26.04.23 Analytics

The Militarisation Slide: having the world’s third largest military budget does not make Russia stronger

Re: Russia
In 2022, global military spending increased by 3.7% to a total of $2.24 trillion. Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine was one of the main drivers of this growth, leading to a dramatic increase in military spending in Europe. Another area of tension spurring this sharp increase in military spending was the Asia-Pacific region. The strengthening and steady increase in Chinese military spending has encouraged neighbouring countries to increase their own spending. Russia's actual military expenditure increased by at least 9% in 2022, exceeding planned spending by at least 34%. However, despite coming third place in the world in terms of absolute military spending, Russia does still  not rank as one of the strongest military powers: it is still 3.5 times behind China and 10 times behind the US. Rather, this amount of spending, and Russia’s long track record of militarisation over the past decade and a half, places Russia among the countries with the most irrational military-to-GDP and military-to-population ratios.

Global military spending reached $2.24 trillion in 2022, according to a report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). In real terms, global military spending has increased by 19% over the past 10 years, with an annual increase of 3.7%. The increase would have been even greater had it not been for record inflation, which devalued the increase in nominal spending that many governments had budgeted for. As a result, many countries in Africa and Asia actually saw a decline in their real military spending, despite having planned to increase their spending. Nevertheless, 10 of the 11 countries with the highest military spending recorded an increase in 2022.

War in Europe

The main reason for the significant increase in global military spending was, of course, the record increase in military expenditure in Europe (+13% compared to 2021) as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Spending in Central and Western Europe increased by 3.6%, in line with global trends. But, over the past 10 years, such spending has increased by 30%, and last year its volume ($345 billion) reached levels not seen since the end of the Cold War. Military spending in Eastern Europe (which includes Russia and Ukraine) increased by 58%. However, aside from the increased spending by Russian and Ukrainian, the largest increases among European countries were witnessed in Finland (36%), Lithuania (27%), Sweden (12%) and Poland (11%).

While Russia's invasion of Ukraine certainly influenced military spending decisions for 2022, fears of possible Russian aggression actually emerged earlier. SIPRI estimates that many former Eastern Bloc countries have doubled their military spending since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. They will continue to grow their military budgets in the coming years, as many Central and Eastern European countries announced further planned increases in 2022. 

However, Russia and Ukraine continued to account for the lion's share of the increase in military spending over the past year. Ukraine's military spending reached $44bn, an increase of 640% from the previous year. This is the highest annual increase in military expenditure by any country in the history of SIPRI monitoring. As a share of GDP, it rose from 3.2% in 2021 to 34% in 2022. 

Russian military expenditure had increased by 9.2% to about $86.4 billion (3.9% of global military expenditure). As a share of GDP, this was 4.1% compared to 3.7% in 2021. As a result, Russia has overtaken India to become the world's third-largest military spender. SIPRI analysts note that estimates of Russian military expenditure must be made with caution due to a lack of transparency. According to this report, ‘national defence’ spending accounts for just 78% of the country's total military expenditure (but it could be less). At the same time, the amount allocated under the ‘National Defence’ in 2022 rose from the $50.1 billion initially planned to $67 billion in nominal terms, an increase of 34% more than planned. One of the author’s of the report, Dr Lucie Bero-Sudro, Director of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Weapons Production Programme, notes that this difference indicates that the invasion of Ukraine has cost Russia far more than the Russian authorities had anticipated. But this is by no means the whole story: for example, spending on Rosgvardiya, which falls under the heading of ‘National Security and Law Enforcement’, has increased by 23% beyond the planned amount and should also be counted as war spending.

An epidemic of tension

Moreover, Europe has not been the only hotbed of militarisation in the early 2020s. Another locus of growing military power is the Asia-Pacific region. India's military spending rose by 6% in real terms last year and has increased by almost one and a half times (47%) since 2013. This is linked to the political tensions between India and China on the one hand, and India and Pakistan on the other. China's military spending increased by 4.2%, but given the gigantic total sum($292 billion — 13% of global spending), the actual increase was $12.5 billion. Since 2013, China's military spending has increased by 63%, marking 28 consecutive years of growth. China's rise in spending coupled with rising tensions over Taiwan are also forcing other countries in the Pacific to arm themselves. Japan's military spending increased by almost 6% in 2022, while Australia's military spending, despite a modest increase last year, has increased by one and a half times over the past decade. South Korea's military spending has also increased by 37% over the past 10 years.

Finally, militarisation is also on the rise in the Middle East and the Gulf. Saudi Arabia increased its military spending by 16%last year alone, making it the fifth-largest military spender in the world in absolute terms. Qatar increased its military spending sharply, by almost a third last year.

