World

Brazil Is a Leading Military Spender? Some Surprising Countries Building Up Their Warchests

The global arms race knows no boundaries.

An international exhibition of armament, military equipment and ammunition in Russia.
Photo Credit: ID1974 / Shutterstock.com

It comes as no surprise to close observers of global politics that the U.S. government spent over $600 billion on its military last year, the most of any country on earth. But what may come as a surprise is that countries like Germany and Japan also spend substantial amounts of cash on their militaries--even though Japan, after WW II, committed itself to pacifism.

Data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on global military spending sheds light on the unexpected countries that spend a good chunk of money on their armed forces. Thomas Frohlich and Alexander Kent of the publication 24/7 Wall Street took that data and compiled a list of the 10 nations spending the most on the military. The numbers are based on 2013 budgets for militaries.

Apart from China and Russia being the runners-up to the U.S. in military spending, there are some genuine surprises in the SIPRI data.

1. India. Discussions of India’s rising power often focus on its massive population and growing economy. But the reports and analyses that also focus on India’s military prowess are on to something.

India spent a little over $49 billion last year on its armed forces, which amounts to 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product, the 31st highest in the world. It also holds the title of importing the most arms of any nation, mostly from Russia. India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, has proposed that this year’s budget have even greater military spending than last year’s.

Fueling this spending, as 24/7 Wall Street notes, is India’s long-standing conflict with Pakistan. India was partitioned after the end of the British occupation, a decision that created Pakistan and triggered bloody ethnic conflict between Muslims and Hindus. Now the two nations’ enmity stems from the status of Kashmir, a territory both nations lay claim to.

But another cause for India’s large military spending is a low-boil conflict with China. India is trying to keep up with China’s rise, and is also locked in a dispute with the Asian giant over the Himalayan land border separating the two nations. India and China fought a war over the border in 1962.

2. Japan. India isn’t the only country boosting military spending because of China. Japan does not have a reputation for post-World War II militarism. Famously, its constitution, written while the country was under U.S. occupation following its defeat in the war, bans war and a standing military. But Japan does have what it calls the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, which is labeled an extension of the police force but really functions as a military.

Now Japan is using that force to project power in a growing conflict with China that centers on islands in the East China Sea. The uninhabited islands used to be controlled by the U.S. after WWII, but were given over to Japanese administration in 1971 over Chinese objections. The conflict has accelerated in recent years after the Japanese government decided to purchase three of the islands. China’s military and navy have made forays near the islands in recent years.

In light of the tension, Japan recently announced a change in how it interprets its constitution. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe announced early this monththat Japan will be able to engage in armed conflict if an ally is attacked. The change in Japanese posture is reflected in its military spending. Japan increased spending on its armed forces last year for the first time in a decade. The country spent $59.4 billion last year, importing about $145 million worth of armaments.

3. Germany. The disaster of the rise of the Nazis and the horrific militarism they unleashed on the world soured many Germans on a strong military. But the German government has begun to reassert its military in recent years.

According to SIPRI, Germany is number eight in the top 10 countries spending the most on the military. Last year, Germany shelled out $49.3 billion on the military. It also exported $972 million worth of arms, the sixth highest number in the world.

The substantial spending on the military reflects Germany’s key role as an ally of the U.S., which includes helping out America’s overseas adventures in Afghanistan. It also participated in the French military campaign in Mali. An ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested last monththat the German military budget may have to increase because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

4. Brazil. Brazil is typically thought of as a rising Latin American power and a place where people can have fun on beaches. The country also asserted itself by hosting the World Cup this year.

But as SIPRI shows, Brazil also spends a lot on its military. According to the organization’s report, Brazil spent $36.2 billion on its armed forces last year, and imported $254 million worth of arms, the 24th highest rate globally. It ranks number 10 on the list of nations that spend the most on armed forces.

The Brazilian military came into the spotlight in the months before the World Cup. The country deployed its armed forces into the impoverished slums known as favelas to clear out drug gangs as part of a “pacification” campaign. In 2012, the Brazilian army deployed in the Amazon to guard the country’s borders.

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.