Pre World War One European Expenditure on Defence Wasn't Really that High

It’s often said that a Anglo-German arms race, combined with an increasingly militaristic psyche (particularly for the latter) was to blame for the outbreak of World War One. But data provided in Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War suggests otherwise. German expenditure as % if net national product was lower than Russia, France and Italy in the period 1873 – 1913. Indeed, France was almost certainly the most militarised country in Europe, with 2.29% if the population in the army and navy.

Defence expenditures as a percentage of net national product, 1887-1913

Clearly Russia and France have the highest average expenditure over the period – Germany and Austria are in fact near the bottom of the table.

Average defence expenditure as a percentage of net national product, 1887-1913

Russian data for this graph is 1893 – 1913.

Britain France Russia Germany Austria Italy
1873 2 3.1 2.4 4.8 1.9
1883 2.6 4 2.7 3.6 3.6
1893 2.5 4.2 4.4 3.4 3.1 3.6
1903 5.9 4 4.1 3.2 2.8 2.9
1913 3.2 4.8 5.1 3.9 3.2 5.1
1870 – 1913 Average 3.1 4 4.5 3.2 3.1 3.3

James Carson graduated from the University of York with a degree in English and History and have a keen interested in both World Wars and popular science - particularly space.