A noted Swedish research institute says global military spending by the world's 100 largest weapons manufacturers rose by 3.5 percent in 2006, to $290 billion.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in its annual report, says U.S. and western European sales spurred the increase. It also notes that the United States remained the world's top military spender last year, allotting $529 billion for weaponry. Authors attributed a $24 billion increase from 2005 to costly U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Researchers note China's continuing surge in military spending, which reached nearly $50 billion in 2006. China overtook Japan last year to become the fourth largest buyer of military goods.

Russia spent nearly $35 billion on arms last year, and the report links Moscow's increasing buying power to its surging energy wealth.

Research project leader Siemon Wezeman said U.S. and European suppliers continue to supply vast quantities of arms to the Middle East, despite the fact that it is a highly volatile region.

Researchers also question how cost-effective military expenditures are as a way of increasing the security of human lives.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.