The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has released its highly anticipated Military Balance report for 2024, revealing a stark picture of escalating tensions and a surge in global defence spending. The report underscores Ukraine’s ongoing conflict with Russia, China’s military expansion, and the broader implications for international security.
One of the key findings of the report is the significant loss of tanks by Russia since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. According to IISS analysts, Russia has suffered losses equivalent to the number of tanks in its active inventory at the start of the invasion. This loss has prompted Moscow to replenish its forces, albeit with a focus on quantity over quality. In contrast, Ukraine has managed to offset its equipment losses through donations from Western allies, enhancing the quality of its arsenal in the process.
The report underscores a broader trend of increased defence spending worldwide, reaching an unprecedented $2.2 trillion, representing a significant 9% hike from the previous year. This surge is largely attributed to NATO member states bolstering their budgets in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Notably, non-US NATO members have ramped up their defence spending by a substantial 32% since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
China’s growing military capabilities also feature prominently in the report. The country has demonstrated greater power projection capacity, leading to increased cooperation among Western and Asian militaries as a counterbalance. Additionally, Iran’s influence in conflict zones is evident, with instances such as the Houthis’ use of Iranian-supplied anti-ship missiles.
The report warns of a deteriorating security environment marked by a rising number of conflicts worldwide, including the Hamas-Israel war, Azerbaijan’s takeover of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and coups in African nations like Niger and Gabon. Moreover, tensions surrounding Taiwan and the South China Sea have escalated due to China’s assertive manoeuvres.
In response to these challenges, countries are recalibrating their defence strategies and equipment plans. The US and Europe are ramping up production of missiles and ammunition, addressing long-standing gaps in defence production capacity. Meanwhile, Russia’s focus on military modernization is prompting some traditional buyers of Russian arms to seek alternatives.
Emphasizing the importance of the Military Balance report amidst a questioning of the rules-based international order, Bastian Giegerich, Director-General and Chief Executive of IISS, noted that while Western defence spending is increasing and equipment revamps are underway, challenges persist, particularly with regards to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s military buildup, and events in the Middle East.