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    Volume 9 Issue 3 | January 15, 2010|

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Global Military Expenditures
The Rise of the War Machines

Obaidur Rahman

The greatest tragedy even at this triumphant day and age of human civilisation is the fact that wars are still fought to resolve differences. It is frustrating to realise that world leaders are willing to spend more money on their military facets instead of sincerely focusing on the actual development efforts that could secure the well being of the people of Earth. In 2007, the total global military expenditure was $1.339 trillion whereas the entire budget of United Nations (UN) for that very year was only 1.87% of that staggering amount! It took United States to spend about $903 billion alone so far to maintain the confounding costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan whereas the annual budget of UN remained less than $30 billion since its creation after the WWII. A study carried out by the Global Priorities Campaign (www.globalpriorities.org) in 2005 found out that only 1.5% of the world's military spending could save 6 million lives from infant mortality. The cost of Millennium Development Goals that 192 UN member states have agreed upon to achieve by the year 2015 has been projected at a total of $135 billion, which is about only 11% of the world's total military spending. In 2007, it was estimated that one day of spending from Pentagon's yearly budget was enough to provide anti-malarial net protection for every single sleeping site in the entire of Africa for 5 years straight. Two days of global military spending which is around $4.8 billion is equivalent to the annual cost of UN Action Plan's efforts to halt the Third World desertification process for over 20 years. Unfortunately such disparities towards securing human welfare have been going on for decades. In 1971, according to UNESCO, the world spent 7.2% of its GNP on military expenses compared to 5% on education and 2.5% on healthcare. In a world where more than a billion people survive on less than $1 per day and when earthly concerns like climate change, drinking water, health care and primary education are reaching dire stages, it makes one wonder why more money with the passing of each day is finding its way towards financing military hardware instead of prospering humanity in a peaceful manner.

Last year on December 19, the US Senate approved the gigantic $636 billion annual military budget for the year 2010 and it is expected that within the fiscal year of 2010 the amount is likely to reach somewhere between $880 billion to $1.03 trillion considering the expenses of all defense related aspects including the expenditure required to sustain US's “war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009, the number was $710 billion and the previous year it was $607 billion. But it's not just the US but other four members of the UN's Security Council, China, France, Britain and Russia were the top military spenders consecutively in 2008, accounting for the robust 60% of the total global military spending of that year which was an astounding $1.5 trillion. Even though global military spending witnessed a decline from $1.2 trillion in 1985 to $809 billion in 1998 however since then there has been an alarming increase of 45% which experts say was especially triggered by the tensions that existed during the eight year tenure of former US President George W. Bush where the military expenditures of US and the rest of the world experienced an increase to the highest level in real terms since the end of the WWII. According to Dr. Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of the Military Expenditure Project of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), it is the concept of “war on terror” that single handedly influenced such rise in global military expenditure as most countries now see this problem through highly militarised lens which justifies their massive investments on weaponries. This is not just from the perceived threat but militarily ambitious and rapidly developing nations like China and India are making the best of their economic boom which made India 10th and China the second biggest spender on military appliances of 2008. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Iran, Russia, South Korea, Germany, Turkey, Israel and Brazil have also demonstrated a sustained increase in expanding and modernising their military interest and might which was largely possible due to their increased revenues from natural resource extraction. According to SIPRI in this decade alone, Middle East has increased the overall military expenditure by 62%, South Asia by 57% and Africa and East Asia by 51% and Central America by 14% from that of their previous years. But it is the United States that remained the biggest player of all as she alone is responsible for 48%, almost half of the global military expenditure! In fact US spends more money on military aspects than the next 46 highest military spending countries in the world combined.

Many fear that the decision of US President Barack Obama, the Noble Peace prize winner of 2009, to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan is likely to increase the total toll of casualties on both sides undermining all the efforts to actually minimise it. It is fairly understandable that the more a country spends on its military the less money it has to spend on other crucial aspects like education, health-care and infrastructural development. As an utmost projection of that theory studies have found that with $903 billion, the cost of waging wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, US could have provided health care for 117 million Americans, ensured a year of public elementary schooling for 116 million children and four years of university education for 35 million students. In the midst of all the chaos and anarchy which single handedly ushered the wors financial downturn of the decade, surprisingly it is the arms industry that's been doing astonishingly well. In fact the presidential era of former premier George W. Bush was the period of great continuity for the arms industries and according to SIPRI, since 2002, the value of the top 100 arms sales has increased by 37% in real terms, defying the world recession, decline of growth in export earnings and skyrocketing of foreign debts. Every potential conflict is music to the ears of weapons manufacturers and each time there is a big boost in defense budgets, it certainly is good news for international arms manufacturers like Lockheed Martin, Northop Grumman and Boeing who experienced a surge in their weapons sales in recent years. Aside from the large scale manufacturing the star weapon of Afghan war, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) it is expected that the year 2010 will experience an expansion of airlift operations worldwide, corresponding to the need for new communications, navigation and surveillance systems that will allow military aircrafts to share airspace with commercial aircraft. The recent record-breaking $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter programme (F-35) contract by the Lockheed Martin with the US military which is expected to dominate the marketplace through year 2029 only indicates the increasing grim influence of military lobbyist in the global political arena. But it's not just the weapons manufacturers who are cashing in on people's miseries; other international corporate establishments are also increasingly aligning their interest in this unholy alliance of arms business and global politics. Many of the world's biggest banks have either loaned or financed $20 billion worth to firms that produce various controversial weaponries. According to a recent report from 2009 by the UK newspaper The Guardian, the British bank HSBC underwrote $657.3 million in share and bond offerings to the US company Textron, which manufactures the deadly cluster bombs. According to the same report US bank Goldman Sachs made a profit of $588 million for its banking services and lent to the same Textron which continued to manufacture the widely controversial bomb.

A recent UN study stated “at a time when global poverty eradication and development goals are not being met due to a shortfall of necessary funds, rising global military expenditure is a disturbing trend”. It is ironic that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council who's chief responsibility is to secure the world from any military aggression also happens to be the five biggest arms exporters of the world. The growing link between global politics, world economic functions and international arms trade is indeed a matter of grave concern as this sordid practice of commerce and politics certainly weakens all prospects of peace and stability.



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