The world's military spending grew by only 1.3 percent in 2010, thanks to budget constraints caused by the global financial crisis, with the top three arms investors being the United States, China and Britain, a think-tank said Monday.
South America was the region with the largest military spending growth of 5.8 percent, with countries such as Brazil seeking to increase its international influence, said the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
The institution, known as SIPRI, said global military spending in 2010 was the lowest since 2001.
It said the United States topped the list by spending $698 billion last year, followed by China with $119 billion and the United Kingdom with $59.6 billion.
SIPRI said the rise in spending in South America was partly driven by increased staff costs and internal security threats in some countries, but that the change also should be seen in light of the region's strong economic growth and relatively limited exposure to the world financial crisis.
In many other countries, military investment growth slowed or decreased as governments dealt with budget constraints, SIPRI said.
Arms investment growth in Asia slowed to 1.4 percent, reaching a total of $317 billion, and weapons outlays in Europe fell by 2.8 percent to $382 billion in 2010.
China increased its military expenditures by 3.8 percent in 2010 to $119 billion. That compared to a growth of 15 percent between 2008 and 2009, and SIPRI said the Chinese government had linked its smaller increase in 2010 to the country's weaker economic performance the year before.
Spending cuts also were noticeable in countries with financial problems such as Greece and the smaller economies in central and eastern Europe, the think-tank said.
The U.S. arms investment growth slowed to 2.8 percent in 2010, compared with a growth of 7.7 percent in 2009. However, the watchdog said the share of U.S. gross domestic product spent on arms increased to 4.8 percent in 2010, from 4.6 percent in 2009, and noted the country accounted for $19.6 billion of the total $20.6 billion global increase in 2010.
"Even in the face of efforts to bring down the soaring U.S. budget deficit, military spending continues to receive privileged treatment," SIPRI said in the report.
"At 4.8 per cent of GDP, U.S. military spending in 2010 represents the largest economic burden outside the Middle East," Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of SIPRI's military expenditure project said. In the Middle East, military expenditures rose by 2.5 percent to $111 billion, mainly supported by Saudi Arabia's heavy arms spending.
Major oil-producers in Africa, such as Algeria, Angola and Nigeria, also helped increase arms spending in that region by 5.2 percent to $30.1 billion, the think-tank said.