The highest spend, of 2.4% GDP, was made by Estonia, followed by 2% in Greece and 1.8% each by France and Britain.
This country spent just 0.3% of GDP on defence, which was just half of what was spent by Malta. That Mediterranean island has one-tenth of the population of Ireland.
Tiny Liechtenstein, with a population of 37,666, managed to spend 0.4% of its GDP on defence.
Iceland doesn’t even have a standing army, yet it still managed to spend 0.1% of its GDP on defence.
According to EU figures published recently for defence spending in 2016, the 28 member states spent a combined €200bn on defence that year, equivalent to 1.3% of European GDP.
This is much less than the amount spent on social protection (expenditure equivalent to 19.1% of GDP in 2016), health (7.1%), and education (4.7.%).
In absolute terms Britain spent the most on defence (€47bn) that year. It was followed by France (€41bn, or 20% of the EU total), Germany (€33bn, or 16%), and Italy (€22bn, or 11%).
Together, these four countries accounted for 71% of the total defence expenditure in the EU.
By comparison Ireland spent just under €900m on defence.
The Department of Defence reacted to the latest figures by saying the level of expenditure on defence in any particular country is influenced by a variety of factors, including that country’s political and security environment, its history, demography, and economy.
This might account for major spending by Estonia, which is concerned by possible Russian aggression.
However, both Malta and Liechtenstein don’t appear to have any tangible threats to their internal security. Nor does Ireland face any major external threat at present, even though there is always a possibility that dissident republicans could cause trouble if Brexit results in a hard border.
The Department of Defence added that each country pursues a defence policy that reflects its particular requirements and there can be significant differences in the proportion of funding that differing states allocate to defence.
“While there is always the potential to invest additional resources in defence, this must be considered against other social, economic and environmental priorities”
The department said that there are a range of other international comparator measures which would place Ireland higher compared to other countries, including total defence expenditure, the percentage of overall government expenditure, and expenditure on a per capita basis. However, it didn’t specify what these other surveys were or where they could be found.
Defence Forces representative organisations have often argued that the budget assigned by the Government annually for defence is too low.
They have also accused the Department of Defence of using the money saved on wages to purchase equipment, especially new ships for the Naval Service.
During the recession the only major investment by the Department of Defence in new equipment went to the Naval Service.