World Military Spending Surges But Hard to Sustain

[ According to the Reuters piece below, the richest 16 percent of the world’s countries’ military spending “is more than the foreign debt of all poor countries combined and 10 times what is spent on aid.” Thanks to David Donahoe for forwarding the article. –BL ]

Jun 9, 2004 | Reuters

by Stephen Brown

STOCKHOLM – World military spending leapt 11 percent in 2003 due to a “massive increase” from the U.S. war on terror but the pace may slow down as Washington’s pre-emptive strike policy comes under pressure, says a leading think-tank.

The United States accounted for almost half the $956 billion total, which grew by 18 percent in real terms during 2002 and 2003, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said on Wednesday.

SIPRI, whose security data is widely respected, said in its 2003 Yearbook the U.S.-led war in Iraq had not helped democracy in the Arab world but instead opened “new fronts and incentives for terrorism” which had “outweighed any deterrent effect.”

While not ruling out that Washington “could yet succeed in building a democratic Iraq,” it warned ongoing violence could lead to it “becoming a failed state or even descending into civil war.”

U.S. military spending has been driven up by President Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive strikes in response to the al Qaeda attacks on September 11, 2001. The trend reverses a decade’s decline from 1987-98 and moderate growth in 1998-2001.

U.S. arms outlays will continue to grow, SIPRI said, but the pace may slow as the pre-emptive war doctrine is challenged “on both ethical and international law grounds, as well as because of the large costs and dubious successes associated with it.”

The White House has proposed a steady increase in military spending over the next five years to $487.8 billion, starting with a 7.0 percent rise for financial 2005. But with federal budget deficits mushrooming, there is pressure for cuts.


Three-quarters of world military spending is done by rich countries accounting for 16 percent of the planet’s population. Their military budget is more than the foreign debt of all poor countries combined and 10 times what is spent on aid.

But despite the rise in world military spending, 2003 also registered the second lowest number of armed conflicts worldwide — 19 — and highest number of new peace missions launched — 14 — in any single year since the end of the Cold War, SIPRI said.

International law also made advances, with the International Criminal Court moving “from a paper court to a fully functioning one” and $1.0 billion spent on international courts.

But a Special Tribunal set up in Iraq to try ousted leader Saddam Hussein and his followers “could arguably be seen as a reversion to a system based on victors’ justice,” SIPRI said.

The United States and Russia remained the world’s major weapons suppliers, arming Taiwan, Egypt, Britain, Greece, Turkey and Japan in the U.S. case and China and India in Russia’s case.

Efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons suffered a setback in 2003, with North Korea becoming the first country to withdraw from the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty and evidence that Iran had acquired nuclear technology, SIPRI said.

But Libya’s decision to abandon weapons of mass destruction, and Iran’s to disclose its nuclear program, could mean “a unique opportunity to work toward the goal of establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.”

Control of ballistic missiles had been improved by tighter checks on weapons and money transfers between suppliers and recipients including some of “the most secretive countries in the world” like China, Iran, North Korea and Syria, SIPRI said.

It underlined the risk of biotechnology being used for “a new class” of weapons targeting cardiovascular, immunological, neurological and gastrointestinal systems in the human body.

But such attacks by aerosol and on water supplies or crops would not cause mass casualties, and reports that al Qaeda and the Taliban might use biological attacks were “ambiguous,” it said.

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