The United States and much of Western Europe trimmed their military spending because of budget constraints, according to new data from by a Stockholm-based think tank.
The slight drop in the United States, the biggest military spender worldwide, helped break a 13-year trend of surging spending on armies around the world, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in a new report. Global military spending was basically flat in 2011, growing only 0.3%.
“It seems likely that the rapid increases of the last decade are over for now,” the think tank wrote. It estimated that countries around the world spent $1.738 trillion on their militaries last year.
The drop in American military spending -- the first since 1998 -- was partly because of the long delays in crafting a budget as the Obama administration and Republican lawmakers clashed over cuts, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in a report this week.
European countries tightening their belts in the name of austerity have also spent less on their militaries, with Greece, Spain, Italy and Ireland paring back over the last three years, it said.
Yet more is being spent on the military elsewhere. Russia increased its spending by 9.3%, putting it third in the world behind the U.S. and China. It expects to spend even more in the future, aspiring to replace weapons that date to the Soviet era.
China's growing military might has worried its neighbors and spurred the U.S. to pay more attention to Asia, though Chinese military technology still lags behind that of the U.S.
All in all, military spending was up in Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia and down in Latin America, North America and the rest of Europe, with worldwide spending staying all but level. Researchers warned that data for much of the Middle East were spotty, making them less reliable.
The new estimates included some striking findings about spending in specific countries:
-- Azerbaijan, wedged between Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Iran in the Caucasus region, increased its military budget by 89% in a single year, the biggest increase worldwide, the report found. The dramatic growth came in the middle of increasing warnings of renewed conflict with Armenia over a disputed territory.
-- The increase in African military spending can be chalked up entirely to Algeria, the report said. It spent 44% more than the year before, fueled by worries about the Libyan conflict spilling onto its territory.
-- Declining military spending in Latin America (down 3.3%) is largely due to Brazil cutting back on equipment and other discretionary purchases for its military, an attempt to reduce inflation.
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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: U.S. Marines participate in an annual military exercise in Pohang, South Korea, in March. Credit: Jeon Heon-Kyun / European Pressphoto Agency