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What Percent of GDP Do Countries Spend on Their Military?

L. S. Wynn
By L. S. Wynn
Updated May 16, 2024
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Total military spending varies a lot from place to place and certainly from year to year, and capturing fixed totals can be challenging. A lot of spending is hard to classify, is categorized in different ways in different places, or isn’t reported at all. In general, agencies like the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency estimate that military spending worldwide amounts to anywhere between 700 and 900 billion U.S. dollars (USD) annually. This is usually anywhere from 1% to 3% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). It’s important to remember that published figures are just one way of looking at spending. Simply looking at how much money is devoted to a particular purpose is instructive, but must usually be viewed within the context of other factors like labor costs generally, cost of living, and, in the military context, whether service is voluntary or compulsory.

Understanding Military Spending Generally

There are a couple of different ways to think about and categorize money that’s spent on military endeavors. In some places, the total includes any and all funds that go towards defense, war, and strategies related to the same. This can be anything from soldier salaries and uniforms to the costs of machinery, firearms, and strikes. Sometimes things like entitlement benefits, retirement pay, and medical care for dependents factors in, too; sometimes this money is kept separate when accounting for overall spending and costs.

Gross Domestic Product and Spending Implications

GDP is usually calculated by adding up all of the spending within a country during a specific time. This includes consumer spending, government spending, investment income, and money made from exports. GDP is commonly used as one way of measuring a country’s economic strength. It’s of interest during trade negotiations and treaties, and is also the subject of research and analysis when looking at global stability.

Tracking how much various countries are spending on their militaries in terms of GDP is often thought to give some insight into how much that nation’s leaders value military strength, and also can say something about the strength or overall power of that military.

Estimates and Highest Published Percentages

The following table shows the countries around the world that have traditionally spend the highest percentage of their published GDP on their militaries. The U.S. normally features much farther down the list, usually occupying a space somewhere in the 40s; most calculations put U.S. spending at about 3%.

country % GDP
North Korea 33.9 North Korea percent of GDP spent on military
Saudi Arabia 13.0 Saudi Arabia percent of GDP spent on military
Ethiopia 12.6 Ethiopia percent of GDP spent on military
Oman 12.2 Oman percent of GDP spent on military
Eritrea 12.0 Eritrea percent of GDP spent on military
Qatar 10.0 Qatar percent of GDP spent on military
Israel 8.8 Israel percent of GDP spent on military
Jordan 8.6 Jordan percent of GDP spent on military
Maldives 8.6 Maldives percent of GDP spent on military
Afghanistan 7.7 Afghanistan percent of GDP spent on military
Bahrain 6.7 Bahrain percent of GDP spent on military
Armenia 6.5 Armenia percent of GDP spent on military
Macedonia 6.0 Macedonia percent of GDP spent on military
Syria 5.9 Syria percent of GDP spent on military
Kuwait 5.5 Kuwait percent of GDP spent on military
Angola 5.4 Angola percent of GDP spent on military
Burundi 5.3 Burundi percent of GDP spent on military
New Caledonia 5.3 New Caledonia percent of GDP spent on military
Yemen 5.2 Yemen percent of GDP spent on military
Brunei 5.0 Brunei percent of GDP spent on military
Greece 4.9 Greece percent of GDP spent on military
Singapore 4.9 Singapore percent of GDP spent on military
Lebanon 4.8 Lebanon percent of GDP spent on military
Swaziland 4.8 Swaziland percent of GDP spent on military
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Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
By anon330525 — On Apr 17, 2013

It is a very worrying situation in the modern scientific world if a country can spend one third of its annual revenue on military activities. The UN should call for all countries to rethink and reallocate such funds for the people's development.

By anon329993 — On Apr 13, 2013

Why Maldives...?

By anon287079 — On Aug 23, 2012

It should be noted that where the facts and figures used to discuss US and most open countries are at least close to the truth, closed societies like NK and PRC are baseless estimates at best. The PRC, for example, is currently building a huge increase in its naval capability, but by utilizing cheap, almost slave labor and owning the majority of its minerals, it is truly unknown what its real GNP is. Any estimate is probably low.

The US might have a big budget and low percentage of GNP, but its labor costs are higher, etc. So to truly compare how much of a country's assets are utilized for military is an art, not a science.

Less than 1 percent of Americans serve, yet estimates are as high as 30 percent of military age males in the PRC and NK with absolute minimal pay. So who is spending more? Really?

By anon261601 — On Apr 16, 2012

How much of their total GDP do they spend of military in Benin?

By Amphibious54 — On Jun 09, 2010

@Glasshouse - It should also be noted that looking at the fiscal year budget for military spending can be deceptive because operational wartime spending is separate from the general Department of Defense (DOD) budget, and is approved by congress as supplementary spending. If you want to count veterans affairs as military spending that is another $120+ billion that is allocated under the Department of Veterans Affairs. Spending on our nation’s nuclear arsenal is also not considered military spending. The U.S. nuclear budget falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). According to the Whitehouse, the fiscal year 2011 department of defense base budget is $548.9 billion. There is already a request placed for $159 billion for FY 2011 to cover the current wars. There is also potential for a significant increase in these requests should new conflicts erupt, or fighting get worse. Already only six months into 2010, and there is a pending request to congress for an additional $33 billion for overseas operations. Who knows what will happen if the situations in North Korea, Pakistan, or Iran worsens.

By Glasshouse — On Jun 09, 2010

I'm not sure how old this article is, but it is a bit dated. Global military spending topped $1.5 trillion for 2009. Military spending in the United States accounts for somewhere near 45% of global military spending, and the current military budget accounts for a little over 4% of GDP. U.S. expenditures as a percentage of GDP ranks 25th out of all countries surveyed. The CIA keeps a public record of most basic country data online. This information is all public domain. If you want to read a full unbiased report on everything related to international peace and security, you should check out the Stockholm International Peace Research Yearbook (SIPRI) yearbook. The SIPRI report is a little pricey, but it can be found in most major university library collections.

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