Monday, June 20, 2005

[Military Spending] Global spending on arms far outstrips aid

The Sunday Independent
June 12, 2005
By Andrew Buncombe


As leaders of the world's most powerful nations prepare to discuss financial help for Africa, a new report reveals the extraordinary sums spent by those same countries on weapons compared to the relatively modest sums spent on aid.In 2004 - the sixth successive year in which arms spending increased - the global total spent on munitions topped $1 trillion (about R6,6 trillion) for the first time since the height of the Cold War. In contrast, the amount spent on aid over the same period was $78,6 billion (about R520 billion).

Once again, America was by far the greatest spender on arms. In 2004, it spent $455 billion, an increase from 2003 of 12 percent, fuelled largely by the investment in President George Bush's "war on terror".

America's foreign aid spending is around 4,1 percent of its arms bill. Britain, the second largest arms spender, spent $47 billion, a tenth of the United States total.

The new figures were released this week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), an independent research institute.Aid groups and campaigners say that, compared to the amount spent annually on arms, the sums being set aside for aid to Africa are negligible."When you look at the amount being spent on arms compared to ... aid, it shows how little is being spent on aid," said Brendan Cox, a spokesperson for Oxfam. "We are pushing to increase aid by $50 billion annually, but the US spends $450 billion on arms. This shows that, when there is a political will to find funding, the resources can be delivered. We need a war on poverty."

Other groups have accused the G8 nations of hypocrisy. A separate report by the London-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) reveals that seven of the G-8 nations are among the world's top 10 arms dealers - responsible for the export of more than $24 billion worth of weapons, half of which last year went to developing countries.

The group's report also refers to an investigation by the Congressional Research Service which shows that in 2003 just five members of the G-8 - the US, Britain, France, Germany and Russia - were responsible for 89 percent of arms sales to developing countries."

The cost of arms sales, and the conflicts they help to sustain, have a massive and disastrous effect on the possibility of sustainable development. Talk about ending poverty at the G-8 summit will only be meaningful if G-8 countries end their political and financial support for the arms trade," said James O'Nions, a CAAT spokesperson.

Basildon Peta reports that Kader Asmal, the former education minister and former head of the committee that decided where South African arms could be exported, described the huge arms exports by rich countries as "a terrible cycle of waste".

Kasmal said there were "huge arrangements" between militaries, industries and governments in the North to keep on finding ways of spending money on arms at the expense of bettering the plight of human beings around the world."All weapons are manufactured to be used. Sooner or later, they will be used and this is a terrible nightmare for people," he says.But Henri Boshoff of the Institute of Security Studies said he did not think the $1 trillion was "far out of proportion in keeping militaries going", especially considering 47 percent of the spending was by the US.

Boshoff, a military analyst, said a significant portion of the money was invested in peacekeeping operations that were enormously expensive but necessary."You can't spend money on development and aid without stability. Stability need military forces who in turn need money to keep going," he said.

However, Terry Crawford-Browne of Economists Allied for Arms Reduction (Ecaar) South Africa said a very small proportion of the money goes to peacekeeping operations.He said poverty and deprivation among the poor were the biggest threats to stability, especially in countries such as South Africa, as evidenced by the recent riots in townships to protest against slow service delivery. Ross Herbert of the South African Institute of International Affairs said it was improper to just condemn military spending without looking critically at whether such spending was justified on security grounds. It was naive to think that simply transferring money spent on arms to places like Africa would cause automatic development, he argued, because many African countries had demonstrated little ability to absorb and put aid to good use.

According to Crawford-Browne, South Africa faced no military threat from its neighbours, and spending 1,5 percent of its budget on arms instead of investing in poverty alleviation was totally unacceptable.