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Global military spending falls overall, but rises outside the West

Despite cuts, US remains world's largest single military spender, with more than a third of total global expenditures

Total global military spending declined for the second straight year in 2013 because of cuts in the United States and much of the West — but expenditures steadily rose in the rest of the world, especially Africa and the Middle East, international monitors said in a report released Sunday.

Military spending outside the West grew by 1.8 percent in 2013, putting the worldwide total at about $1.7 trillion, according the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a nongovernmental organization that monitors conflicts around the world.

“The increase in military spending in emerging and developing countries continues unabated,” Sam Perlo-Freeman, one of the authors of the report, said in a news release.

In the U.S., the decline in military spending — down 7.8 percent in 2013 to $630 billion — came as costs dropped after skyrocketing during years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reductions came out of Overseas Contingency Operations, which funded those two conflicts, and from across-the-board cuts mandated by Congress and initiated last year.

But despite those cuts U.S. spending still dwarfs that of other countries — and though it is likely to decline further in 2014, it is still expected to exceed $500 billion.

The SIPRI data shows that total U.S. spending in 2013 was roughly equal to the next nine top global spenders combined, and accounted for 37 percent of all global aggregate military spending, compared to 11 percent for second-place China, and 5 percent for third-place Russia. And even as the United States cut military spending last year its top two rivals raised theirs, with China’s up 7.4 percent and Russia’s up 4.8 percent.

Military spending also rose in other areas outside the West, which the report defined as North America, Oceania, and Western and Central Europe.

The region with the largest increase was Africa, where spending increased 8.3 percent to $44.9 billion — almost a quarter of which was racked up by Algeria, which the report said has continued to steadily militarize because of a "desire for regional power status, the powerful role of the military, the threat of terrorism — including from armed Islamist groups in neighboring Mali — and the ready availability of oil funds." 

Spending also jumped in the Middle East, by 4 percent to $150 billion —continuing a trend that saw a 56 percent increase between 2004 and 2013.

In 2013, Iraq, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia led the way in regional spending increases. But the report acknowledged that defense spending information from the area was incomplete, with information unavailable from Iran, Qatar, Syria, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. Among the world’s 15 top-spending countries, the highest rate per capita was in Saudi Arabia, at over 9 percent of the country's gross domestic product, or $67 billion, in 2013. 

By the far the biggest increase in military spending came in Afghanistan, where the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) took over primary security operations from NATO forces last year. The government in Kabul oversaw a 77 percent increase, according to SIPRI’s report, as the ANSF expanded by more than 370,000 total members ahead of NATO’s planned withdrawal at the end of 2014.

Since SIPRI started its database of global military expenditures in 1988, the year with the lowest total worldwide total was 1996, with just over $1 trillion in total spending.

Examining the causes of spending increases worldwide, the SIPRI report pointed largely to a variety of reasons related to regional power politics — and to the whims of state leaders.

“While in some cases it is the natural result of economic growth or a response to genuine security needs, in other cases it represents a squandering of natural resource revenues, the dominance of autocratic regimes, or emerging regional arms races,” Perlo-Freeman said.

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