The US accounts for 39% of global military spending; its expenditure amounted to $877 billion in 2022. The SIPRI analysts note that last year's increase in spending is linked to the funding of military aid to Ukraine: the total increase for 2022 was $19.9 billion, the largest amount of annual military aid provided by the US to any country since the end of the Cold War.

Countries with the highest military spending, 2022

Place in the World by Military Spending, 2022

Place in the World by Military Spending, 2021


Military expenditures, 2022, billion dollars       

Change, 2021-2022, %

Change, 2013–2022, %

Share of GDP, %































Saudi Arabia




























South Korea



















Source: SIPRI

Militarisation: Absolute and Relative

For the most part, the world’s top 10 military spenders correspond to the top 10 in terms of GDP, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, which ranks 18th in terms of GDP. By many estimates, Ukraine ranked 11th in 2022, behind South Korea in 10th place. Russia's 3rd place ranking appears to have been a little exaggerated, and not just as a result of last year's invasion. Excessive militarisation has been a long-standing trend in Russian development over the past two decades.

SIPRI ranks countries in terms of their absolute military expenditure. In contrast, the Bonn International Center for Conflict Research (BICC) calculates its Global Militarisation Index (GMI) as the relative size of the country’s military apparatus. The index takes into account several parameters: 1) military expenditure as a share of GDP, 2) its ratio to health expenditure, 3) the ratio of military and paramilitary forces to the total population, 4) the number of doctors, and 5) the number of heavy weapons per capita. Each of these parameters is assigned a certain weight.

According to this index, the ten most militarised countries in the world in 2022 were Israel, Kuwait, Armenia, Singapore, Oman, Bahrain, Greece, Russia, Brunei and Saudi Arabia (in that order). Russia is ranked 8th, but it is immediately noticeable that the majority of the countries that ranked in the top ten (again with the exception of Saudi Arabia) are small states with populations between 1.5 and 10.5 million, which are either in conflict with their neighbours, have recently experienced such a conflict, or are located in a highly conflict-ridden region. The need to possess a sizeable army in a small country places them at the top of the list. Israel has around 76 military personnel per 1,000 inhabitants and military expenditure accounts for over 5% of GDP; Armenia has 86 military personnel per 1,000 inhabitants and military expenditure accounts for around 4.5% of GDP. Greece has approximately 34 military personnel per 1,000 inhabitants, due to its territorial dispute with Turkey over Cyprus.

The large countries with the largest armies and quantities of weapons are not included in the top 10 of this ranking. The US is ranked 24th in the GMI 2022: its military expenditure is the highest in the world in relative terms, but only accounts for 3.5% of GDP. China, with an army of 2.035 million and the second-highest military expenditure in absolute terms, ranks only 98th in the GMI. With a population of around 1.5 billion, there are only 1.3 soldiers per 1,000 people and military spending accounts for just 1.6% of GDP.

A Profile of Russian Militarisation

Saudi Arabia and Russia, the world's two largest oil exporters, are exceptions to this pattern. In the case of Saudi Arabia, this is partly explained by the generally high level of tension across the region and the country's acute rivalry with Iran. It is also worth noting that Saudi Arabia's GDP per capita is twice that of Russia ($23,100 versus $12,100 per capita, according to World Bank estimates from 2021).

Russia was ranked 21st by GMI in 1998, but by 2005 it had moved into the top ten, and by 2012 it had reached the top five. It should be noted that Russia traditionally ranks highly in terms of heavy weaponry, which is partly a legacy of the Soviet Union, as well as its large, unprofessional army. Moreover, when Russia started to increase its military spending in the 2000s, it became one of the leaders in the ranking. In 2013-2014, a drastic reduction in the number of military personnel brought Russia back down to 10th place. But then, an increase in the share of military expenditure within the country’s budget and a rise in the number of military personnel after 2014 pushed it back up the rankings to 6th place.

At the same time, Russia had no real military conflicts with its neighbours and no serious military rivals in its orbit (with the possible exception of China). Moreover, its nuclear arsenal, the largest in the world, was a powerful deterrent, freeing it from the need to engage in a conventional arms race. Until the mid-2000s, this logic underpinned Russia's military doctrine.

There is no doubt that future rounds of the GMI rankings will reflect the sharp increase in Russia’s spending on its war with Ukraine in 2022 and the increase in the size of the armed forces planned by Putin and Shoigu in an attempt to surpass China (their reform plan lists a figure of 2039 servicemen, while The Military Balance 2022 puts the Chinese army at a size of 2,035,000). However, this would not mean that Russia has a very strong army; it would simply mean that it is one of the countries with the most inefficient ratio of military personnel to GDP and population.