Military Spending Is Increasing Again

Terrorism Fears Quicken an Ominous Trend

| 1222 hits

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, NOV. 16, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 brought with it a "peace dividend" that enabled many countries to reduce military spending and dedicate more resources to social programs. But that trend has been reversing, even before the recent worries about terrorism.



According to a recent fact sheet published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute -- "Recent Trends in Military Expenditure" -- world military expenditure has been increasing since 1998, after a period of reductions. The SIPRI Yearbook 2002, published last July, estimates world military spending in 2001 at $839 billion, up 2% in real terms from the previous year. The $839 billion represents 2.6% of world gross domestic product, or $137 per capita. The yearbook data do not take into account the supplementary spending adopted after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Five countries account for over half the world's military spending. The United States spends 36% of the total, followed by Russia with 6%, and France, Japan and the United Kingdom with about 5% each. The 63 countries in Africa and Latin America together accounted for 5%.

Though the Third World accounts for a small percentage of overall spending, in some cases military costs are high in proportion to the size of the economy. SIPRI noted that the countries with the highest defense burden, as measured by the share of military expenditure in GDP, are located in the Middle East and Africa.

The SIPRI Yearbook also contains data on arms sales. For the period 1997-2001, international arms transfers were down, due to a reduction in deliveries by the United States, which was the largest supplier, accounting for 44.5% of exports. Russia was the second largest supplier, with 17%. In 2001, however, its 24% increase in arms transfers made it the largest supplier, ahead of the United States. Other main exporters in 1997-2001 were France, the United Kingdom and Germany.

The top five arms importers in the same period were Taiwan, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and India. China was the largest arms recipient in 2001 after an increase of 44% from 2000. India also registered a dramatic increase, by 50%, making it the third largest recipient in 2001.

Concerns over effects of arms sales

Amnesty International is worried that by selling arms to developing nations, richer countries are undermining efforts to promote stability, the Guardian newspaper of Britain reported June 24. Though the G-8 countries are worried about terrorism and internal conflicts, they are also responsible for more than 80% of all new weapons reaching the developing world, Amnesty declared.

Amnesty said that armed groups such as al-Qaida and countries such as India, Pakistan, Israel and Zimbabwe have acquired huge arsenals that can be traced back to G-8 nations. Britain exports weapons worth $1.5 billion to developing countries each year.

Amnesty's criticism was supported when the UK Foreign Office published its latest annual report listing arms sales for 2000. The report revealed that Britain had sold arms worth 5 billion pounds ($7.9 billion) in the past year, the Times reported July 20. The weapons went to nearly 130 countries, some of them at war or tainted by poor human-rights records.

More recently, controversy broke out when it was revealed that the United Kingdom would make a gift of more than 400 tanks to Jordan, the Guardian reported Oct. 29. The move was taken on the quiet, while Parliament was in recess.

Further worries are due to signs that developing countries want a share of the lucrative arms trade. India aims to increase its arms sales tenfold, said an analysis published Oct. 29 by Stratfor, a Texas-based geopolitical analysis firm.

Stratfor reported that in an interview with the Indian press, Defense Minister George Fernandes said the nation is looking for new export markets and intends to sell more advanced items -- including warships, helicopters, aircraft and electronic warfare systems.

Indian defense exports have declined since 1998, when they peaked at around $38.5 million. According to Fernandes, they now total $20.7 million. He says the government would like exports to hit around $200 million over the next year.

Apart from promoting arms sales as a way to strengthen their local defense industry, Indian leaders are seeking to use the exports as a way to become a regional power while countering China's expanding reach, noted Stratfor.

Another area of concern, heightened after Sept. 11, is over the threat of biological and chemical weapons. The biggest hurdle in biological arms-control efforts is the "dual-use" nature of the technology, the Financial Times reported July 10. It is very difficult to distinguish between the development of biological weapons and the development of defenses against those weapons. Differentiating between military programs and commercial research and development is also tricky.

In November 2001, the United States effectively killed a protocol which would have given teeth to the 30-year-old Biological Weapons Convention. The convention, with 145 signatories, bans biological weapons but has no measures, such as inspections, to enforce compliance. The United States argued it was pointless negotiating with governments that are aggressively seeking bio-weapons.

Steps taken to control arms

Even if spending is on the increase, efforts continue in several areas to limit the damage caused by arms. On Sept. 20, the United Nations published a report by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on small arms.

In July 2001 the United Nations held a conference on the illicit trade in small arms and a program of action was approved aimed at reducing what Annan termed "this global scourge." He cited estimates of at least 639 million small arms in the world today, many of which "fuel, intensify and contribute to the prolongation of conflicts." Of the estimated 4 million war-related deaths during the 1990s, 90% of those killed were civilians, and 80% of those were women and children, mostly victims of small arms and light weapons, said Annan.

In the area of biological and chemical weapons, China recently introduced regulations on the export of potential dual-use chemicals, equipment and technology, Stratfor reported Oct. 21. Less than two months earlier, Beijing had also adopted new regulations covering exports of missile parts and related technology.

Stratfor noted that the United States and China have long been at odds over the latter's alleged proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction. It seems that the changes were due to an effort by China to improve bilateral relations before President Jiang Zemin's October visit to the United States.

Months earlier, the United States and Russia reached an agreement on a treaty that would cut their nuclear weapons by up to two-thirds, the Washington Post reported May 14. The pact, however, contains no requirement to destroy warheads that are taken out of service. Moreover, the accord, which expires in 10 years, allows either side to pull out with 90 days' notice.

In November 2001, President George W. Bush said he planned to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal to between 1,700 to 2,200 warheads. Russian President Vladimir Putin reciprocated by announcing his intention to cut the Russian arsenal to between 1,500 and 2,200. Each side has between 5,000 and 6,000 warheads, according to U.S. figures.

On Oct. 1 Archbishop Renato Martino, head of the Holy See's delegation at a session of the U.N. General Assembly on General and Complete Disarmament, urged delegates to continue efforts. "Practical disarmament measures to consolidate peace, regional disarmament agreements, and especially the measures adopted to curb the illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons can be re-energized," he said.

These steps, together with other efforts, "can have tremendous effects by improving the conditions for human security throughout the world," he argued.