NATO European Defence Spending Graphic blog

By Giri Rajendran, Research Associate for Defence and Economics

Last week was a busy one for Europe’s defence policymaking and defence-industrial community, with NATO’s latest defence ministers’ meeting convening on 10–11 February and the annual Munich Security Conference on 12–14 February. Firmly on the agenda was the growing threat that both state and non-state actors pose to European security, as well as the level of resources on which armed forces in the region are able to draw to meet these challenges.

The Military Balance 2016 – released last week – contains analysis and graphics illustrating the scale of the budgetary challenge faced by the European members of the Alliance. As shown above, only four of NATO Europe’s 26 members – Estonia, Greece, Poland and the United Kingdom – presently have defence-budgetary allocations that meet the 2% of GDP target set by the Alliance. The importance of this target was reaffirmed during NATO’s Wales Summit in September 2014, where states allocating resources below this level agreed to ‘aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade’.

As highlighted in the Europe defence-economics section of the current edition of The Military Balance, since the Wales Summit, some states – particularly in Europe’s east and north – are now registering real increases in defence outlays. The United States is also looking to boost its Europe-focused defence allocations. The quadrupling in proposed funding for the European Reassurance Initiative to US$3.4 billion in the FY2017 defence budget will mean that, if the budget is passed by Congress, the US will soon be the fifteenth-largest defence-spending power in Europe.

Nonetheless, as shown in the graphic above, for the remaining 22 NATO Europe states, the average percentage of GDP allocated to defence was just 1.1% – these countries would need to raise their collective outlays by nearly 45%, or just under US$100bn, to meet the target. Given the ongoing fiscal pressures faced by Europe as a whole, such a commitment to defence seems unlikely, even in the face of heightened regional threat perceptions.


The Military Balance 2016 features both regional and country-by-country defence-economic analysis, accompanied by explanatory maps, graphs and charts.

The Military Balance is The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ annual assessment of the military capabilities and defence economics of 171 countries worldwide. It is an essential resource for those involved in security policy-making, analysis and research. The Military Balance 2016 was released on 9 February. Print copies are available to order.

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The Military Balance 2016

The Military Balance is the authoritative assessment of the military capabilities and defence economics of 171 countries. 

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