STOCKHOLM • Global military expenditure reached its highest level last year since the end of the Cold War, fuelled by increased spending in the United States and China, the world's two biggest economies, a leading defence think-tank said yesterday.
In its annual report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) said overall global military spending last year hit US$1.82 trillion (S$2.48 trillion), up 2.6 per cent from the previous year.
That is the highest figure since 1988, when such data first became available as the Cold War began winding down.
US military spending rose 4.6 per cent last year to reach US$649 billion, making it still by far the world's biggest spender. It accounted for 36 per cent of total global military expenditure, nearly equal to the next eight biggest-spending countries combined, Sipri said.
China, the second-biggest spender, saw military expenditure rise 5 per cent to US$250 billion last year, the 24th consecutive annual increase. "In 2018, the USA and China accounted for half of the world's military spending," said Dr Nan Tian, a researcher with the Sipri arms and military expenditure (Amex) programme.
With US President Donald Trump committed to strong national defence despite reducing troop numbers in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, 2018 marked the first increase in US military spending since 2010, Sipri said.
His defence spending request to Congress this year is the largest ever in dollar terms before adjustment for inflation.
"The increase in US spending was driven by the implementation from 2017 of new arms procurement programmes under the Trump administration," said Dr Aude Fleurant, the director of Sipri's Amex programme.
The other top spenders are, in declining order, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, Britain, Germany, Japan and South Korea.
Saudi Arabia, which is leading a military coalition battling Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, was the biggest per capita spender on defence, just ahead of the US.
Mr Trump has criticised some of Washington's Nato allies in Europe, especially Germany, for failing to meet the alliance's spending target of 2 per cent of gross domestic product.
Sipri data shows military spending in Germany - Europe's largest economy - equalled 1.2 per cent of its GDP last year, based on estimates from the International Monetary Fund.
Britain and France spent 1.8 per cent and 2.3 per cent of GDP respectively on defence in 2018.
Military expenditure by all 29 Nato members amounted to just over half of global spending, Sipri added.