The deadly attacks on Brussels' transit system – one at the airport, the other at a subway station – on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, marked another wave of terrorism carried out by ISIS. Killing more than 30 and injuring more than 300, these attacks occurred four days after the capture of one of the men connected with November 2015 Parisian attacks. On Friday, November 13, 2015, six coordinated terrorist attacks were launched around the city of Paris, France that killed 130 and wounded 350 others. Sparking worldwide outrage and fear, these attacks followed those earlier in 2015 in France in which employees of the liberal media company Charlie Hebdo were shot and killed. Similar to the reaction from the September 11 attacks in the United States, the January attack prompted France and other NATO countries to re-evaluate their counterterrorism measures. 

Counterterrorism Funding in the United States

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, combating worldwide terrorism became a high priority for many nations. The amount that countries were willing to spend on counterterrorism measures increased significantly, particularly some formerly complacent Western countries. According to a Stimson Center study, from 2002 to 2017, the United States spent 16% of its entire discretionary budget fighting terrorism. 

Counterterrorism funding includes homeland security efforts, international funding programs and the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The amount spent on counterterrorism was $2.8 trillion from 2002 to 2017, for an average of $175 billion per year. That figure is more than Russia, India and South Korea spent on defense in 2017 combined.

U.S. spending on counterterrorism peaked in 2008 at $260 billion and then dropped to $175 billion in 2017. But, to put it in perspective, $175 billion is more than twice the Trump administration's 2018 discretionary budget for Health and Human Services.

Global Counterterrorism Funding

Immediately following the January attacks, France vowed to maintain 7,500 military jobs that were originally slated to be cut. The nation also deployed more than 10,000 extra troops across France. Then, in April 2015, France went even further. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, France dedicated 7,000 soldiers to homeland security to counter terrorist attacks. The country also raised counter-terrorism spending over the next four years by €3.8 billion, increasing the current spend of 31.4 billion. 

How does the expenditure of the United States and France compare with the rest of the world? Although confirming counter-terror expenditures by country is a difficult task, we can look at overall military spending as a rough proxy for counterterrorism spending. Below, we discuss countries that spend the most on their militaries and the trends in military spending. 

Total Military Spending by Country

The United States leads the pack in total military spending, but beginning in the late 1980s, military spending in the United States began a long decline. A significant ramp-up occurred in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11. Spending increased over the next decade until 2010, when military spending began a decline that has continued.  Many other NATO allied countries have followed a similar trend albeit at a much lower total spend trend. The figure below from The Economist shows military spending from 2006 to 2016 for the United States and other NATO countries.

Most of Europe saw a reduction in spending in the late 1980s and the 1990s. China, starting from a low base, began increasing its military expenditures in the late 1990s. By 2001, it had become the second largest military spender behind the United States, surpassing the UK, France, Germany, and Japan. During the same period, military spending by Canada as well as Japan remained constant. Germany saw a slight decrease in spending beginning in the early 1990s. 

Military Spend by Key Countries

NATO has a target spend of 2% of GDP for its members, a target that many countries have not come close to meeting, whereas the United States spent 3.4% of its GDP in 2019 on military expenses.  

As of 2019, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, total global military expenditures were $1.9 trillion. The United States continues to massively outpace all other countries. In 2018, the United States spent $682 billion on its military, more than the next eight highest-spending countries combined. According to Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI AMEX program, U.S. military spending in 2018 rose "significantly to support increases in military personnel and the modernization of conventional and nuclear weapons."

China is the second largest spender. The country spent $253 billion in 2018, which was an increase of 6.3% over the previous year. Between 2008 and 2018, China increased its military spending by 124%. India increased its military spending by 10.7% from 2016 to 2018, spending $66.3 billion in 2018. South Korea spent $43.1 billion in 2018, an increase of 7% from 2016. Much of the increased military spending in Asia is a result of the growing tensions between China and its neighbors.

The Bottom Line

If its total military spending is an indicator, the United States continues to lead the global terrorism fight. Russia spent $61.4 billion on its military in 2018, which was 22.3% lower than in 2016 and partly due to the nation's economic problems. However, military spending in both Central and Western Europe increased in 2017 and 2018, which may be a reflection of a need to combat terrorism and an agreement among NATO countries to increase their military spending. The 29 NATO members in 2018 as a whole spent a total of $984 billion.