Geopolitical tensions increase military spending: Revista Pesquisa Fapesp

The annual report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), published on April 25, indicates that global military spending in 2021 saw a real increase of 0.7% compared to the previous year. Growth is observed even after adjusting for inflation for the period (which increased significantly last year in practically the entire world). For the first time in history, the value of the resources invested in the defense sector of all countries together has crossed the $2 trillion mark. In just a quarter of a century, global military spending has doubled. According to the Sipri database, US$1.06 trillion was spent in 1996, with updated values, compared to US$2.11 trillion last year.

The International Institute’s report shows that the increase in military spending last year follows a trend of relatively steady growth over the past two decades. After a period of declining defense spending during the 1990s, just after the end of the Cold War, global military spending has increased almost year by year since the beginning of the twenty-first century. According to Brazilian Diego Lopez da Silva, a researcher at Sipri who investigates the interaction between institutions, political transitions, and military spending, there is a well-defined inflection point in this story: the beginning of the American War on Terror, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks of the United States, with the invasion of Afghanistan (in November 2001) and Iraq (in March 2003).

The movement of the American war machine is only partially responsible for this trend. Another important source of growth in military spending in recent decades is China: “The Chinese increase has been consistent over 27 years,” the researcher notes. But the Asian giant did not raise the defense sector budget relative to GDP: it remained stable, between 1.7% and 1.8%, for more than a decade from 2003. Military spending accompanied the country’s economic growth ”emphasizes Lopez da Silva, explaining that the reason for this is He avoided positioning himself as an outspoken opponent of the United States.

The United States and China together make up 52% ​​of total global military spending. The Western country alone is responsible for 38% of total global defense expenditures (currently at 3.5% of GDP, the rate was already 4.9% in 2009), which is equal to the combined military expenditures of other countries. War power, including China and Russia. Last year, Russians spent 4.1% of GDP on defense (a figure of 5.4% in 2016), which is equivalent to 63.4 billion US dollars. However, the Russian military budget is 12 times smaller than the US budget.

Tensions drive spending up
Despite the central role of the three major military powers in defense spending dynamics, the region that contributed the most to the real (inflation-adjusted) increase in military spending in recent years was Europe. According to the report Army Balance 2022, produced by think tank The British International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), European military spending last year saw a real increase of 4.8% compared to 2020 – the seventh consecutive year of spending growth in the region.

The tensions that began in Ukraine in 2014, with the overthrow of the democratically elected pro-Russian government and the civil war that erupted in the Donbass (east of the country) between Russian-speaking separatists and the Ukrainian armed forces, may be the significant factors of this escalation. Lopez da Silva explains that the growth occurred not only thanks to the economic recovery in Europe after the Great Recession that broke out in the United States in 2008, but also in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea, which occurred amid the Ukrainian political turmoil in February. 2014. “With the impact of the ongoing war in Ukraine now, several European countries, such as Germany, Romania and Poland, have announced their intention to increase military spending,” says the researcher. It is also unsurprising that Ukraine’s military expenditures increased sharply from 2014 onwards (today it represents more than double the 2013 budget), but does not reach 10% of the Russian military budget.

As if security issues in Eastern Europe weren’t enough, there are tensions in Asia, particularly between China and Taiwan – something that inevitably ends up involving US allies in the Indo-Pacific. For Peterson Silva, coordinator of the Center for Defense Economics and Force Development at Escola Superior de Defesa (NCAD-ESD), an institution associated with the Department of Defense, these tensions shape the dynamics of military spending. “It is possible to observe significant growth in the defense budgets of countries such as the United Kingdom, Russia, France, Japan and South Korea. Certainly, rising geopolitical tensions in Asia contributed to this picture in 2021. We can already expect a similar movement compared to this year given the fallout from the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict. According to the researcher, the war in Ukraine is also observed to reflect on possible reactions to tensions between China and Taiwan.

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With a strong influence also on the Indo-Pacific region, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States concluded a Defense Cooperation Agreement in 2021. The agreement, dubbed “Aukus” (short for English acronyms for the three countries: Au, UK and US), is part of the strategy Western powers to contain China, whose economic rise has turned the country of 1.4 billion people into a potent candidate for the regional hegemon. “China’s plan is to have first-class armed forces by 2049 to reduce the disadvantages of its military capabilities in relation to the United States,” says Lopez da Silva. Continued Chinese economic growth is likely to increase military spending.

The global upward trend in defense spending is likely to be eased or halted briefly, in the results of the coming years, due to the late effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. “There is inactivity in military spending, which is implemented with medium and long-term planning,” explains researcher Sipri. “But even if there is a reduction in spending, it will be the impact of the economic shock from the pandemic, not political change.”

New technologies also have an impact
One of the most important aspects of understanding the dynamics of military spending is the development and application of new warfare technologies. Sipri’s annual report shows that spending on US military research and development has grown 24% since 2012, while spending on arms purchases has fallen 6.4% over the same period. This indicates that the state has prioritized the development of new warfare technologies over the purchase of weapons. Since the last decades of the Cold War, the United States has been a leader in the development and application of information technologies for its military power, building on its leadership in the region, with a strong civilian computer market.

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Erico Duarte, a researcher in international relations at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), draws attention to the phenomenon of “the digitization of war”: computers and the communication between them play a central role in the behavior of armed forces. conflicts. He states that there is a reliance of fighters on digital technologies (not only on advanced systems, such as fighters), “with the computer overrated as central not only to the hardware, but to the war itself”. That, he says, led to an exaggerated expectation of a strategic advantage. “It is an illusion to believe that information technology compensates for the lack of political guidance, clear objectives, preparedness and survivability of a country’s armed forces.” Or, in the words of Peterson Silva, “There is no point in acquiring a new fighter without thinking about proper training for pilots, without thinking about supplies, the minimal infrastructure and logistical support needed to operate this equipment for decades.”

Investing in personnel, according to Duarte, is the primary military spending. The problem is not very clear. “It doesn’t do much for a member of Congress to do propaganda, nor for the government to show that it is invested in the defense of the country,” he says. The macroeconomic impact of investing in high technology – it’s easy to think of the importance of the military-industrial complex to the US economy, for example – turns out to be much more pronounced than investments in people. “High technologies depend on the quality of employment, which is immaterial and intangible, and on the specifications of the military and the organization of the armed forces and how they manage their best weapons,” Duarte explains. “This explains why countries with equivalent equipment perform differently.”


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