The data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute show that the global level of military expenditure decreased by 0.4 percent in 2014, in comparison to 2013. However, such data are misleading; in fact, worldwide military reinforcement is in full swing.
Global military expenditures totaled $1.78 billion in 2014. This figure is general and reflects a significant cut in military spending by the U.S., which alone is responsible for 34 percent of all global investments. In 2014, the U.S. reduced its defense spending by 6.5 percent in comparison to 2013.
Based on the 2014 military expenditure analysis, there seems to be a tendency by the West to continue the process of disarmament, whereas the countries of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe increase their military spending considerably.
The total worldwide military budget constitutes 2.3 percent of the global gross domestic product. There is an unspoken rule that the maximum military expenditure should not exceed 5 percent of a country’s total GDP, or else it threatens the stability of public finances. Considering that, the world has substantial spare capacity to increase defense spending. Although the general investment in armaments has decreased by 1.7 percent since its peak back in 2011, it is still notably higher than it was in the 1980s, when the Cold War was followed by a political thaw, which resulted in a significant fall in defense spending.
SIPRI Military Expenditure Database data show that in 2014, the U.S. and the countries of Western Europe continued to reduce their military expenditure, a trend that seems to have lasted for the last few years. Other parts of the world are doing just the opposite. Defense spending in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe has continually grown since 1998, and in 2014 alone, increased by 3.1 percent.
The Drowsy West
What causes this division? The U.S. remains the world’s indisputable military leader, having spent $610 billion on defense in 2014. However, during Barack Obama’s tenure, the U.S. has gradually reduced its previously strict military control over the “hot zones” around the globe. Since 2010, U.S. defense spending decreased by 19.8 percent. Obama’s strategy is not only for political but also economic reasons, since the country is currently trying to cut down the deficit.
“From 1988 to 2001, following the wave of the so-called peace dividend in the 1990s, the U.S. defense spending, from constituting 7 percent of the national GDP, dropped to barely 4 percent. Obama’s administration has further plans to reduce the military spend to only 2.4 percent of the national GDP by 2023. It would be the lowest since the end of World War II,” says Łukasz Smalec, doctor of social sciences from International Initiative Center. “It is worth noting that until the last crisis began in 2007, such expenditure was within the U.S.’ economic capacity, which was affected strongly by the budget deficit and quickly growing since 2001. Nearly 28 percent of the deficit growth was due to the rise in the military spending,” adds the expert.
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta strongly criticized the choice of areas which cuts will affect, rather than the actual cuts. Panetta warns that deeper cuts on defense will lead to the “hollowing out” of the army, which will lack staff, training and equipment necessary to perform duties as required. “We’d be shooting ourselves in the head,” he commented.
Another reason for defense cuts is a lack of pressure to modernize the army, since the U.S. has been in military conflicts with countries lacking modern military technologies. Additionally, U.S. military investment is close to a historic record.
According to SIPRI, the U.S. will continue to reduce its military budget, but the decrease in spending will not be as pronounced as in 2014. The U.S. will eventually have to invest in army modernization and change its long-term military strategy. “The American military equipment is getting out of date, the ground forces’ equipment in particular. Years spent fighting against unchallenging opponents made the U.S. complacent, so modern military technologies were not introduced,” says Jacek Bartosiak, who is an expert in military matters and a member of the Polish National Center of Strategic Studies.
The planned level of reduction is justified, and moreover, the reduction should not affect security or the U.S. military dominance on a global scale,” says Dr. Smalec.
Western Europe is also visibly drowsy. The decades of functioning in a calm geopolitical environment led to the old union’s countries’ disarmament. From 2005 to 2014, the military expenditure in France decreased by 3.2 percent, by 5.5 percent in Great Britain and by 27 percent in Italy. However, it has been recently changing, with Poland and Germany planning to increase military spending. The reason is obvious, that being the change in Russian strategy.
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