The World’s 30 Most Expensive Militaries
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), countries around the world spent over $1,822 billion on their militaries in 2018. This is more than a five percent increase since 2009.
So, peace is trending down, while military spending continues to trend up. This is why this list delves into the SIPRI report to find the countries around the world that invest the most into their military activities. Here are the 30 most expensive militaries that money can buy.
The nation of Oman – nestled on the southeast corner of the contentious Arabian Peninsula beneath Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and directly across the Gulf of Oman from Iran and Pakistan – holds a unique global distinction. It spends more than 12 percent of its GDP on the military, leading all other nations in the world, according to the CIA’s “World Factbook.”
Long known as a haven for backpackers and scuba divers, Thailand is also nestled between politically fractious neighbors Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, and has contended with a separatist movement in its southern region for decades. Thailand was ruled by King Rama IX for 70 years, before a military coup placed a new king in power in 2014.
You might not expect Sweden’s neighbor to spend such a vast amount on the military, but Norway also shares a border with Russia and has a long, jagged exposed coastline.
History buffs may recall that prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there was a previous U.S.-led invasion of Iraq prompted by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Despite having a population the rough equivalent to Los Angeles, Kuwait sits on top of substantial oil reserves, including the massive Burgan field in the country's east.
Indonesia spent $7.4 billion on the military in 2018, a stunning 99 percent increase from a decade ago, per the SIPRI report. And if being on an island equates with strategic vulnerability, then Indonesia leads in that category, with the CIA counting 17,508 islands in the nation’s sprawling archipelago.
No African country spends more on the military than Algeria. After the National Liberation Army overthrew French colonial rule in 1962, its leadership gained significant political influence. And while the Algerian People's National Armed Forces have rarely waged foreign wars, the yoke of foreign rule still looms large.
You might say that Colombia has been battling a drug problem for a while now. Prior to his death in 1993, Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug lord, built a vast empire during the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s with the Medellín cartel. At one point, Escobar earned an estimated $420 million...per week.
To say that Taiwan is a sensitive subject for the Chinese government would be the understatement of the last century. In fact, it’s not really a subject at all, as Taiwan’s official name is the Republic of China. This doesn’t stop it from building an impressive military, however.
Singapore is a tiny, wealthy city-state situated just south of mainland Malaysia home to about six million people, that measures less than 300 square miles. The city-state issues surprisingly harsh fines for littering and smuggling chewing gum. It also spent $10.8 billion on its military in 2018, one of the highest per capita totals in the world.
The Netherlands is far, far removed from the Eighty Years' War against Habsburg rule. Now the permissive, low-lying nation is known for tulips, wind power and innovative flood control measures. So, it might be surprising that the NATO member spent $11.2 billion on its military in 2018.
How committed is Pakistan to strong military defense capabilities? Well, in 1965, future Pakistani President and Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto declared: "If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves -- even go hungry -- but we will get one of our own."
Amid a troubling trend toward right-wing nationalism and repression, Poland also jumped from 24th to 19th on SIPRI's list of military spending, shelling out $11.4 billion in 2018. Situated between Germany and the former USSR, Poland has been invaded by the Nazis, is a signatory of the Soviet-driven Warsaw Pact and also a current NATO member.
U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton has been itching for war with Iran since last century. And now, he just might get it. Iran has long prepared for war, whether with its many regional foes or an increasingly aggressive U.S. administration.
With its precarious geographic location, Israel couches its international relations in terms of an ever-present existential threat. Whether contending with Palestinian militants, hateful rhetoric from Iran or hostile forces in Syria, Israel uses its allies to help defend not just its borders, but its right to exist.
Incredibly, dictator Francisco Franco ruled Spain from the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 until his death in 1975. The Generalissimo made the military a central power in the country, though in the intervening decades, the NATO nation has decreased overall military spending, seeing a 5.2 percent reduction since 2009 to a mere $18.2 billion in 2018.
