Research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that in 2022, worldwide military expenditures reached 2.24 trillion dollars. In the same vein, according to data published by the same institute, worldwide military expenditures have reached levels not seen since the Cold War. In fact, in 2022, it exceeded the sum of all military expenditure in 1989, in real terms. Meanwhile, it should be noted that the sharp rise in military expenditures in 2022 was driven by the prevailing regional conflicts and geopolitical challenges in the global conjuncture. For instance, the Russo-Ukrainian War played a decisive role therein.
According to the data, the United States of America (USA), which has been the leader in terms of military expenditure for many years, maintained its position as the country with the highest military expenditure worldwide in 2022. In 2022, the US incurred a military expenditure of 877 billion dollars, increasing its military expenditures in 2021 by 0.7%. The US military expenditure included $19.9 billion in aid to the Kiev administration amid the Russo-Ukrainian War.
The US was followed by China. China ranked second on the list with a military expenditure of 292 billion dollars in 2022. As tensions rise in South Asia, China increased its military expenditure by 4.2% compared to 2021.
The Russian Federation ranked third in the list. Russia has allocated approximately 86 billion dollars for military expenditures in 2022. For Russia, this figure represents a 9.2% increase over the previous year’s military expenditure. Russia has exceeded and continues to exceed its military expenditures as a result of the war in Ukraine.
While military expenditures are increasing rapidly across the globe, Europe has been the main region that has fueled such trend. The Russo-Ukrainian War, which is taking place in Europe’s immediate vicinity, deeply affected Europe in terms of security and defense policies. In the face of perceived threats, Europe quickly began to increase its investments in the defense industry. These investments were accompanied by military aid provided to Ukraine amid the war. Accordingly, Europe’s military expenditures amounted to 345 billion dollars in 2022. For comparison, Europe allocated 225 billion dollars for military expenditures in 2021. Here, the impact of the war in a single year is evident.
While there has been a general increase in military expenditures within Europe, some countries’ overall spending has reached record levels in a short period of time. One of the sides involved in the war, Ukraine, spent 44 billion dollars in military expenditures through 2022. For Ukraine, the figure represents a 640% increase compared to 2021. As of now, military expenditures account for 34% of Ukraine’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Some countries located in the vicinity of the Russian geography have also substantially increased their military expenditures compared to 2021. For instance, Finland, Lithuania, Sweden, and Poland have increased their military expenditures by 36%, 27%, 12%, and 11%, respectively.
Military expenditures in Europe have been steadily increasing as a result of the war. However, long before the war, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had started to encourage European countries to increase their defense spending to complement the West’s growing rivalry with Russia. In fact, NATO acted on the perceived threat shortly after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. NATO set a target for member states to allocate 2% of their gross domestic product to military expenditures, a target to be reached by 2024. Subsequently, NATO’s target was strongly supported by the United States. In this regard, pressure on NATO members began during Barack Obama’s term as president, and the same policy continued during Donald Trump’s mandate. In fact, Trump threatened to withdraw the US from NATO if other NATO members did not adopt the set goal. More recently, during Joe Biden’s term in office, the 2% military spending threshold came to the agenda with the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian War, with Biden giving his full support to the 2% threshold. However, by the end of 2022, only 10 of the 30 NATO member states had reached the 2% threshold.
The 2% threshold set by NATO has been a matter of controversy among member states. Countries such as the US, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Greece and Poland, which exceed the threshold with ease, support NATO’s resolution, while countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain, which do not want to suddenly devote high budgets to military expenditures, oppose it. They argue that the military spending figures do not reflect the full picture, drawing attention to their contributions to NATO missions.
Moreover, these countries emphasize that some NATO countries, which have high military expenditures, devote a large part of their expenditures to military personnel and pensions, whereas they themselves are fulfilling another NATO goal adopted in 2014, which is to allocate 20% of NATO member states’ defense expenditures to new equipment, a goal that is expected to be achieved by 2024. Thus, rather than spending more, they advocate for high-quality spending.
The rhetoric of a higher quality of spending corroborates the statement that it is unrealistic for these countries, which spend about 1% of their gross domestic product on defense, to increase this ratio to 2% within two years.
Despite disagreements within NATO and some opposition to the US, a new threshold is expected to be established in the near future. For, at the NATO Vilnius Summit to be held on July 11-12, 2023, a resolution is expected to be adopted proposing that each NATO member country use 2.5% of its GDP for military expenditures.
In conclusion, the rising military expenditures in Europe can be interpreted in several ways. First of all, it is claimed that the increase in military expenditures can deter Russia and prevent the existing environment of instability. However, there are also those who interpret the rise in military expenditures in Europe as a sign that Europe is becoming a major instrument in the US foreign policy. After all, the US is the world’s leading arms manufacturer. In other words, through the pressures, Europe is becoming a market for the US in this industry. The Russo-Ukrainian war has also reinforced such a policy of the Washington administration. Last but not least, the increasing defense expenditures show that Europe, which has been seeking to assert its own defense and security policy since the 1990s, has never been able to shed the yoke of NATO and the US.
 “Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2022”, SIPRI, https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/2023-04/2304_fs_milex_2022.pdf, (Date of Accession: 25.04.2023).