What’s going on in the world of international security? A good way to get a feel for things is to follow the money. I don’t mean “follow the money” in the cynical sense of tracing a series of transactions to the Masons pulling worldwide strings from the Vatican basement. Come on, people. I mean you can just look at where countries are spending their money. Expenditures represent monetary cost, but also opportunity cost; funds spent on one thing cannot be spent on anything else. Defense is an especially tough sell since it doesn’t produce anything and thus explicitly takes away from other needs. Budgets indicate priorities, and changes in defense expenditures offer clues to the mindset of the people signing off on them.
In the past week, two important insights into the current environment emerged, courtesy of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
1.) Global defense spending is up for the first time since 2011.
2.) Saudi Arabia overtook Russia as the third-biggest spender (behind the U.S. and China).
With the opportunity cost represented by such spending, it means leaders all over the world – but especially the Middle East – are evaluating their situations according to varying circumstances, and coming to the conclusion they need to fund defenses from external threats.[i] This is important enough they’re willing to take away from other things they’d perhaps rather be doing.
Take our new bronze medalist, Saudi Arabia. Amid plummeting oil revenue, the government is cutting the subsidies its population regards as a birthright, looking to raise taxes and other levies, and all the while boosting defense spending to unheard-of levels. It is a stark example of shifting priorities.
We can visualize this through the good work of the analysts of PwC (the artist formerly known as PriceWaterhouseCoopers). This is one of those products that restores one’s faith in the consulting industry. I wish I had made it and hope I have half the brain of those who did. I also wish I could show it bigger (so view the original):
Just think on that for a bit. Check out the original report to view it bigger, or for definitions of some of the terms they use. It’s a few months old so they missed Saudi Arabia surpassing Russia, but overall it’s still pretty accurate.
Where are expenditures growing? Shrinking? How do those countries view their role in their region or the world? What are the implications?
I have other thoughts… but one post at a time. Just admire the chart and consider.
[i] I specifically say “external” because certain authoritarian regimes like, say, China’s, retain immense internal security forces that are not counted with defense figures.