Globe, Latin America

Military spending: Latin America and Africa lead the way

A report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), published in the middle of last month, shows that the increases in military spending in Latin America and Africa were 5.8 and 5.2% respectively in 2010, compared to the previous year, while the worldwide figure was the lowest since 2001.

Worldwide military spending increased by only 1.3% in 2010 compared to the previous year, due to budget cuts resulting from the financial crisis. According to the figures analysed by SIPRI, once again the USA heads the list of nations with most military  spending: almost 700 billion dollars in 2010, as well as being the biggest exporter of arms. The report points out that military spending continues to be treated as a special case in the USA, despite the budget deficit that the country has suffered as a result of the financial crisis. At the present time, six out of the the ten most important arms exporters in the world are from the US. They are: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and L-3 Communications, while the remaining four are all European (BAE Systems, EADS, Finmeccanica and Thales).

The military spending referred to in the report includes not only the purchase of arms, but also the costs of operation, installation, building, research and development, and the administration and salaries of the national armed forces. These countries are followed in the list by China with a spending of 119 billion, and the UK with 59.6 billion dollars in 2010. According to this view the USA has increased its military spending by 81% since 2001, although it decreased by 2.8% in 2010 compared to a 7.7% increase in 2009. Compared to the first SIPRI report on world arms spending, published in 2001, the global trend indicates that each year spending has increased by more than 5.3 % on average until 2009.

The Regional Picture

As these figures show, while the worldwide rate of military spending has slowed during the last year, Latin America and Africa were the regions where the biggest increases occurred, due in large part to Brazil, Peru, Algeria, Angola and Nigeria; data which warn of a possible beginning of an arms race, especially between Latin American countries. In fact the conclusions of the SIPRI report concerning Latin America, which can also be extended to Africa, show that this increase remains paradoxical, given the more urgent need for spending on social problems, such as the eradication of poverty, or improving health and education services, and also because of the very few military threats which currently exist, especially in Latin America.

The reasons for this increase, according to the report, are due to the strong economic growth of countries like Brazil, and its efforts to increase its influence on the international stage. This country increased military spending by 9.3% in the past year, and is responsible for 80% of the increase in the whole continent. In fact, 2 years ago Brazil began a programme to acquire fighter planes, helicopters and submarines, although recently the Government has announced that it will postpone some of these purchases due to budget cuts.

The increase in military spending in the region in the years 2001 and 2009 has always varied somewhere below 4%. In part the explanation for this boom in spending is due to the average economic growth of 6% that the region experienced in 2010, according to SIPRI. Another of the most prominent cases in Latin America is that of Mexico, where since the beginning of Felipe Calderon’s presidency in 2006 and up to 2010, military spending has grown by 44%, to the unprecedented level of 5 billion dollars annually.

For its part, the Peruvian Government has increased its spending beyond the regional average (by 16%), to a level of 2.15 billion dollars a year, justifying the increase by the resurgence of the Shining Path guerilla movement in the past year. Military spending in Argentina increased by 6.6% (to 2.3 billion dollars), although according to SIPRI the biggest factor was retirement payments and personal expenses.

And contrary to what many might think, Venezuela, in contrast with all its neighbours, has reduced its defence budget to a level below that of 2001 in real terms, although it continues buying arms from its principal supplier, Russia. For comparison, in other areas of the planet, like Asia and Europe, military spending has levelled off or diminished as a result of the financial crisis and the slowdown of their economies. Thus in Asia the increase was only 1.4% while in Europe military spending fell by 2.8% in 2010 compared to 2009. In China the increase was only 3.8% compared to 15% between 2008 and 2009.

(Translated by Graham Douglas – Email:

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