Autocratic leader Recep Erdogan brutally suppressed an attempted coup in 2016, punishing his opposition and blaming allegedly malicious foreign influences. In fact, Turkish TV even decided not to broadcast the 2019 NBA Western Conference Finals because Enes Kanter, a vocal critic of Erdogan, played for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Canada is the world's second-largest country by land mass, spanning 3.9 million square miles. That’s a lot of territory to defend, even if most of that is a yawning expanse of trees and tundra. And yet, Canada plonked down $21.6 billion on military expenditures in 2018.
Australia has more to protect itself against other than great white sharks, giant spiders and invasive species of plants and animals. The island so big they made it a continent, Australia, has one of the world’s longest coastlines to defend, as well as complex naval concerns in the region. So that accounts for $26.7 billion of military expenditures in 2018.
With a population slightly above 200 million, Brazil has a robust military with more than 330,000 active personnel and another 1.3 million reserves. But despite its burgeoning economic might, Brazil struggles with political and social issues that have divided public opinion across the country. And Brazil’s army has even been called upon to quell violence within its own cities.
Italy may be shaped like a boot, but it’s thigh-high in water. That's partly why the nation has five aircraft carriers, eight submarines, four destroyers, and 94 multirole jets. All that equipment and upkeep helped account for the country’s $27.8 billion of military expenditures in 2018.
10. Republic of Korea
Korea spent $43.1 billion on its military in 2018, a considerable 2.6 percent of its GDP and a 28 percent increase from 10 years earlier. And it’s easy to understand why. When fighting during the Korean war ceased, no peace treaty was signed, and the armistice that created the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is still in place.
After the hostilities of World War II ended with twin nuclear bombings in the Pacific, the U.S. took administrative control, and has since maintained military bases throughout Japan. Roughly 50,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Japan, and Japan foots 75 percent of the staging costs.
Germany paid out $49.5 billion in military expenditure in 2018, although that was "only" 1.2 percent of their GDP as Europe's economic leader. And this represents a 9 percent increase from 10 years prior, as Germany seeks to modernize older systems and equipment. At the same time, more than half of the United States' 80,000 military personnel are stationed at bases around Germany.
7. United Kingdom
Where are the "Keep Calm and Spend $50 Billion on the Military" posters? More than just maintaining a stiff upper lip, the U.K. remains a steadfast partner of the American military, with some troops still stationed in Afghanistan for training purposes.
Decades after students learned to “duck and cover” under their desks to “protect” themselves from a Russian nuclear attack, now they are learning to beware of Russian trolls and malicious influencers on social media. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Once dubbed "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" by the cantankerous Scotsman Groundskeeper Willie in The Simpsons, France in fact maintains a robust and well-trained military. That's what $63.8 billion will buy you in 2018. France has more than 1,200 military aircraft, including nearly 300 fighter jets, 400 combat tanks, 10 submarines and four aircraft carriers.
India continues to have a complicated and contentious relationship with Pakistan (see above), but it also outspends its neighbor on military expenditure by roughly six-to-one. In 2018, India spent $66.5 billion on the military, a 29 percent increase since 2009.
3. Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to have ordered the gruesome murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, at least according to the CIA. India has helped the U.S. maintain a substantial buyer of military technology and a strategic partner against Iranian interests.
2. People’s Republic of China
China unfurled an estimated $250 billion for military expenditure in 2018, a stunning 83 percent increase from ten years ago. With more than 2.1 million active military personnel, China has more than 1,200 fighter jets, 1,500 light-attack aircraft, 13,000 combat tanks, 76 submarines, 33 destroyers and is preparing to double their total of aircraft carriers to two.
1. United States
In 2018, the United States lavished an astonishing $649 billion on military expenditures, which amounts to 36 percent of the global total of military spending. On the plus side, $649 billion buys a lot of stuff to supply more than 1.2 million active military personnel and 860,000 reserves.