UK defence expenditure as a percent of GDP remained at 2.1% in 2017, the Ministry of Defence’s international defence expenditure report reveals. 

Total NATO expenditure was set at $959bn, an increase of $30bn since 2016. This increase primarily came from a rise in defence spending in the USA and Canada.

Compared to 5 members in 2016, only 4 members met their 2% of GDP defence spending target in 2017: the US, Greece, the UK, and Estonia. Poland slipped the threshold below to 1.98%.

Interestingly, the country with the smallest spend on defence as a percentage of GDP, Luxembourg at 0.55%, also had the largest proportion of their defence expenditure spent on equipment, at 42%.

The UK continued to spend the required 20% of its budget on equipment, with its figure being 22% in 2017.

Globally, the top four defence spenders have been the same countries since 2014 (USA, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia), although Russia has fallen from 3rd to 4th place this year.

“It is only by investing in our security, by making sure that we have the things that we need in the right number and quality, that we can be confident about our deterrence and defence”

Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller

The figures come amid a time of intense pressure from the US for NATO members to increase spending. Earlier this week, NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller stated at a speech in Paris that “security does not come for free”. France currently spends around 1.8% of its GDP on defence.

The Chancellor Philip Hammond will publish his 2018 budget on the 29th October. There’s been renewed pressure on the Treasury from the Secretary of State Gavin Williamson and the Defence Select Committee for an increase in defence spending. Indeed in June this year the committee published their report entitled ‘Beyond 2 per cent’, found here.


  1. If I understand correctly France spends less than us yet they have more combat aircraft, comparable navy, a larger army and more tanks. Are we doing something wrong?

    • I can’t figure this out either! France has an army more than twice our size, twice as many tanks and thousands more armoured vehicles, loads more aircraft!. And the British millitary has been reduced so much but we still spend 2%!. Fair enough our millitary is conducting operations all over the place but so is France!.

      By clever accounting is how Britain keeps to the 2% GDP!. I looked into it and found out that the government actually add all millitary pensions ect and other non defence costs into the budget unlike France! So if we didn’t add them we would only spend 1.5% GDP at a push!. We should spend 3 or 4% on defence and build more frigates, destroyers and submarines even if just back upto the number we had a couple decades ago 12 destroyers and 20+ frigates and maybe 14 submarines. And we should increase our army back to what we had also maybe even just to 150,000 troops and 50,000 reserves. And increase our airforce back up to pre conservative government numbers… A nice thought. Even South Korea’s military’s far far bigger than ours! And so is Japan’s… France has taken over as europes most powerful nation again also! Britain should be, we can afford it if we spent money well….

      • That’s wrong france and everyone else adds pensions as it’s the proscribed metric by NATO. France also includes paramilitary forces in its army number so it seems inflated vs ours. However France was unable to deploy even a small force to Mali without others provided all the strategic lift.

        Infantry battalions are cheap, strategic airlifters are expensive.

      • Their army is not twice our size! They include the Gendarmerie in their military figures. They also do not have thousands more vehicles or loads more aircraft.

        • ok the french army has 30,000 more troops than the British army then, 80,000 British army, 110,000 french. And army tanks, Britain has 168 front line tanks and 70 in storage, France has 210 front line tanks and 200 in storage so they do have nearly twice as many tanks. Ok maybe the french only have 50 more combat jets but they still have more until we replace the tornados with the f35s but even then we will have far less f35s than we did tornados. I love the British millitary and I only want it to be as strong as it can… The cuts are so frustrating, the type 45 numbers halved was scandalous!

    • French equipment spending is much lower than ours as is their training. their fixed wing aircraft are older and not as servicable and they lack many of the strategic enablers that we have such as strategic lift, chinook etc and ISTAR and C4 assets.

    • I think they have less combat aircraft. They do not have globemasters and various other equipment they are also not going to have anything approaching the F35. They have less active tanks and seem to have less combat vehicles in general. They have slightly more personnel but the official figure is much larger as they include the Gendarmerie… They have a few more ships but the capability of those is not necessarily as high. They have 1 old aircraft carrier and their subs are not a patch on ours.

      Just going on numbers is not necessarily a good comparison. You need to look at the quality and capability of those assets.

      • Agreed their serviced equipment is very much in line with the UK, they are also more willing to compromise on quality to meet price points as they are more geared towards export orders. The French version of the VBCI does not have the same level of protection as the boxer, the la fayette frigate looked incredible for its time but is completely under armed compared to a T23.

    • France spends circa $10 billion more than the UK each year.
      Remember these figures are all relative.
      The expenditure is a percent of GDP.
      The real villains are Germany who have a larger GDP than both France and the UK yet still spend less annually.

  2. I’m sorry but there will be no increase in defence spending any time soon. Too many other departments willl get priority.

    • Regrettably Rob, I feel you are correct….. no new money and we will have done very well if the Treasury allows us to keep what we have already – ref. recent rumours of cuts to frigate numbers…..

      • Cutting old frigates that are due to retire in few years isn’t a massive loss, especially when there are already ships laid up due to manpower issues. A temporary reduction in actual numbers that doesn’t really effect operational numbers while the 8 T26s and 5+T31s are brought online would be a small price to pay for maintaining the LPDs

    • I’m inclined to agree with you, but right now is potentially the most likely time it could happen. We have multiple vocal advocates for the armed forces demanding an increase, a Defence Secretary with a backbone, brazen operations by Russia on British soil, and industry gearing up for shipbuilding orders. There is political, operational, and economic desire for an increase. As long as May and Hammond (if only Williamson was actually a Clarkson…) do it sensibly, there should also be public support for it.

