The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, published its most recent report on world wide military expenditures earlier this week.
Two headlines of the report pop out as significant.
The first is that Saudi Arabia has overtaken Russia in military spending, with $87.2 billion to Russia’s $66.4 billion, being behind only the United States and China, at $596 billion and $215 billion respectively. The second is that, beyond the Western Hemisphere and Africa, worldwide military spending is on the rise.
These figures can be paired with known geopolitical trends and instances in order to project what particular actors may be thinking, as well as what is the world’s security zeitgeist.
First, the somewhat surprising figure of Saudi Arabia overtaking Russia in defense spending.
Russia has been working to modernize its armed forces through: professionalization, doctrinal evolution, and working to achieve technological parity with the West (particularly, but not exclusively, in electronic warfare, unmanned vehicles, and force projection).
Indeed, Moscow has been consistently increasing its defense spending since the 2000’s, into the current year.
However, in real terms, the Russian military budget has remained largely stable. This is due to the fact that the Ruble is approximately half its value at the onset of the Ukrainian adventure.
A Ruble just isn’t worth what it used to be.
As a result, Russia’s modernization efforts are slowed for the foreseeable future, perhaps to be completed in the 2020s.
This is in contrast with Saudi Arabia’s large scale investment in weaponry to balance against Iran.
These purchases seem to indicate that Saudi intends to keep Iran at arms length in the event of hostilities, utilizing its overwhelming number of missiles.
Iran in turn, due to the lifting of EU and US sanctions, will likely attempt to counter these Saudi gains.
Of course, Saudi and Russia are not the only ones preparing for conflict.
Asia leads the way in new defense spending, with $436 billion in new spending region wide.
This is driven in large part China’s need to deter American intervention in its periphery. Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam also increased their spending in response to China’s bellicose enforcement of its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Europe is also continuing its trend of increased spending, in light of the Ukraine Crisis. NATO’s biggest European spenders, Germany, France, and the UK, did not drive any growth.
But some of the Baltic states have built up their militaries.
This is likely due to the perceived threat of future Russian attempts to secure buffer space against the stronger alliance members, and unease about the Americans honoring their security agreements.
The outliers also a tell a story of the global arms buildup.
The Western Hemisphere is largely conflict free due to an end of the Cold War, and other imperialist interventions into Latin America largely subsiding after the Roosevelt administration’s attempt at being a “good neighbor”.
American hegemony over the region is uncontested.
Africa, despite being rife with conflict in: Libya, the Sinai, the West Coast, Somalia, Sudan, and the Congo, is largely devoid of great power politics. Thus, large scale trends of regional military investment are not necessary.
These trends seem to indicate that military spending is increasingly becoming an acceptable investment of revenue in light of perceived dangers for nations from activist states.
This is potentially worrying, as periods of militarism tend to precede periods of conflict.
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Cover Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)