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Global Defense Spending Up 4% in 2019

Global Defense Spending Up 4% in 2019

Sunday, 16 February, 2020 - 13:45
Chinese military vehicles carrying DF-17 ballistic missiles roll during a parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China in Beijing, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

The world's defense expenses rose 4% in 2019, compared to the previous year, a report released by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) revealed on Friday.

The report -- Military Balance 2020 --, which was revealed at the Munich Security Conference, showed the year 2019 posted the largest annual increase in defense spending during the last decade.

The institute prepares the report annually based on its global survey with 171 countries.

The report, of which Asharq Al-Awsat exclusively received a copy- starts by showcasing an unstable international security environment dominating defense debates. It reveals how key elements of the rules­based international order that characterized the post-­Second World War period are being challenged. The demise of the Intermediate­Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty exemplifies this most clearly, with its collapse precipitated by Russian breaches as well as the Trump administration’s determination – with an eye to China’s military modernization – that the bilateral accord had outlived its usefulness. Nonetheless, Russia showed United States’ inspectors its new Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle in late November 2019 as part of its obligations under the New START treaty. Indeed, it is noteworthy that in the current climate, observers are looking nervously not just towards Moscow, but also anxiously in the direction of Washington for signs of interest in maintaining this remaining element of the strategic arms­control architecture when it comes up for renewal in 2021.

In its seventh chapter, the report featured defense strategies in the Middle East and North Africa region, where it pointed out that Egypt, Qatar, Oman, and Saudi Arabia are working on "recapitalizing elements of their combat-aircraft fleets." It noted that Iran's aggressive activity in the Strait of Hormuz and other areas has prompted the United States to try to build an international coalition under the name of the International Alliance for the Safety and Protection of Maritime Navigation and Insurance of the Safety of Seaways.

Furthermore, the report highlighted military capabilities- including those of land, maritime, and aerial armies- while also referring to cyber capabilities. The US ranked high on the scale of spending, followed by China, then Saudi Arabia, followed by Russia.

Today’s challenges

In this environment of continuous, evolving and even accelerating competition, the response options for Western states might include integrating increasingly novel technologies or spending more to stay ahead. Alternatively, they could accept a leveling playing field as a new norm and adapt their strategies instead. This relates not just to conventional mili­tary power but also to cyber capability and the consistently contested information environment.

A related challenge is that of competitor states now using strategies to achieve effect by operating below the threshold of war. Examples include Russia’s initial moves into Crimea and its denials over-involvement in eastern Ukraine, its use of chemical weapons in the UK and its alleged election meddling. Iran’s activities are another example. Its ability to conduct warfare through third parties has ‘given Iran a strategic advantage over adversaries reliant on conventional capabilities’, according to the IISS Strategic Dossier on Iran’s networks of influence.

Capabilities routed through third parties, disinforma­tion campaigns, or kinetic actions that are denied outright are hard to tackle with conventional military responses. They place a premium not just on developing the right military and intelligence capabilities, but on boosting the adaptability and resilience of equipment and military forces and, more broadly, of societies and political decision­making. The same holds true when dealing with developments in new mili­tary or militarily­ relevant technologies. In all cases, working effectively with partners, and making use of relevant interna­tional frameworks, have the potential to act as a force multi­plier. However, while conflict still involves hard military power, it is now more diffused than before. It now involves a greater number of actors and more capabilities, some of which are not traditionally ‘military’, and clear outcomes in peace, war, and the grey space between are, accordingly, less certain.

Defense economics

Global defense spending continued to rebound in 2019, with real-terms growth rising by 4.0% this year (when compared with 2018 and measured in constant 2015 US dollars). This was the highest year-on-year increase observed in the past ten years. Total defense spending, excluding US foreign military financing programs, reached US$1.73 trillion when measured in current dollars, against US$1.67trn in 2018.

In 2019, defense spending both in China and in the United States increased by 6.6%, when measured in real terms and compared to 2018. In nominal terms, the US increase alone (US$53.4 billion) almost equaled the United Kingdom’s 2019 defense budget (US$54.8bn), while China’s nominal increase (US$10.6bn) was just short of Taiwan’s entire 2019 defense budget (US$10.9bn).

After years of cuts, total defense spending in Europe, when measured in real terms, once again reached the levels seen before the financial crisis (US$277bn in 2008; US$289bn in 2019). This was an increase of 4.2%, when measured in real terms, compared to 2018. These spending increases are directed more and more towards procurements and research and development. Indeed, defense investments grew, as a share of total spending, from 19.8% in 2018 to 23.1% in 2019, for those countries where data is available.

However, this increase in European spending was modest when measured in nominal dollar terms, rising from US$290bn to US$291bn, because the euro depreciated against the dollar over the year.

When measured on a per capita basis, as well as in GDP terms, countries in the Middle East and North Africa spent the most on defense. Australia, Norway, Singapore, and the US are also in the top ten when spending is measured on a per capita basis. The UK, spending US$837 per person, is in 11th position.

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