New Internationalist

Billion dollar Drain

Issue 083

Imagine sitting in a taxi with the meter ticking up $1 million a minute. That’s roughy what the planet’s passengers are paying for the arms race, according to a study just released by UNICEF.

Estimates of arms-spending should perhaps be given in megaton-years to reduce the number of noughts on the end, but if the figure means anything then the total bill for weapons-buying since the end of World War If is $6000,000,000,000 or about $1500 for every man woman and child alive in the world today.

One thing it does mean is that less cash is available to meet foreign aid obligations. Ten years ago, the industrialised world agreed to give 0.7% of its G.N.P. in aid to the developing countries. Today they are giving, on average, only 0.3% of G.N.P. Yet the target could be fulfilled by diverting less than 5% of the money spent on defence.

So small are the cash needs for development in comparison with the arms bill that some of the Third World’s most pressing priorities could be met out of the Pentagon’s petty cash account. The developing world’s total requirement for agricultural assistance, for example, is $5 to $6 billion a year - one week’s worth of weapons. Malaria, which now kills an estimated one million children a year, could be wiped off the face of the earth, says the World Health Organisation in Geneva, at a cost of $450 million - about as much as the world spends on arms every twelve hours.

With as many soldiers as teachers in the world, it is not just cash which is swallowed by the bottomless pit of the nuclear silo. A quarter of all the world’s scientists and engineers and about half of all scientific research and development is now devoted to weaponry. ’ Military assistance’ concludes the UNICEF report, ’ is the single most massive obstacle to development progress’.

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