Mapped: The World's Top Countries for Military Spending
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Mapped: The World’s Top Countries for Military Spending

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Mapped The World's Top Military Spenders in 2020

Mapped: The World’s Top Countries for Military Spending

By practically any measure, the world today is more peaceful and less war-torn on a global scale, relative to the past.

For instance, declarations of war between nations and soldier casualties have both dropped drastically since the 20th century. Yet, military spending has not followed this trend.

The Top 10 Military Spenders

According to SIPRI, global military spend reached almost $2 trillion in 2020. The top 10 countries represent roughly 75% of this figure, and have increased their spending by $51 billion since the year prior.

Here’s how the worlds top 10 military spenders compare to each other:

RankCountryMilitary Spend 2020 ($B)% ChangeMilitary Spend 2019 ($B)
#1🇺🇸 United States $778.0+6.2%$732.0
#2🇨🇳 China$252.0-3.4%$261.0
#3🇮🇳 India$72.9+2.5%$71.1
#4🇷🇺 Russia$61.7-5.2%$65.1
#5🇬🇧 United Kingdom$59.2+21.5%$48.7
#6🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$57.5-7.1%$61.9
#7🇩🇪 Germany$52.8+7.1%$61.9
#8🇫🇷 France$52.7+5.1%$50.1
#9🇯🇵 Japan$49.1+3.1%$47.6
#10🇰🇷 South Korea$45.7+4.1%$43.9
Total$1,481.6+3.5%$1,430.7

The U.S. isn’t labeled as a global superpower for nothing. The country is by far the largest military spender, and its $778 billion budget trumps the remainder of the list’s collective $703.6 billion. On its own, the U.S. represents just under 40% of global military spending.

This year, Saudi Arabia has lost out on a top five seat to the UK, after a 7.1% decline in spending compared to a 21.5% increase for the UK.

Military Spend as a Percentage of GDP

Military expenditures as a percentage of GDP can be used to compare military spending relative to the size of a country’s economy.

Military Spend as a Share of GDP

Click here to view a high-resolution version of this image.

When looking at things this way, many of the top spenders above do not appear. This may be an indication of their economic prowess or a demonstration that the money might be used for other vital areas such as education, healthcare, or infrastructure.

RankCountryRegionSpend as a % of GDP (2020)
#1🇴🇲 OmanMiddle East11.0%
#2🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaMiddle East8.4%
#3🇩🇿 AlgeriaNorth Africa6.7%
#4🇰🇼 KuwaitMiddle East6.5%
#5🇮🇱 IsraelMiddle East5.6%
#6🇷🇺 RussiaEurope/Asia4.3%
#7🇲🇦 MoroccoNorth Africa4.3%
#8🇮🇶 IraqMiddle East4.1%
#9🇺🇦 UkraineEurope4.1%
#10🇵🇰 PakistanSouth Asia4.0%

It’s pretty rare for countries to reach double digits for military spending as a percentage of GDP. In this case, Oman is an outlier, as the Middle Eastern country’s spending relative to GDP grew from 8.8% last year, to 11% in 2020.

Many of the countries with the highest military spending to GDP are located in the Middle East—a reflection of the escalating conflicts that have persisted in the region for well over two decades.

It’s worth noting that some data for the Middle Eastern region are estimates, due to the aforementioned regional instability.

More Spending to Come?

Global military spending figures are at a 32-year high, despite the pandemic’s effect on shrinking economic output.

World Military Spend 1988-2020

Although a major war hasn’t occurred in some time, it’s not to say the geopolitical mood hasn’t been tense.

The last 12 months or so have witnessed some nail-biting moments including:

  • Border disputes between China and India
  • Heightening tensions between China and Taiwan
  • Russia’s military presence in eastern Ukraine
  • The hacking of SolarWinds, a Texas-based company, by Russia
  • The ongoing Yemen crisis
  • An Israel-Iran feud

Will 2021 extend the trend of peace, or will rising military spending mean even higher tensions?

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Which Countries are the Most Polarized?

This chart plots polarization for various countries based on the Edelman Trust Institute’s annual survey of 32,000+ people.

