Global defense spending saw its biggest jump in a decade last year, driven by the US and China, a study said on Friday, as rivalries and conflicts stoke military investment.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said the 4 percent annual rise was fueled by competition between major powers, new military technologies and rumbling warfare from Ukraine to Libya.
Beijing’s military modernization program — which includes developing new hard-to-detect hypersonic missiles — is alarming Washington and helping drive US defense spending, the IISS said.
Its annual Military Balance report said the increase alone in US spending from 2018 to last year — US$53.4 billion — was almost as big as the UK’s entire defense budget.
“Spending rose as economies recovered from the effects of the financial crisis, but increases have also been driven by sharpening threat perceptions,” IISS chief John Chipman said, releasing the report at the Munich Security Conference.
Both the US and China increased spending by 6.6 percent, the report said, to US$684.6 billion and US$181.1 billion respectively.
Europe — driven by concerns about Russia — stepped up by 4.2 percent, but this only brought the continent’s defense spending back to 2008 levels, before the global financial crisis saw budgets slashed.
European NATO members have been seeking to increase spending to placate US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly accused them of freeloading on the US.
Trump has railed at European allies, particularly Germany, for not living up to a 2014 NATO pledge to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.
Giving the opening address at the annual security gathering, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that Trump’s “America first” strategy had shaken up the international order and fueled insecurity.
“We are witnessing today an increasingly destructive momentum in global politics,” Steinmeier said. “Every year we are getting further and further away from our goal of creating a more peaceful world through international cooperation.”
The collapse last year of the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty and the doubts surrounding the renewal of the New START arms reduction treaty, which expires next year, have contributed to the mood of instability, the report said.
Speaking in Munich, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned of a “disturbing erosion” of arms control limits that had “kept the world safe for decades.”
“Irresponsible governments are accelerating their pursuit of nuclear power and missile capability. The world can ill afford an arms race,” she said.
China’s program of military modernization — described by the IISS as “striking for its scale, speed and ambition” — has also unsettled Washington as well as its allies in the Pacific, it said.
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