US, China Drive Surge in Global Military Spending

Biggest increase in spending in 10 years

New data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has shown a roughly 4% increase in military spending for 2019, the single largest rate of growth seen in the past 10 years.

The increase is being driven in large part by the two largest military spenders in the world, the United States and China. Both nations increased their respective spending by 6.6%. The US alone increased spending $53.4 billion, which is itself almost as much as other major nations, like Britain, spend on their entire national defense budget.

Since the US is by far the biggest single spender on the military, it makes sense that their increase would drive an increase worldwide. China, though a distant second, appears to be trying to keep up with America in increasing their spending. Still, the US spends nearly three times as much as China annually.

Spending was also on the rise across Europe, up 4.2% from the previous year, and at the highest levels since before 2008. The NATO spending increases which are driving this are the result of US demands.

In this regard, the impulse to keep spending on the US front probably is not so shared in NATO, with many of the big economies in Europe, particularly Germany, resistant to surge spending to meet US expectations, with the public in such nations preferring to focus on their economy.

It’s hard to blame the public for resisting such spending increases, as most of Europe is not bordering any specific enemies, or even rivals, and has no reason to believe their military would have to engage in defensive operations. In NATO, the more likely result of such spending is to get convinced to send more troops to the Russian frontier, and then spend more money, continuing that cycle of escalation.

President Trump demands more spending out of NATO, however, and many nations are trying to placate him with their own modest increases. Where that ends is anyone’s guess, but the US long-term goal is to get Europe to spend vastly more, with the presumption they’ll be buying US made weapons.

China’s own increases are driven primarily by tensions with the US, as the Pentagon makes much of challenging China in the South China Sea, and the surrounding area. China seems determined to deter any overt US actions, and so far the Pentagon just sends ships to make nominal challenges to Chinese claims.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.