Nearly all states have their own military establishment or armed forces which they provide with different resources. On the one hand, there are professional soldiers, i.e. a certain amount of trained and uniformed men and women. On the other hand, there are various technologies that the soldiers use in exercising their mandate. These resources range from small, portable weapons such as assault rifles, machine guns or bazookas to large, complex weapons systems and/or means of transport, such as tanks, ships and aircraft.
Both soldiers and weapons systems cost money. The money that is invested by states in their armed forces - to pay their soldiers, to recruit new ones, to purchase weapons systems or to maintain them - is generally found in their military expenditures or their ‘defense budgets’. While these expenditures had decreased in the late 1980s after the end of the Cold War, they increased sharply following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the following wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009, military expenditure of all countries worldwide amounted to US $1,500 billion in absolute terms - this is more than had ever been invested in armed forces to date.
It is important to note that not all countries spend the same amount of money on their armed forces. Correspondingly, they vary in size and capacities. Poor states, in particular, often cannot afford to maintain a large military establishment with many soldiers and the latest weapons technologies. Military staff of such countries are often underpaid and badly equipped. Wealthy states, on the contrary, often invest a lot more money in their military. The defense budget of the United States, for instance, in 2009 amounted to US $684 billion and accounted for approx. half of all global military expenditures.
Even though the wealthiest states - in absolute terms - invest the most in military resources, it is the so-called threshold countries, such as China and India, but also Russia, with a rapid growth of their national economies that have increased their military spending the most.
The smallest increase in military spending has been observed in the poorest countries. In relation to their own economic performance or their population, the armed forces of such states often are very weak - especially when compared to other states that have more resources at their disposal. These countries, that are also called ‘fragile states’ find it difficult to enforce a monopoly of violence in their own territory: non-state armed groups take advantage of the weakness of the state and use violence to enforce political and/or economic interests.
Still, the ratio between military expenditures and other public spending, such as education or health, differs from country to country. Opinions differ as to whether money should be spent on the military or rather in other areas. Does the state invest too little in health and too much in the armed forces? How do current threats influence the size of the respective military budget? What are, indeed, those threats that need to be addressed by military might?
As a matter of fact, military budgets can trigger threat perceptions. For example: If a country suddenly increases its expenses for the armed forces, its neighbors might feel threatened and in turn increase their military budgets. This causes a so-called arms race, similar to what can be observed between India and Pakistan or what occurred during the Cold War between the United States and the then Soviet Union.
Overly high military expenses can have a negative impact on ‘human security’ of the population; especially in poor countries. The money that is spent on the armed forces might possibly lack for guaranteeing their population basic medical care. Yet, even wealthier states with comparatively good basic social security benefits should ask themselves whether it would not be sensible to spend resources on other sectors rather than on the military. The 30 wealthiest states of the world on average spend ten times as much on their military as the do for development cooperation.
Non-state military resources
The graphs presented in the information portal exclusively refer to state expenditures for armed forces. However, it should be noted that increasingly, non-state actors invest money in military capacities. Such actors are, for instance, so-called private military companies, that is companies that offer services that are explicitly of a military character (i.e. armed protection in areas of conflict, military advice and training of soldiers, or various logistical or maintenance works). The annual turnover of such companies is estimated at US $200 billion at least. The US company Blackwater earned a bad reputation by also taking action against civilians in Iraq.
Other non-state military actors are armed rebels and opposition groups that often can be found in civil wars. They play an ever more important role in current violent conflicts. One example is the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a paramilitary group that fights against the Museveni regime in Uganda with the aim to establish a theocratic state but, at the same time, attacks villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR). In more than 90 percent of all wars in the past years, at least one non-state armed group has participated in the fighting.
Finally, one has to note that more and more criminal organisations, such as transnational drug cartels, furnish themselves with military weapons and material. In Mexico, the situation has worsened such that the military and the police wage a war against professionally armed and organised militias of the drug mafia.
Besides state military expenditures, there are thus a variety of non-state military resources. There are indications that non-state military expenditures have increased over the past years. However, reliable data are missing so that these expenditures cannot be taken into account in our statistics.