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Ukraine war drives world military spending to 35-year high, study finds

In 2023, global military expenditures reached their highest levels in over three decades, fueled predominantly by the escalating conflict in Ukraine and the looming specter of an expanded Russian incursion.

This surge was underscored in an independent analysis released on Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It revealed that worldwide military spending soared to $2.4 trillion last year, marking a significant 6.8 percent increase from the previous year. Contributing to this rise were heightened geopolitical tensions in regions such as Asia and the Middle East.

Of particular note is the substantial contribution from the United States, which alone accounted for over one-third of the total global military expenditure, allocating a staggering $916 billion. This solidified the US as the largest contributor to global military spending and arms provision.

Nan Tian, a senior researcher at the institute, emphasized the unprecedented escalation in military spending. He attributed it directly to the deteriorating state of global peace and security amidst an increasingly volatile geopolitical landscape.

Surge in global military expenditure

Ukraine embroiled in a protracted conflict with Russia, allocated a significant portion of its budget to military endeavors in 2023. Specifically, $64.8 billion was devoted to military expenditures, representing 58 percent of the government’s overall spending and a notable 37 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Remarkably, only seven other nations surpassed Ukraine in military and defense spending last year. Russia, second only to the United States and China, reportedly disbursed $109 billion for military purposes in 2023.

Despite the opacity surrounding Moscow’s defense investments, the institute estimated that Russia allocated approximately 16 percent of its total government expenditure, or 5.9 percent of its GDP, to military spending in 2023 — the highest proportion since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ukraine’s resistance against Russia has been significantly bolstered by substantial military aid from the United States and Europe, totaling at least $35 billion in weapons and material delivered in 2023.

Furthermore, the conflict has galvanized European nations to bolster their military spending. It resulted in a surge of approximately 16 percent across the continent last year, reaching a total of $588 billion. A portion of these funds were directed towards supporting Ukraine. Yet, many European leaders opted to increase spending on their national defense forces. Notably, in Eastern Europe, military expenditure surged by 31 percent in 2023.

Responding to the escalating security threats, a significant number of NATO member nations are projected to allocate at least 2 percent of their GDP to national defense this year. This is a notable shift from a decade ago when only three countries met this benchmark.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Union’s executive arm, stressed the imperative for Europe to bolster its defense capabilities. She highlighted the significant costs of insecurity and unpreparedness in confronting multiple threats and conflicts. Moreover, she emphasized the necessity for Europe to step up on defense and security.

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