  3. one element of the UK defence budget is the funding of the security services, this is relatively new and is sure to soak up a fair amount of funds. Likewise the nuclear deterrent is included in the RN element strong argument that this should be more centrally funded from the MOD as a whole. Without doubt figures can be manipulated to fit most causes or targets.

    • Are you sure?
      I thought the Single Intelligence Account for the SS, SIS, and GCHQ was not in that total. And should not be, as those organisations are part of the Home Office and the F&CO. Only the DIS is part of the MoD.

      • George Osborne shoved the costs of SIA into the Mod budget as he did with the cost of replacing vanguard plus pension costs.
        The elephant in the room is the cost of the dreadnought program it is already running 10% above budget and the NAO have raised concerns that it could run 25% over budget all coming out of the defence procurement budget because of George Osborne.

        George Osborne accounting tricks hide the fact we do not spend enough on defence and it will continue to fall as the rising costs of pensions/deterrence and the SIA eat into the defence budget

  4. HMG jump on this figure too much.

    It’s how it’s spent as well as the totals. I feel there are several contributory factors.

    Deterrent in Core.

    High tech Cyber, C3, and intelligence systems and networks other nations may not posses, costing eye watering sums.
    Basil Hill at Corsham for example. What nations posses thst sort of C3 Hub? Few I’d think. It costs though.

    Usual HMG screw ups in procurement, delays and cuts pushing costs up.

    Gold plating in certain areas when mass is needed.

    Pay, conditions, a large estate. How do all these compare with the nations with more on a smaller budget?

    Probably other factors too.

  5. I have just reviewed my earlier comments in view of double checking , it appears I was mistaken in believing all national security came under the MOD budget, however, sadly a recent recommendation is for just this to happen, yet at the same time there is growing movement to remove the nuclear deterrent from MOD budget, clearly the scene is confused.

  6. Anyone that thinks that every other nation isn’t figure fudging is clearly in denial.

    From what i have seen, we top end gear whilst France accepts a little lower level but cheaper, which gives more money for numbers and troops.

    Which route is the right one, really depends on what war you fight and how you fight it.

      • I am not sure balance really works on a tight budget. You would end up with not enough of either side of the equation to be useful.

        • But I think that’s exactly where we are Steve. 7? SSN, 17 deployable escorts, 220 odd outdated tanks, a token carrier aviation wing, an enduring brigade sized force, etc. We’re not prioritising and not thinking through the NATO prism.

          • Yeah 7 Astutes is far to low a number! Granted they are the biggest atack subs the RN has ever operated but numbers matter! Even if we have to build some far cheaper diesel powered subs to build numbers we should! And cutting our type 45 destroyer numbers in half was a total joke!, I however don’t mind the type 26 frigates moving from 13 to 8 as the type 31 is a better and cheaper operational cost for the duties the RN will be doing and we should build more than 5 like the government said they would do if they cut the type 26 numbers! I hope they build atleast 8 and 8 of each frigate, and even an extra 2 ASW type 26 frigates now Canada and Australia are both building more than us, I’m not sure Canada will build 15 but they might, puting the RN to shame! We should have atleast 12 atack submarines, 12 destroyers, 20 frigates! We had more than this not long ago when Britain had a far smaller defence budget…

  7. Greece has such a high expenditure on defense because of Turkey, and Estonia is so small its total defense budget is miniscule. They do get points for trying though. I would find a creative accounting method to transfer funds from overseas aid to defense.

    • That’s easy make the law read something like this “An Act to promote the foreign policy, security, and general welfare of the United Kingdom by assisting peoples of the world in their efforts toward economic and social development and internal and external security, and for other purposes.” A rip-off of some American legal text (Foreign Assistance Act) but that is how you are able to list basing of Military personnel a overseas aid expense.
      The key is to bury security behind “economic and social development”, makes it sound all nice cute fluffy that way. When the real meaning is redirecting foreign aid into overseas military training, military aid, overseas basing, and counter terrorism. Then interpret the law to mean “help” their economy by basing troops their. After all soldiers spending money does stimulate the local economy now doesn’t it? In help social development by say drone strikes on Somali pirates. Wouldn’t you say bombing pirates is improving social AND economic development?
      In short embrace the benefits of creative interpretations of “Aid.”

  8. We may fiddle our figures to appear to spend 2% GDP, but the reality is we get very poor value for money, poor retention of key personnel, & reckless capability cuts. What worries me is the Saudi’s meteoric rise in defense spending. All that high tech kit could one day be turned on us. As the Khashoggi case shows, a single case could lose all the favour the West has with the KSA & put them into bed with fellow authoritarians such as Russia & China. PRC is building fast but all Europe & the UK do is cut, cut, cut.

    • Not quite Frank. France and Germany are both increasing their defence budgets. Not enough in the latter case but the direction of travel is right.

    • Really I don’t understand why the media is once again playing up the death of a dissident. Khashoggi opposed the Royal family in a Absolutist Monarchy, a monarchy in which the Royals are supported by the vast majority of the population. His death was as guaranteed as the peace activists who tried to bicycle their way through ISIS territory to give peace a chance. Ostensibly noble but in the Darwinism at work in both cases.
      In any case not the concern of anybody who does not live in Saudi Arabia. Not the US, not the UK, not France or Germany it is simply not our affair. He was not a citizen of any of other country but Saudi Arabia therefore we should be conducting business as usual. Not in any way working to undermine the only major government outside of Israel in the Middle East that has been consistently stable.


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