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Countries spending the most on their militaries

  • Countries spending the most on their militaries

    President Donald Trump continues to make headlines with his demands that America's fellow members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) devote more of their budgets toward military and defense spending.

    The alliance between the U.S. and a number of European powers was formed in April 1949 in hopes of deterring the Soviet Union from its conquest of Europe. It was founded on the principle of collective defense, which means that every member of NATO will come to the aid of any other member that is attacked. That's one reason why, for example, French and British troops fought in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11.

    This theory of collective defense requires collective spending so that every ally has a military that's fully prepared to help when called to do so. While it's almost universally agreed that some military spending is necessary for security purposes, especially given the ever-rising threats of terrorism around the world, it's still unclear how much defense spending is adequate.

    It is also often difficult to pinpoint what a country spends on its military in a given year. In 2002, NATO defined military expenditure to include: current spending on the armed forces (including peacekeeping and paramilitary forces), defense ministries and other government agencies involved in defense, military space activities, personnel costs (pensions and social services), aid, research and development, operation and maintenance, and procurement of military supplies.

    However, despite that lengthy definition, coming up with an accurate calculation can be a formidable task. One country might consider certain costs to be military expenditures while another might classify them as some other kind of spending. In addition, because some countries aren't transparent about their military budgets, the data that experts put forth may not match the figures released by governments.

    Still, getting even a general handle on which countries are spending the most on their militaries is helpful in discovering where hotspots are—from confrontations in the South China Sea to counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East—and identifying, for better or worse, the nations with the most firepower.

    Using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) via The World Bank, Stacker ranked the 50 countries spending the most on their military, based on estimates from 2017. North Korea is notably missing from the list, as data was not available for it from 2017. The list provides a sweeping view of pressing conflicts around the world today. 

    You may also like: States with the most military engagement

  • #50. Angola

    - Military expenditure (2017): $3.1 billion
    - Military expenditure as a % of general government expenditure (2017): 10.3% (#24 among countries)
    - Military expenditure per capita (2017): $103 (#41 among countries)

    Angola emerged as a unified nation after 25 years of civil war (which came after winning independence from Portugal's colonial rule in 1975). It continues to have one of Africa's most well-equipped and experienced militaries. However, Angola's economy relies on oil, and the recent downturn in global oil prices have led to dramatic cuts in military spending. The country has been at peace since the end of the civil war, leading some to wonder if that money might be better spent paying down debts or combating the high child mortality rates.

  • #49. Morocco

    - Military expenditure (2017): $3.5 billion
    - Military expenditure as a % of general government expenditure (2017): 10.7% (#22 among countries)
    - Military expenditure per capita (2017): $117 (#39 among countries)

    Morocco has occupied the territory of Western Sahara for nearly 50 years. The Kingdom built the second-longest defensive wall in history in order to keep the Polisario (a group advocating for independence) isolated. This has led to tensions with Algeria, which supports independence in Western Sahara, but Morocco's close ties to the U.S. and Western European powers have provided the country with the support it needs.

  • #48. Malaysia

    - Military expenditure (2017): $3.5 billion
    - Military expenditure as a % of general government expenditure (2017): 5.0% (#69 among countries)
    - Military expenditure per capita (2017): $8,010 (#3 among countries)

    Malaysia cites its “peaceful transition to democracy” as the inspiration for its continued involvement in UN peacekeeping missions in various hotspots around the world, deploying around 29,000 peacekeepers in over 30 missions. Malaysia's conflicts with China over territory in the South China Sea, along with terrorist activity and the presence of extremist groups within its borders, also call for a strong military.

  • #47. Bangladesh

    - Military expenditure (2017): $3.6 billion
    - Military expenditure as a % of general government expenditure (2017): 9.6% (#27 among countries)
    - Military expenditure per capita (2017): $022 (#50 among countries)

    Bangladesh is one of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping missions around the globe, contributing forces recently in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic, to name a few. But the Bangladeshi military faces bigger struggles back home. It is deeply entwined with business and politics and has been accused of caring more about profits than defending the country from security threats.

  • #46. Finland

    - Military expenditure (2017): $3.6 billion
    - Military expenditure as a % of general government expenditure (2017): 2.7% (#114 among countries)
    - Military expenditure per capita (2017): $653 (#16 among countries)

    World War II ended in 1945, but Finland still subscribes to a theory of “total defense,” which requires the military be ready at all times for a large-scale emergency or conflict. For example, all Finnish men must serve up to a year in the armed forces or civil service. Increased aggression and threats from Russia in and around the Baltic region has spurred Finland to increase the number of troops in its reserve, improve its international relations, and spend more on weapons and resources just in case.

  • #45. South Africa

    - Military expenditure (2017): $3.6 billion
    - Military expenditure as a % of general government expenditure (2017): 3.1% (#101 among countries)
    - Military expenditure per capita (2017): $064 (#44 among countries)

    Compared with other countries, South Africa spends very little on its military, averaging about 1% of its GDP. The South African military still maintains a number of commitments, participating in UN peacekeeping missions across Africa while also being tasked with controlling pollution outbreaks and quashing crime within the country. It is considered one of the most well-trained and supplied militaries in Southern Africa.

  • #44. Ukraine

    - Military expenditure (2017): $3.6 billion
    - Military expenditure as a % of general government expenditure (2017): 7.8% (#40 among countries)
    - Military expenditure per capita (2017): $081 (#43 among countries)

    When Russia stepped in and annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, the Ukrainian military found itself woefully unprepared for the fighting that followed. In the years since, Ukraine has stepped up its fighting force in both numbers and military capability without any significant increase in funding. However, as the conflict continues, Russia's sheer size leaves the smaller country at a disadvantage.

  • #43. Portugal

    - Military expenditure (2017): $3.8 billion
    - Military expenditure as a % of general government expenditure (2017): 3.9% (#88 among countries)
    - Military expenditure per capita (2017): $367 (#25 among countries)

    Mere decades after the end of their brutal colonial regime in Africa, Portuguese forces have returned to the continent for “peace enforcing” missions in the Central African Republic and Mali. These forays into counter-terrorism operations mark Portugal's attempts to stabilize the region during its presidency of the European Union. Portugal is also close geographically to countries like Libya, leaving it more exposed to possible terrorist attacks.

  • #42. Denmark

    - Military expenditure (2017): $3.8 billion
    - Military expenditure as a % of general government expenditure (2017): 2.2% (#121 among countries)
    - Military expenditure per capita (2017): $658 (#15 among countries)

    Denmark has plans to increase its military spending to $229.7 million by 2023—a clear sign of its support for NATO as the Trump Administration continues pushing for more equitable contributions from countries in the alliance. A relatively safe country, most of Denmark's increase budget is aimed at improving cybersecurity to counter terrorist threats and possible aggression by Russia.

  • #41. Romania

    - Military expenditure (2017): $4.0 billion
    - Military expenditure as a % of general government expenditure (2017): 6.2% (#55 among countries)
    - Military expenditure per capita (2017): $204 (#32 among countries)

    Romania has previously sent troops to support NATO and U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. In the two decades since, it has been forced to deal with problems a bit closer to home--namely its location in the strategically important Black Sea region. Romania and Russia, which borders the Black Sea on the opposite side, have historically been at odds and Romania has positioned itself as a leader of its neighbors against Russian forces. The Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula kicked Romania into higher gear, and tensions remain high because Romania is home to the U.S. missile defense system.