Global military expenditure reached its highest level last year since the end of the Cold War, fuelled by increased spending in the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies, a leading defence think-tank said on Monday.

In its annual report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said overall global military spending in 2018 hit $1.82 trillion US, up 2.6 per cent on the previous year.

That is the highest figure since 1988, when such data first became available as the Cold War began winding down.

U.S. military spending rose 4.6 per cent last year to reach $649 billion, leaving it still by far the world’s biggest spender. It accounted for 36 per cent of total global military expenditure, nearly equal to the following eight biggest-spending countries combined, SIPRI said.

China, the second biggest spender, saw military expenditure rise 5.0 per cent to $250 billion last year, the 24th consecutive annual increase.

“In 2018, the USA and China accounted for half of the world’s military spending,” Nan Tian, a researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure (AMEX) program, said.

With U.S. President Donald Trump committed to strong national defence, despite reducing U.S. troops numbers in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, 2018 marked the first increase in U.S. military spending since 2010, SIPRI said. His defence spending request to Congress this year is the largest ever in dollar terms before adjustment for inflation.

“The increase in U.S. spending was driven by the implementation from 2017 of new arms procurement programs under the Trump administration,” Aude Fleurant, the director of the SIPRI AMEX program, said in a statement.

The other top spenders were Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, Britain, Germany, Japan and South Korea. Saudi Arabia, which is leading a military coalition battling Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, was the biggest per capita spender on defence, just ahead of the United States.

NATO members spend over half

Trump has criticized some of Washington’s NATO allies in Europe, especially Germany, for failing to meet the alliance’s spending target of 2 per cent of gross domestic product.

SIPRI data showed military spending equalled 1.2 per cent of GDP in Germany — Europe’s largest economy — last year, based on GDP estimates for 2018 from the International Monetary Fund.

Canada’s military spending was tagged at $21.6 billion US in 2018, putting it in a group of countries SIPRI ranks as having moderate increases in military spending between 2009 and 2018, at 12 per cent. Canada’s expenditure equalled 1.3 per cent of GDP, according to the measurement.

Britain and France, the two other largest economies in Europe, spent 1.8 per cent and 2.3 per cent of GDP respectively on defence in 2018.

Military expenditure by all 29 NATO members amounted to just over half of global spending, SIPRI added.

Russia, which flexed its military muscles with its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and intervention in the Syrian conflict, dropped out of the list of the top five spenders in 2018 following an annual decline of 3.5 per cent.

Despite a sustained drive to upgrade and modernize Russia’s armed forces, President Vladimir Putin has had to tighten purse strings following a sharp decline in global oil prices and the need to prioritize some domestic spending programs.

Russian spending recorded its first annual decline in nearly two decades in 2017, with a fall of 20 per cent in real terms, SIPRI estimates released last year showed.