South Africa’s military spending vs the rest of the world

Total world military expenditure rose to $1.7 trilion in 2017, a marginal increase of 1.1% in real terms from 2016, according to new figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

After 13 consecutive years of increases from 1999 to 2011 and relatively unchanged spending from 2012 to 2016, total global military expenditure rose again in 2017.

This means that Military spending in 2017 represented 2.2% of global gross domestic product (GDP) or $230 per person, the researchers found.

“The increases in world military expenditure in recent years have been largely due to the substantial growth in spending by countries in Asia and Oceania and the Middle East, such as China, India and Saudi Arabia,” said Dr Nan Tian, Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure (AMEX) programme.

“At the global level, the weight of military spending is clearly shifting away from the Euro–Atlantic region.”

The five biggest spenders in 2017 were the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and India, which together accounted for 60% of global military spending

The United States continues to have the highest military expenditure in the world. In 2017 the USA spent more on its military than the next seven highest-spending countries combined. At $610 billion, US military spending was unchanged between 2016 and 2017.

China, the second largest spender globally, increased its military spending by 5.6% to $228 billion in 2017. This means that China’s spending as a share of world military expenditure has risen from 5.8% in 2008 to 13% in 2017.

In contrast at $66.3 billion, Russia’s military spending in 2017 was 20% lower than in 2016, the first annual decrease since 1998 – a result of a restricted military budget due to economic issues in the country, the researchers said.

Despite military expenditure increasing in sub-Saharan Africa, SIPRI found that South Africa has also seen a decrease in military expenditure.

“A substantial surge in Sudan’s military expenditure in 2017 (by 35% to $4.4  billion)—mainly due to intensified fighting between the Sudanese Government and rebels—drove the upward trend, but this was partly counteracted by decreases by three of the four largest spenders in the subregion: Angola, Nigeria and South Africa,” the report found.

“Military spending in South Africa, the second largest spender in sub-Saharan Africa, has stabilised at around $3.6 billion per annum since 2012. Its military spending decreased marginally in 2017 by 1.9%.”


Despite this decline in spending, South Africa still has a relatively powerful military according to the latest Global Firepower rankings released in April.

A total of 136 countries featured on the 2018 list, with the ranking relying on over 50 different countries to determine a given nation’s PowerIndex.

In 2018, South Africa was ranked 33rd, above notable European countries such as Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands, but behind all other BRICS countries – including Brazil in 14th.

According to the report, South Africa has just under 100,000 total military personnel comprising of 78,050 active personnel and 16,000 reserve personnel.

In addition, the report estimates that we have 14,100,000 citizens which would be fit for service should the country enforce conscription laws.

The USA was named as the most powerful country with 1.28 million active military personnel, over 13,000 aircraft, more than 5,800 tanks and a defense budget of $615 billion.

This beats out second-place Russia which has 1 million active personnel, a total of 3,914 aircraft, 20,300 combat tanks and a defense budget of $47 billion.

Third place China has more active military personnel than both the USA and Russia (just under 2.7 million) but has fewer aircraft (3,035) than either country, despite having a defense budget of $151 billion.

Read: South Africa’s military strength vs the rest of the world in 2018

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South Africa’s military spending vs the rest of the world