Data show that military spending in Western and Central Europe is higher than at the end of the Cold War

STOCKHOLM – Military spending in Central and Western Europe is now higher than in the last year of the Cold War, a new report shows.

Europe has seen a widespread increase in military spending since the start of 2022, reaching a total of €552 billion in 2023, according to new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The increase is 16% more than the countries concerned spent in 2022, and 62% more compared to 2014, when expenditure was €330 billion.

All but three European NATO member states – Greece, Italy and Romania – have increased their military spending in 2023.

Lorenzo Scarazzato, a research assistant at SIPRI, explained to Euronews that military spending in Europe has increased every year in a row since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea.

That first action and the full-fledged invasion of Ukraine in 2022 led governments in Europe to increase their defense budgets at an unprecedented pace.

“There is no doubt that in 2023, Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine remained the main driver of increased military spending in Europe,” Scarazzato said.

The trend of Western and Central European countries to increase their military budgets is largely a response to an increase in Russian spending, SIPRI said.

Britain was the largest military spender in Europe in 2023, with arms purchases accounting for 2.3% of gross domestic product (GDP).

The UK Ministry of Defense has announced this year that it will increase this figure to 2.5%, although Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt has admitted that domestic economic conditions mean this target has not yet been achieved.

Germany has also increased its military spending; this figure increased by as much as 48% between 2014 and 2023.

In 2022, the German government established an extra-budgetary fund to meet NATO’s target of spending 2% of GDP annually on defense – a target the country signed up for in 2014 but was only achieved this year.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz publicly pledged to change his country’s attitude toward defense and security three days after invading Ukraine.

Scholz gave a speech in parliament in which he described the moment as “Zeitenwende” (turning point) and promised to dramatically increase his country’s defense spending and reform its military.

While Western European countries still account for the largest share of the continent’s total military spending, Central European countries are making their largest contribution to European defense spending since the end of the Cold War.

Poland achieved the largest proportional increase in its defense spending in Europe between 2022 and 2023, spending 3.8% of its GDP on defense in 2023 – still below the 4% target.

Poland has long made increasing its defense spending a priority. Polish President Andrzh Duda earlier this month called on NATO members to boost spending, citing concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin was preparing to attack NATO in the coming years.

“There is a trend that highlights how countries bordering or close to Russia and Ukraine witnessed some of the most acute increases in the decade,” Scarazzato said. “It would be safe to assume that this is due to their increased perception of threat regarding the annexation of Crimea and the large-scale invasion of Ukraine.” — Euronews