The World

Russia Now Spends More of Its Wealth on the Military Than the United States

Soldiers of the Presidential Regiment march during the Change of Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow on April 9, 2014. 

Photo by Kirill Kudryavstev/AFP/Getty Images

In light of the increasingly tense situation in eastern Ukraine, the most eye-grabbing fact in the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s newly updated military spending database may be that for the first time in nearly a decade, Russia is spending a greater percentage of its GDP on its military than the United States. Russia’s defense spending increased by 4.8 percent last year and has increased more than a third under a military modernization program undertaken following the 2008 Georgia war.

Elsewhere in the world, amid rising tensions with Iran, Saudi Arabia is now the Middle East’s pre-eminent military power with the fourth-highest military spending in the world. China increased its spending 7.4 percent to $188 billion.

Algeria, where autocratic President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, already in power for 15 years, will almost certainly win a fourth term this week, became the first African country with the dubious achievement of spending more than $10 billion on its military. Oil-rich Angola boosted spending by 36 percent as well.

Overall, military spending around the world actually fell, though every region of the world increased its spending except for North America, Western Europe, and Oceania. The overall fall was driven largely by reductions from the United States caused by “the end of the war in Iraq, the beginning of the drawdown from Afghanistan, and the effects of automatic budget cuts passed by the US Congress in 2011.” The U.S. still accounts for 37 percent of the world’s military spending.  European countries cut back as well.

Convergence is certainly too strong a word—there’s still a long gap between the United States and the two superpowers that follow it, and between those three countries and everyone else. But the numbers show developing countries in something of a race to catch up.