NATO military spending over 12 times more than Russia in 2016, SIPRI data shows


NATO military spending over 12 times more than Russia in 2016, SIPRI data shows

NATO’s collective military expenditure rose to $881 billion in 2016 (or 52 per cent of the world total of $1686 billion, according to new figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). 

Russia’s military spending in 2016 was $69.2 billion, an increase of 87 per cent since 2007, which has enabled Moscow to modernize its armed forces and use them in the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. However, the increased spending is a heavy burden on the Russian economy, which is in serious trouble due to low oil and gas prices. And despite these increases, NATO member states collectively spent over 12 times more on the military in 2016 than Russia. Together, the European NATO members spent $254 billion in 2016—over 3 times more than Russia.

The United States remains the country with the highest annual military expenditure in the world. US military spending grew by 1.7 per cent between 2015 and 2016 to $611 billion (but still 20 per cent lower than its peak in 2010). Military expenditure in Western Europe rose for the second consecutive year and was up by 2.6 per cent in 2016, while overall spending in Central Europe grew by 2.4 per cent. Italy recorded the most notable increase, with spending rising by 11 per cent between 2015 and 2016.

The SIPRI data shows that trends and patterns in military expenditure vary considerably between regions. Spending continued to grow in Asia and Oceania, Central and Eastern Europe and North Africa. By contrast, spending fell in Central America and the Caribbean, the Middle East (based on countries for which data is available), South America and sub-Saharan Africa. SIPRI also launched a new visual representation of its military spending data, where it is possible to explore how the world spent $1.69 trillion (that’s $1 690 000 000) on the military in 2016 and how this has changed over the past 10 years.

Finally, in a timely media backgrounder, SIPRI also compared current NATO military spending against the NATO 2 per cent of GDP commitment. NATO members are currently expected, but are not required, to maintain a level of military spending equivalent to 2 per cent of their GDP. The fact that a majority of NATO members do not reach the 2 per cent of GDP target has periodically led to questions regarding their commitment to NATO’s common defence efforts, as well as to claims of ‘free-riding’ on the resources devoted by other NATO members, especially the United States.

SIPRI’s simulated spending totals have been calculated for all NATO member states, including for those that spent more than 2 per cent of GDP on the military in 2016—namely Estonia, France, Greece and the USA. In SIPRI’s 2 per cent of GDP simulation, major increases in military expenditure would be seen for Belgium, Canada, Denmark Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and a host of smaller NATO member states. However, NATO’s total spending would decrease by $159 billion or 18 per cent (mainly because USA spending at 2 per cent of GDP would drop by 39 per cent or $240 billion). Overall, military expenditure by NATO’s European member states in 2016 would be at $320 billion, an increase of $66 billion or 26 per cent compared with current spending patterns. Germany would become the world’s fourth largest spender with a total of $69 billion, which is $200 million short of Russia’s spending in 2016. In a realistic world where US spending would remain at current levels and would not fall to 2 per cent of GDP, spending in NATO would reach $962 billion—57 per cent of the world total in 2016.

The transatlantic burden-sharing debate is not new. However, the idea that the US is protecting Europe at American taxpayer expense is a misrepresentation of both the NATO budgeting process and the nature and scope of US defence spending. Large parts of the US military budget have nothing whatsoever to do with NATO or European security, but go towards a global military presence. Europe’s militaries are (with a few exceptions) appropriately scaled for their actual needs, although some states probably do need to spend more intelligently (and some countries may need to increase or pool their defence spending). In contrast, the US also needs to spend much less and shift the focus to “soft” security expenditure. The case for reducing and rebalancing US security resources is overwhelming but is often the “elephant in the room” during transatlantic burden sharing discussions. As indicated by the SIPRI data, the USA could generate a $159 billion peace dividend by reducing its spending to the NATO 2 per cent of GDP commitment.