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Which Countries are the Most Polarized?

How do you measure something that’s made headlines for half a decade but is still difficult to quantify? We’re talking about polarization.

Even within the social sciences, polarization covers everything from racial segregation, to labor skill levels, to class divide, to political ideology.

How Do You Quantify Polarization?

Edelman’s data on which countries are the most polarized comes from survey results asking respondents two very simple questions:

  • How divided is their country?
  • How entrenched is the divide?

The questions help bring to light the social issues a particular country is facing and the lack of consensus on those issues.

Plotted against each other, a chart emerges. A country in the top–right corner of the chart is “severely polarized.” Countries located closer to the lower–left are considered less polarized.

In the report, Edelman identifies four metrics to watch for and measure which help quantify polarization.

Economic AnxietiesWill my family be better off in five years?
Institutional ImbalanceGovernment is viewed as unethical and incompetent.
Class DividePeople with higher incomes have a higher trust in institutions.
Battle for TruthEcho chambers, and a low trust in media.

Following Edelman’s metrics, countries with economic uncertainty and inequality as well as institutional distrust are more likely to be polarized. Below, we look at key highlights from the chart.

Severely Polarized Countries

Despite being one of the largest economies in Latin America, Argentina is the most polarized country surveyed by a large margin. Foreign loan defaults, a high fiscal deficit, and now surging inflation have created a perfect storm in the country.

43% of the Argentinian respondents said they will be better off in five years, down 17 percentage points from last year.

Along with fiscal upheaval, Argentinians are also dealing with enduring corruption in the public sector and abrupt policy reversals between governments. Only 20% of those surveyed in Argentina said they trusted the government—the least of all surveyed countries.

Here are all six of the countries considered to be severely polarized:

    🇦🇷 Argentina
    🇨🇴 Colombia
    🇺🇸 United States
    🇿🇦 South Africa
    🇪🇸 Spain
    🇸🇪 Sweden

In the U.S., heightened political upheaval between Democrats and Republicans over the last few years has led to strengthening ideological stances and to an abundance of headlines about polarization. Only 42% of respondents in the country trust the government.

And in South Africa, persistent inequality and falling trust in the African National Congress also check off Edelman’s metrics. It’s also second after Argentina with the least trust in government (22%) per the survey.

Moderately Polarized Countries

The biggest cluster of 15 countries are in moderately polarized section of the chart, with all continents represented.

    🇧🇷 Brazil
    🇰🇷 South Korea
    🇲🇽 Mexico
    🇫🇷 France
    🇬🇧 United Kingdom
    🇯🇵 Japan
    🇳🇱 Netherlands
    🇮🇹 Italy
    🇩🇪 Germany
    🇳🇬 Nigeria
    🇹🇭 Thailand
    🇰🇪 Kenya
    🇨🇦 Canada
    🇦🇺 Australia
    🇮🇪 Ireland

Some are on the cusp of being severely polarized, including economic heavyweights like Japan, the UK, France, and Germany. On the other hand, smaller economies like Thailand, Kenya, and Nigeria, are doing comparatively better on the polarization chart.

Less Polarized Countries

Countries with fair economic outlook and high trust in institutions including China, Singapore, and India are in the bottom left sector of the chart.

    🇮🇩 Indonesia
    🇨🇳 China
    🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
    🇸🇬 Singapore
    🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
    🇲🇾 Malaysia
    🇮🇳 India

It’s interesting to note that of the seven countries in that sector, three are not democracies. That said, there are also more developing countries on this list as well, which could also be a factor.

Looking Ahead

Edelman notes that polarization is both “cause and consequence of distrust,” creating a self-fulfilling cycle. Aside from the four metrics stated above, concerns about the erosion of civility and weakening social fabric also lead to polarization.

Edelman polarization quote

As global events unfold in 2023—including looming worries of a recession—it will be fascinating to see how countries might switch positions in the year to come.

Where does this data come from?

Source: The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer

Data note: Survey conducted: Nov 1 – Nov 28, 2022. Survey included 32,000+ respondents in 28 countries. Russia was omitted from this year’s survey. See page 2 of the report for more details.

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