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World military spending declined in 2012

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FILE: Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning cruises for a test on the sea. (AP)

Global military spending dipped last year for the first time since 1998 as defense outlays shrank in the West but rose in Russia, China and the Middle East, a Swedish-based arms watchdog said Monday.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said the world spent $1.75 trillion on its armed forces in 2012, down 0.5 percent from the year before.

The fall, driven by spending cuts in the U.S. and other NATO nations, was partially offset by increases elsewhere. Military spending rose by 7.8 percent in China and by 16 percent in Russia, while Oman's 51-percent boost was the biggest percentage increase in the world, SIPRI said.

"We are seeing what may be the beginning of a shift in the balance of world military spending from the rich Western countries to emerging regions," SIPRI researcher Sam Perlo-Freeman said in a statement. The drop in the West was linked to austerity policies and the drawdown in Afghanistan, he added.

SIPRI's report showed the U.S. remains way ahead of all other countries, accounting for 39 percent of global military spending in 2012. But it was the first time the U.S. share of global military spending dropped below 40 percent since the Cold War, the institute said.

"The U.S. of course is still far and away the No. 1, but the ratio between the U.S. and China has gone down from 7-1 a few years ago to 4-1 in 2012," Perlo-Freeman told The Associated Press.

He stressed that the gap was larger when it comes to actual capabilities, noting that the U.S. has 11 aircraft carriers while China has one.

"It takes time for changes in military spending to translate into sustained changes in military capabilities," Perlo-Freeman said.

SIPRI gave no dollar figures for spending by countries including Iran, Syria and North Korea, citing a lack of transparency and uncertainties regarding currency exchange rates.