US Accounts for Global Surge in Military Spending

UNITED NATIONS – After declining in the post-cold war era of the early 1990s, global military spending is on the rise again – threatening to break the one trillion dollar barrier this year, according to a group of UN-appointed military experts.

The 16-member group estimates that military spending will rise to nearly $950 billion by the end of 2004, up from $900 billion in 2003.

By contrast, rich nations spend $50-60 billion on development aid each year.

The 2004 estimates would be "substantially higher if the costs of the major armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were included," the experts say in a 30-page report released here.

The U.S. Congress has authorized spending of about $25 billion for Afghanistan and Iraq in 2004, but that is expected to more than double by the end of the year.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate in May that war spending in Afghanistan and Iraq was approaching about $5 billion a month. He predicted that total costs for 2005 would be $50-60 billion.

"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," warns the UN study.

The report, titled ‘The Relationship Between Disarmament and Development in the Current International Context," will go before the 59th session of the UN General Assembly beginning mid-September.

"With the end of the cold war, global military expenditure started to decrease," the report said. "Many expected that this would result in a peace dividend as declining military spending and a less confrontational international environment would release financial, technological and human resources for development purposes."

But that never materialized, say the experts, who included Brigadier (retired) Richard Baly of the UK department for international development; Friedrich Groning, deputy commissioner of Germany’s arms control and disarmament department; Catharina Kipp, director of the department for global security in Sweden; and Prasad Kariyawasam, director-general of the ministry of foreign affairs of Sri Lanka.

"Despite decades of discussions and proposals on how to release resources from military expenditure for development purposes, the international community has not been able to agree on limiting military expenditure or establishing a ratio of military spending to national development expenditure," they write.

At the height of the cold war between the United States and the then Soviet Union in the 1970s, global military spending rose to over $900 billion. But with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it kept declining, to about $780 billion in 1999. The recent increases are due primarily to a significant rise in the U.S. military budget.

"The United States now accounts for about half of world military spending, meaning that it is spending nearly as much as the rest of the world combined," says Natalie J Goldring, executive director of the Program on Global Security and Disarmament at the University of Maryland.

"This is difficult to justify on the basis of known or anticipated threats to U.S. national security," she added.

The world’s top five spenders – the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, France and China – account for about 62 percent of total world military expenditure.

The U.S.-led "war on terrorism" – following attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001 – has triggered a dramatic increase in U.S. military spending, boosting overall global figures.

U.S. spending alone has risen from $296 billion in 1997 to $336 billion in 2002 and $379 billion in 2003.

In contrast, Japan spends an average of about $44 billion annually on its military, France about $40 billion, the United Kingdom about $35 billion and China about $26 billion.

Goldring said that earlier this month, U.S. President George W Bush signed a military appropriations bill that provides about $417 billion for the Department of Defense in 2005. "But this is just the down payment on the year’s military spending," Goldring told IPS.

The figure, she pointed out, does not include an estimated $10 billion for military construction, nearly $20 billion for Department of Energy military programs, and perhaps another $50 billion for additional costs of U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq (beyond the $25 billion already authorized).

The final tab for this year, Goldring said, is likely to be about $500 billion.

"Despite President Bush’s rhetoric about realigning military forces, the new military budget still funds cold war weapons designed to counter expected Soviet developments. But the Soviet Union hasn’t existed for more than a decade," she said.

On Monday, Bush announced a major deployment of U.S. military forces worldwide, but it is not expected to reduce the overall size of the country’s armed forces.

Goldring predicted that if Bush is reelected in November, the upward trend in the military budget is likely to continue.

"But even if Senator [John] Kerry is elected, the United States will still be paying the costs of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq and commitment to poorly conceived military programs, such as ballistic missile defense As a result, military costs are likely to be difficult to control," she added.

Frida Berrigan, a senior research associate at the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center, said that according to the 2005 budget, the United States will spend about $1.15 billion a day, or $11,000 a second, on defense

"In comparison, we spend half that on public education per year per child in the United States," she said.

Under the Bush administration, Pentagon spending has increased more than 23 percent (in adjusted dollars). But while many Americans think that money is for the war on terrorism, that is not the case, Berrigan told IPS.

The defense allocation does not include the costs of ongoing fighting – about $5 billion each month – in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"These costs are paid through emergency supplementals. So far, the U.S. Congress has signed off on $190 billion in supplemental spending for war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan," she added.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that between fiscal year 2005 and the end of the decade, the United States will spend $2.2 trillion on the military, feeding the already spiraling global defense spending, she added.

Author: Thalif Deen

Thalif Deen writes for Inter Press Service.