Military spending among 170 countries jumped by 4 percent in 2019 compared to the prior year, sending the total to its highest level in a decade, according to an annual assessment released on Friday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

While the new report attributes the soaring pay-outs to an “unstable international security environment,” Washington’s massive $53.4 billion “defense” hike – roughly equal to the UK’s entire military budget – played an outsized role in driving the numbers to their current 10-year record high.

China placed second on the list, spending around $181 billion last year as Beijing continues to modernize and expand its armed forces. Compared to 2018, both Washington and Beijing’s military budgets grew by some 6.6 percent, but while growth was similar between the two countries, the trends are “diverging” and the US is widening the gap, according to IISS research fellow Lucie Béraud-Sudreau.

“The budget increase in the US was the largest in 10 years, and spending has increased year-on-year since US President Donald Trump took office,” Béraud-Sudreau wrote in a blog post. “While spending is still rising in China, the pace of growth is decelerating.”

With total US military expenditures hitting nearly $685 billion in 2019, Washington continues to out-spend 11 countries combined – China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, the UK, France, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Brazil, and Italy. Though euphemistically termed “defense spending,” much of the US outlays finance a vast network of overseas bases and foreign troop deployments, some of them – such as in Iraq and Afghanistan – ongoing for the better part of two decades.

Military budgets in Europe have seen marked increases as Washington demanded its NATO partners contribute more to their own defense. However, US allies “still have some way to go before they would be able to act effectively without US military assistance,” the report notes, as it is unclear that the spending increases in 2019 “will significantly improve military capabilities in the near term.”

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