COLOGNE, Germany — The Pentagon is front and center in driving worldwide military spending to new heights, pulling Europe along in its wake, according to a new study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Defense budgets are growing again in the West,” said Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, a research fellow for defense economics and procurement with the London-based think tank. Pentagon spending under President Donald Trump is “pushing global numbers up,” she told Defense News.

The increase is fueled by U.S. and European perceptions of future threats emanating from China and Russia, she said.

Meanwhile, the Middle East and Asia — regions with sizable military budget growth in the past — are seeing their spending tempered as a result of “economic constraints,” she added.

Analysts unveiled their study, titled "The Military Balance 2019," on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 15. The report has the United States leading worldwide defense spending with $643 billion in 2018, a 5 percent jump compared with the previous year. The figure means the country accounts for almost half of all global defense increases seen in 2018, measured in constant 2010 dollars, according to the IISS analysis.

Source: IISS,
Source: IISS, "The Military Balance 2019"

Military spending by European NATO members totaled $264 billion in 2018, a 4.2 percent increase over the prior year.

For comparison, China is thought to have spent $168 billion last year, an increase of 6 percent, while Russia is listed fourth in the country ranking, at $63 billion, behind Saudi Arabia’s $83 billion.

The average rate of defense spending across Europe stood at 1.37 percent of gross domestic product in 2018, a benchmark that has hovered in the 1.30ies over the past several years. That is well short of the 2 percent set as the objective for NATO members to reach by 2024, leaving the continent open to continued criticism from Trump.

European defense spending in 2018. (Source: IISS,
European defense spending in 2018. (Source: IISS, "The Military Balance 2019")

“In mid-2018 he said that European states should increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP ‘immediately,' ” notes the report, referring to Trump. “As of late 2018, doing this would mean that NATO European states would have to find an extra $102 billion, on top of the amount they currently spend.”

Source: IISS,
Source: IISS, "The Military Balance 2019"

Meanwhile, the European Union is on a promising path to bolster its defense research and development chops, a prerequisite for fielding new capabilities, said Béraud-Sudreau.

The bloc has proposed a European Defence Fund backed by an annual €500 million (U.S. $565 million) under the 2021-2027 budget plan. The fund is designed to foster innovation and interoperability between national forces.