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Western Defense Spending Rises to Counter Threat of China and Russia

The U.S. and other Western powers spent more on defense last year to sustain their advantages over Chinese and Russian technology, the International Institute for Security Studies (IISS) reported in its annual spending summary.

Altogether, the world spent 1.8% more in 2018 than in 2017 on defense — a total of $1.67 trillion. The U.S. was responsible for almost half of that growth, with a 5% boost over its 2017 budget.

Additional spending by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries also rose by 4.2% over the previous year to reach 1.37% of GDP. This still doesn’t meet the alliance’s spending goal, however, which is 2% of GDP. To do that, European countries would need to add $102 billion per year, Reuters reports.

The spending is motivated in part by Russia’s decision to move high-tech air defense missiles into Crimea and the expansion of China’s ability to operate far from home, the IISS said. China’s defense spending also grew by 6% from 2017 to 2018.

Western countries “still retain an edge over adversaries, but the gap is narrowing,” the IISS wrote. “The pace of change may mean that in the future, advantages — if they exist at all — may be held only fleetingly, before the other side catches up.”

Last year, Fortune reported that worldwide military spending was at record levels. However, that refers to constant-dollar spending. As a fraction of global GDP, global military spending has actually declined from over 6% in 1960 to just over 2% in 2017, the World Bank reports.

In 2017, the U.S. spent around 3.1% of its GDP on defense, while China spent 1.9% of its GDP and Russia spent 4.6%. In late 2018, Donald Trump blamed an arms race with Russia and China for what he termed as “crazy” U.S. military spending.