Amid Widespread Disease, Death, and Poverty, the Major Powers Increased Their Military Spending in 2020

tags: militarism, military industrial complex, COVID-19

Dr. Lawrence Wittner is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).


Last year was a terrible time for vast numbers of people around the globe, who experienced not only a terrible disease pandemic, accompanied by widespread sickness and death, but severe economic hardship.

Even so, the disasters of 2020 were not shocking enough to jolt the world’s most powerful nations out of their traditional preoccupation with enhancing their armed might, for once again they raised their military spending to new heights.

During 2020, world military expenditures increased to $1,981,000,000,000—or nearly $2 trillion—with the outlays of the three leading military powers playing a major part in the growth.  The U.S. government increased its military spending from $732 billion in 2019 to $778 billion in 2020, thus retaining its top spot among the biggest funders of war preparations.  Meanwhile, the Chinese government hiked its military spending to $252 billion, while the Russian government raised its military outlay to $61.7 billion.

As a result, the U.S. government remained by far the most lavish spender on the military in the world, accounting for 39 percent of the global total.  For its part, the Chinese government continued its steady role in the worldwide military buildup, with its military disbursements rising for the 26th consecutive year.  Indeed, China’s 76 percent increase in military spending between 2011 and 2020 was the largest among the world’s top 15 big spenders.  When added together, the 2020 military expenditures of the United States, China, and Russia accounted for 55 percent of the global total.

This upward spiral in military spending coincided with a sharp rise in the number of the world’s people living in poverty, which soared by an estimated 131 million to 803 million by the end of the year.

In the United States, the richest nation in the world, 2020 produced the largest increase in poverty since the U.S. government began tracking it in 1960.  By the end of the year, an estimated 50 million people were struggling with hunger, including 17 million children.  Plunged into severe privation, vast numbers of Americans lined up, sometimes in caravans that stretched for miles, to obtain free food at private and public food pantries and other distribution centers.  Ignoring the terrible human costs of the economic crisis plaguing the nation during his re-election campaign, President Donald Trump boasted instead of his administration’s “colossal” increase in military spending.


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