Global military spending tops $2 trillion for the first time
According to a new analysis from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, global military spending topped $2.1 trillion in 2021, the first time it has surpassed the $2 trillion mark. Over 38 percent of that total — $801 billion — was accounted for by the United States. Figures for 2022 will rise even higher on the strength of substantial spending increases in the United States and Europe in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and due to the misguided notion that China represents a “pacing threat” that calls for sharp increases in Pentagon outlays.
It’s hard to overstate just how much the United States and its allies dominate world military spending figures. As of 2021, the United States alone was spending over two and one-half times on its military than what China spent, and over 12 times what Russia spent. Just four U.S. NATO allies — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy — together spend over three times what Russia spends on its military. And adding Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan’s spending to the U.S. total puts the United States and its closest regional allies together at well over three times what China spends.
But of course, throwing money at the Pentagon doesn’t necessarily make anyone safer. Much of the funding steered to the Department of Defense is wasted on a misguided strategy and dysfunctional or unnecessary weapons programs like the F-35 combat aircraft and the new intercontinental ballistic missile, now officially known as the Sentinel. And despite pledges to “put diplomacy first” in U.S. foreign policy, when it comes to budget allocations the Biden administration’s approach is clearly “put the Pentagon first.”
And the threats being cited to justify near record levels of spending for the Department of Defense are the same ones the Trump administration cited in its National Defense Strategy: China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and what used to be called the “Global War on Terror.” Aside from the administration’s on-again, off-again effort to revive the Iran nuclear deal, the above-mentioned threats are too often addressed through military means and military preparations rather than by a comprehensive diplomatic strategy. Meanwhile, climate change, the greatest existential threat to the planet alongside the risk of a nuclear conflict, has taken a back seat in funding and policy development while military spending runs out of control.
Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine clearly calls for a response, but it’s not clear why it can or should jack up the Pentagon budget for years to come, especially given pledges by Germany and other U.S. European allies to do more in their own defense.
So, for what it’s worth, America is #1 in global military spending, but we need a thorough overhaul of our approaches to strategy and weapons procurement. Pouring more money into the same broken system is a recipe for failure.