This Nation at War Spent a Third of Its Economy on Its Military Last Year

A leaked document from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency in April 2023 estimates that Ukrainian forces have sustained between 124,000 and 131,000 casualties, including up to 17,500 deaths. The United Nations counts 8.2 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe in its latest tally, not including the internally displaced Ukrainians in this lower middle-income country of 43 million people.

The war has brought on another cost: an immense jump in military spending to defend against Russia’s full-scale invasion that entered its 15th month with no end in sight on this bloody horizon.

Ukraine’s military expenditure skyrocketed to $44 billion in 2022, representing a staggering third of the country’s gross domestic product. That is up from just $3.2 billion, or 2.9% of GDP, in 2017. Because of this sharp increase Ukraine is by far the country with the highest military expenditure as a percentage of its total output of goods and services. (See if Ukraine is on this list of nations importing the most weapons and their biggest suppliers.)

Using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Military Expenditure Database, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 25 countries where 2022 military spending represented the largest share of that nation’s GDP.  Military spending figures are expressed in current U.S. dollars. Population estimates for 2023 come from the CIA World Factbook. GDP per capita figures come from the World Bank, and are for 2022. SIPRI notes that some values are estimates, including the spending as a percent of GDP in Ukraine and all the spending figures for China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, among others. 

Global military expenditure rose by nearly 4% in real terms in 2022, according to SIPRI, to a record $2.24 trillion, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a major contributor to this increase. “Spending increases in parts of Asia and Oceania also contributed to the global growth in 2022,” wrote SIPRI in its 2022 report.

Among the 25 countries on this list, Saudi Arabia comes in second place as it builds up its defense arsenal and continues to lead a coalition in the brutal eight-year-old conflict in neighboring Yemen. The Saudis spent $75 billion on their military in 2022, representing 7.4% of the kingdom’s GDP. By comparison, the United States is ranked 12th on this list, having spent 3.5% of its GDP, or $877 billion, last year. (Here is how the world’s top military spenders compare to the U.S.)

Excluding the United States, which is an outlier in how much it spends on defense, these countries spent a total of $314.1 billion on their militaries last year. The median share of military expenditure as a percentage of GDP among these 25 countries was 3.9% in 2022. A significant portion of the list includes lower-income countries, including several African nations with GDPs per capita of less than $1,000 and several other nations with GDPs per capita less than $10,000.

Here are the countries with the highest military expenditures as a share of GDP.

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