The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently released an update to its military expenditure database, which shows that the United States spends considerably more on defense than any other country in the world. The database reported that in 2019, the United States spent $732 billion on national defense, which was more than the next 10 countries combined.
U.S. defense spending increased substantially from 2018 to 2019 relative to other countries. In 2018, the United States spent more than the next eight countries combined. In 2019, that number increased to 10 mainly because U.S. spending increased by $49 billion and spending by Saudi Arabia decreased by $13 billion. Those two changes combined to create enough room for two new countries — South Korea and Brazil — to enter the comparison.
SIPRI’s definition of defense spending is broader than the definitions that are most frequently used in fiscal policy discussions in the United States. SIPRI includes discretionary and mandatory outlays by the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of State, and the National Intelligence Program. By contrast, the typical budget category of defense discretionary spending ($676 billion in 2019) excludes outlays by the Department of State and all mandatory spending. Nonetheless, the SIPRI comparison provides useful insights on the sheer scale of U.S. defense spending relative to other nations.
Although defense spending comprises a sizable portion of the federal budget and the United States vastly outspends other nations, this category of spending is not a primary driver of America’s long-term fiscal concerns. While debates over the appropriate level of defense spending are important, such spending is currently well below its historical average as a share of GDP and is projected to continue its decline for the foreseeable future.
Related: Budget Basics: National Defense