Global defence expenditure is set to increase again in 2018 to reach its highest level since the end of the Cold War.
This is according to the annual Jane’s Defence Budgets Report by IHS Markit, which reveals that defence spending will grow for the fifth consecutive year, reaching $1,67-trillion in 2018 and overtaking the previous post-Cold War record of $1,63-trillion seen in 2010.
Defence spending will increase by 3,3% in 2018 – the fastest rate of growth for a decade – driven by the largest year-on-year increase in US spending since 2008. Funding for the procurement of military equipment is also expected to rise from $295-billion in 2017 to $315-billion in 2018, another record high in global terms.
“The increase in defence spending reflects improving economic conditions around the world, coupled with a response to continuing instability in a number of key regions,” says Fenella McGerty, principal analyst at Jane’s by IHS Markit. “However, defence spending remains lower in relation to GDP than at any time in the last 10 years, which suggests that recent growth primarily relates to improved economic and fiscal conditions in established markets.”
Over the last decade, global defence expenditure has fallen from an average level of 2,7% of GDP to 2,2%.
Key findings from the 2017 Jane’s Defence Budgets Report include:
US raises defence spend under Trump
The key reason for the expected acceleration in global defence spending growth is the potential 4,7% increase to the US budget planned for 2018.
With the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) budget accounting for 40% of all global defence expenditure, changes in US spending affect trends worldwide. Since the 11 September attacks in 2001, the US has spent around $10-trillion on defence.
“President Trump and his administration sought large increases in the DoD budget in his first budget. The increased funding will go toward fixing readiness and training issues that are largely the result of sequestration cuts,” says Guy Eastman, senior analyst at Jane’s by IHS Markit. “Investment will also increase in targeted areas such as Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD), shipbuilding, missiles and munitions, space-based systems, and C4ISR systems.”
More NATO members to hit spending targets
Nine NATO members will reach the 2% of GDP benchmark for defence expenditure in 2018 – the highest number hitting this goal since the financial crisis. These countries are the US, Greece, Estonia, Turkey, Latvia, the UK, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.
Western Europe’s turnaround to growth continues
Western Europe is still emerging from a tough six-year period where defence spending was cut by 1% annually between 2009 and 2015. The trend has steadily reversed since then and regional defence spending is expected to increase by 1,3% in 2018.
“Defence spending growth in Western Europe will largely be driven stabilising government balance sheets, the perceived threat from Russia on NATO’s eastern border, and several key procurement programmes coming online,” McGerty says.
“However, this growth will hinge on political developments in the region. Not least, the outcome of German coalition discussions and the bearing this will have on European defence cooperation as well the progress of Brexit negotiations and the resulting impact on the economic outlook of the UK and its trading partners.”
Eastern Europe sees fastest defence spending growth
Eastern Europe will be the fastest growing region in the world in 2018 as several countries pursue the goal to increase defence spending to 2% of GDP.
Growth has been particularly spectacular among the three Baltic States. By next year, Baltic defence spending will have more than doubled in real terms compared to 2014 levels and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will all be spending 2% of GDP or more on defence.
“Growth has taken off in Eastern Europe since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014 with the majority of the new defence funding being put towards military modernisation,” McGerty says. “Armoured vehicle procurement is on the increase – in fact, Europe is emerging as the leading spender globally in the military ground vehicle market.”
Russian defence expenditure fell for a second consecutive year in 2017 as Moscow continued to grapple with challenging economic and fiscal conditions.
“The defence budget is now around 10 percent lower than its 2015 peak and is expected to be reduced by a further 5% next year. Russian military modernisation will continue but the cuts are impacting the pace of that process,” says Craig Caffrey, principal analyst at Jane’s by IHS Markit.
APAC spending slows but return to growth expected
Growth in Asia-Pacific – a region that has experienced robust growth over the last decade – slowed this year to its lowest rate since 2010 due to smaller increases in China and India and cuts to spending in South East Asia.
“While we saw a distinct slowdown in 2017, the foundations remain in place for robust increases to return over the next two years. We still expect Asia-Pacific to be behind the driving force behind long term growth in global defence spending,” Caffrey says.
“Economic growth is still the main factor behind rising spending in Asia-Pacific, but we’re starting to see strategic factors play a more prominent role. In recent years Chinese actions in the East and South China Sea, the North Korean ballistic missile threat and insurgencies throughout South East Asia have all caused additional funding to be diverted towards defence,” Caffrey says.
Middle East returns to growth due to geopolitical challenges
Following a reduction in 2016, defence spending returned to growth in the Middle East and North Africa this year. Crucially, Saudi Arabia – the largest defence spender in the region – increased its defence budget in 2017 after cutting spending the previous year.
“Fiscal consolidation is still occurring in a number of key states in the region following the collapse in oil prices; however the challenging security environment has seen defence budgets protected from cuts in most cases. We expect defence budgets to continue to increase going forward but growth will be constrained by a more cautious approach to government spending,” Caffrey says.