft.
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