Five Interactive Plots: A view of world military spending

To allow anyone to easily investigate and compare trends in government military expenditure, I took data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and built five online interactive visualization tools. Here they are, make use:

Total Military Expenditure (constant 2011 $)

Military Expenditure Per Capita (constant 2011 $)

Share of Gov. Spending in Military Expenditure.

Military Expenditure as percentage of GDP

Bonus fun material: Correlated Spenders.

Go ahead and use the above links to do your own plotting. Below are some interesting initial observations.

Big Spenders

So which governments shell out more money in their military apparatus? This won’t come as a surprise.


Before the the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were two major spenders: the US and the USSR. By the 1990s this changed and the US was alone at the top. In the 2000s it even ramped up as its new incursions in the Middle East were in full swing – reaching over $700 billion per year. Here is the same plot without the US and the USSR:


We can see many countries close to the $50 billion per year mark, and one country ramping up since the late 90s, to surpass everyone else and join the US in the hundreds-of-billions-of-dollars-per-year league. This is, of course, China.

Military states

To know which states spend most in arms relative to their resources and population, two other metrics are informative: spending per capita, and spending as a percentage of total government expenditures. Let’s see the top spenders in these two categories. First, the countries with higher spending per capita:


The big spenders in proportion to their populations now include smaller countries (but the USA and Saudi Arabia remain). Each spending somewhere between 1000 and 2000 $ per person per year. Of these, Norway – a generally peaceful country – is perhaps the most surprising. It turns out the Norway has a mandatory army service for the entire population (google that ****), and being a very rich country, it has a big amount of resources to spend on its large conscript army.

By plotting military spending as a fraction of total government spending we’ll see which governments prioritize their military over other government functions.


The result is mostly unsurprising: several military autocracies/dictatorships, plus Israel (there’s an occupation to maintain and consolidate). These governments use between 15 and 30 % of their budgets on military expenditures.

Not all governments are spending that much.

Demilitarizing Europe?

Here is the trend of spending for some of the major EU military machines:


European governments are spending less on their militaries. In the late 1980s they were spending somewhere between 5 and 10 % of their budgets on the military. By now this interval has halved: 2 to 5% is the new standard for the major european war machines.


China Rising

In Asia, there is (in absolute terms) one single major story: China.


Only 15 years ago, China spent not much more than India, and close to half of Japan on its military. Now it spends more than twice either of these.

Latin America

In Latin America there are interesting observations too. Absolute spending first:


The landscape is completely dominated by the local BRIC. This is mostly driven by the absolute size of the Brazilian budget. Looking at share of government spending shows a different side to the story


Chile (perhaps as a legacy of Pinochet) and Colombia (in constant internal war with the FARC), have the governments that spend the largest share of their budgets on their militaries. Other countries have close-to-european levels of share of spending (2 to 5% of their budgets).

The Middle East

It’s worth having a look at the beleaguered Middle East. First in terms of absolute spending:


The cruel military dictatorship of Saudi Arabia is the major regional spender in its armed forces. The distant next are Turkey and Israel (the only state in the region with nuclear weapons), and after that Iran.

To factor in the populations of the country, let’s look at spending per capita:


The champions are now Israel and Saudi Arabia. Their militaries however are put to different uses: the dictatorship deters internal dissent, protects its oil fields, and keeps local rivals in check. The Israeli government maintains and defends an occupation, crushes the resistance to that occupation, and deters neighbours from any action.

It’s worth remembering that both Israel and Saudi Arabia are major clients to US, and EU arms producers, and governments, who abundantly supply their militaries.

Bonus Material: Correlate Spenders.

I decided to find military budgets that move in apparent coordination. There are many to look at, but a classic pair might be the one below:


Not hard to think of what might be happening.

Other interesting pairs might be local rivals, like India and Pakistan:


India’s spending is much larger in absolute terms (you can go check in the appropriate interactive plot), but both countries are locked up in relative terms.

You can use the application, to test for correlate spenders of your own. And indeed all other interactive plots are available to be used. Make use.


A word of thanks to the SIPRI, and specifically to the staff at their Military Expenditure Database Program who (1) collect the data that made all of this possible and, (2) gave me useful feedback on this work when I shared it with them.






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