Thursday, 29 November 2018

Global Militarization Index 2018 \ Europe: Trend of an arms build-up in eastern and western countries

The Global Militarization Index (GMI) 2018 not only analyzes this and other regional trends but also examines the relationship between the level of militarization of countries and their political system worldwide, using data of the Freedom House Index and the Polity IV Project.

Nearly all European countries (eastern and western) spend more money on their armed forces than in the previous year. The number of military personnel and major weapons systems has also increased. In the course of the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the violent conflict in eastern Ukraine, relations between NATO and Russia have deteriorated severely. This can also be observed in the GMI 2018. “The pressure exerted by the United States on European NATO countries to increase their military budgets has its first effects”, Max Mutschler and Marius Bales, the authors of the GMI 2018, comment this trend. In 25 of the 28 EU member states, there was an increase in militarization. The number of military personnel and major conventional weapons has increased considerably in many EU countries. They mainly invested in more tanks and armoured personnel carriers Eastern NATO countries in particular expanded their armed forces.  

Due to its difficult economic situation, Russia, however, reduced its military spending significantly compared to the previous year. “Still, Russia is one of the most militarized countries worldwide—as it had been in the previous years (2018, GMI position 6; 2017 GMI position 4)”, Mutschler and Bales point out. “The lack of trust has increased in Europe.  Large military exercises as in 2018 can be understood as a demonstration of military strength on all sides”, the authors explain.  

The level of militarization of Ukraine rose by one position to position 14, which continues its militarization trend since 2014. “This trend can be interpreted in the context with the development of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine that is currently worsening again”, the authors stress.

Top 10 positions: Middle East is dominating

Israel, Singapore, Armenia, Cyprus, South Korea, Russia, Greece, Jordan, Brunei and Belarus are in the top 10 of the GMI 2018 (positions 1 to 10). “These countries allocate particularly high levels of resources to the military in comparison to other areas of society”, Max Mutschler and Marius Bales explain. Despite dwindling revenues from the oil trade, militarization in the Middle East remains, by international standards, at a very high level. All countries in the region, except Iraq (position 41), can be found among the 30 most heavily militarized countries in the world. “Political and religious rivalries, as well as many high-intensity armed conflicts (such as in Yemen, Iraq and Syria), are the drivers of this high level of militarization”, the authors analyze.

Militarization and political system

This year’s GMI also examines possible connections between particularly high or low militarization and the political system of the respective countries. In doing so, it refers to the data from the Freedom House Index and the Polity IV Project of the Center for Systemic Peace. There are significantly more Not Free countries and autocracies among the countries with particularly high militarization levels than among those with particularly low levels. “One possible explanation is that the autocratic elites in Not Free countries often rely on a strong military to secure their power”, the authors explain. And still, quite an ambiguous picture can be found: “A low level of militarization, in turn, does not automatically go along with a high level of freedom of the political system but often points to weak state structures and, thus, less control by the state”, Max Mutschler and Marius Bales point out.


The Global Militarization Index presents on an annual basis the relative weight and importance of a country's military apparatus in relation to its society as a whole. It compares, for example, military expenditures with a country's gross domestic product (GDP) and its health expenditure (as share of its GDP). The GMI 2018 covers 155 countries and is based on the latest available figures (in most cases data for 2017). The index project is financially supported by Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Global Militarization Index 2018

GMI (various data sets and interactive world map)

GMI Ranking Table

Press release "Globaler Militarisierungsindex 2018 \ Europa: Trend zum Aufrüsten in Ost und West" (in German, pdf)