A country’s security and defense budget, also known as the military budget, is the portion of that country’s federal budget that is allocated to the Ministry or Department of Defense. In other words, it is the portion of the budget that is reserved for any expenditure related to the military.

A country’s military budget covers the salaries of its uniformed and civilian personnel as well as their training and healthcare costs. It also covers the cost of purchase and maintenance of equipment and facilities, and the cost of all military operations by all the armed forces divisions in that country.

Below is a list of the 10 countries with the highest security and defense budgets in 2012 (the most recent year for which complete data is available), as published in the 2012 Yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI):

  1. United States $683 billion
  2. China PR $166 billion
  3. Russia $90.7 billion
  4. United Kingdom $60.8 billion
  5. Japan $59.3 billion
  6. France $58.9 billion
  7. Saudi Arabia $56.7 billion
  8. India $46.1 billion
  9. Germany $45.8 billion
  10. Italy $34 billion
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Five of the world’s biggest military spenders (United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom, and France) are regarded as world powers, and each of these countries is a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council, an arm of the UN that was established after the Second World War.

The United States is the world’s biggest spender on security and defense, splashing a whopping $683 billion in this cause. Of this amount, $283.3 billion covered operations and maintenance. $154.2 billion was paid to military personnel. $140 billion was spent on procurement of equipment and weaponry. $79.1 billion went into research, development, testing, and evaluation. Military construction gulped $23.9 billion, and the remaining $3.1 billion was spent on family housing.

In terms of entity, the US budget can be broken down thus: The Army spent $244.9 billion, the Navy spent $149.9 billion, and the Air force spent $170.6 billion. The Marine Corps, Defense Intelligence, and the Defense Wide Joint Activities spent $29 billion, $80.1 billion, and $118.7 billion respectively on their operations.

Since the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon, the US has increased its defense budget significantly over the years. In 2011, the country’s defense spending was estimated to be 20% of the total federal budget for that year.

Analysts have for some time now been criticizing the US government for spending “too much” on defense. The country’s security and defense expenses trumps those of the other 9 countries in the list combined.

The Chinese government spent about $166 billion of security and defense in 2012, and this makes China the world’s second biggest spender on the military. The country ranks a distant second behind the US, whose budget is about four times that of China.

China’s military spending has been growing rapidly as of recent, and this development is stirring anxiety among the country’s neighbors and the US, who are becoming wary about the China’s long-term intentions. According to analysts, if China continues to increase its budget in the present fashion, the country will surpass the United States by 2035.

In response to the rising concerns over China’s budget, Major General Luo Yuan of the China Military Science Society said outsiders need not be overly anxious. He stated that the country’s military spending is only a reflection of the newly booming economy, and that the country is trying to make up for the past years of neglect.

Actually, our rapid spending increase in recent years is more like compensation for the past,” Luo said. “Second, the huge increase in our budget is because China faces a lot of threats, traditional and nontraditional. We have a lot of land occupied by other countries. We’re also one of the countries in the world with the most neighbors.” Luo also stated that China’s defense is enjoying the fruits of reform, just like the country’s other sectors.

Surprisingly, in 2012, Japan spent more on security and defense than France did. Saudi Arabia’s surprise jump to the 7th position is also worth of note. India is surprise inclusion in the top 10. Even though there’s no doubt that the US will still top the chart for 2013 (and many years to come), the standings may change – for the next 9 places.

Will Saudi Arabia and India hold on to their positions among the top 10? Will Italy be tipped off by another surprise entrant into the top 10? Let’s wait for the 2013 figures.