The latest report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that taking some data uncertainties, the world military spending in 2011 was essentially unchanged when compared to 2012. This breaks a 13-year run of continuous military spending increases. It could be a cause for celebration, except that it is still a totally objectionable spending of people’s funds.
It is difficult to assess if this leveling of military spending represents a long-term change, since although some countries have diminished their spending others have kept it as usual or even increased it. On the other hand, the leveling must just be due mainly to the countries’ economic crises and will resume as soon as these crises end.
For example, most European countries’ dire economic situation may mean that spending will continue to fall for the next 2-4 years. This is probably the case of countries such as Greece (down 26 per cent since 2008), Spain (18 per cent), Italy (16 per cent) Ireland (11 per cent) and Belgium (12 per cent), whose economies have been ravaged by the recent crisis. In contrast, the United Kingdom, France and Germany –the top three spenders in Western Europe- have made only cosmetic cuts amounting to less than five per cent.
Lower military expenditures didn’t follow the same pattern in both Western and Eastern Europe. While in Western Europe military spending didn’t begin to fall until 2010, following the government’s stimulus measures in 2009, in most Central and Eastern European countries military spending began to fall in 2009, because their weaker economies couldn’t sustain high budget deficits, among them those due to military expenditures.
In the case of the US, military spending is likely to fall, due mainly to the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and diminished number of troops in Afghanistan. In these cases, reduced spending on the additional war budget, also known as Overseas Contingency Operations, will probably continue to fall if plans to end combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014 are fulfilled, and if the US doesn’t get involved in another major war as could be the case with Iran.
Military spending continues to increase in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. If the Middle East conflict continues to deteriorate, it could change the expenditure situation significantly. If this doesn’t happen, though, SIPRI believes that the rapid increases of the last decade are probably over for now.
Despite its 2009 severe recession, Russia has increased its military spending by 16 percent in real terms since 2008, which includes a 9.3 percent increase in 2011. Russia has now overtaken the UK and France, and is now the third largest military spender worldwide, following the US and China. Further increases in military spending are planned in Russia, according to some experts.
In Asia, increased military spending by China in 2011, estimated in 6.7 per cent in real terms, accounts for the total regional increase. In the rest of Asia and Oceania, total military spending slightly decreased by 0.4 per cent, reflecting a mixed pattern of increases and decreases.
Although China has increased its military spending by 500 percent since 1995, and is now the second highest military spender in the world, its spending ($143 billion in 2011) has remained very stable as a share of China’s GDP, at approximately two percent since 2001. Thus, China’s increase only reflects the country’s rapid economic growth.
According to SIPRI’s estimates, the world’s military spending in 2011 was $1,738 billion, of which $711 billion are by the US. To put this number in perspective, it is several hundred times the World Health Organization (WHO)’s annual budget. In 2010, WHO’s annual budget was $5 billion. World military spending is also several hundred times higher than the annual budget of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which at $10.8 billion has nearly twice the budget of the entire WHO, and the Gates Foundation, whose annual budget for global health is $2 billion.
That leading world powers would devote astronomical sums to activities aimed at destroying life in detriment of paltry sums to improve people’s health (particularly the most vulnerable) says volumes about the possibilities of creating a more peaceful, harmonious world.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.