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Zipf’s Law and World Military Expenditures

Paschalis Arvanitidis and Christos Kollias

Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy, 2016, vol. 22, issue 1, 41-71

Abstract: The paper employs Zipf’s law to examine the distribution of military spending across countries in the world over the period 1988–2012. Military spending can cautiously be treated as a crude and distant proxy for military capacity and strength, and hence states’ hard power. The paper finds that the first-in-rank country (the USA) consistently spends more on the production of military capabilities than what is projected by Zipf’s law to correspond to a balanced international structure. This, tentatively interpreted, implies the use of military strength (and the concomitant costs for acquiring it) as a tool of hegemonic status consolidation, perhaps vis-à-vis other rising global players. In turn, the countries at the lower end of the rank, although they have overall increased their military outlays, seem to spend less on defence than this is anticipated by the law. This finding may be pointing to free-riding on the military strength of allies and other major powers.

Date: 2016
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DOI: 10.1515/peps-2015-0016

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