In 1999 the world's power brokers spent an estimated
$719 billion of our money to run their military machines, or
'armed forces' - of which more than two-thirds ($520 billion)
was spent by Europe and North America alone. This is 14 times
more than is needed to eradicate the very worst - 'absolute' -
poverty from the world. In the same year the UN spent
less than $1 billion on peacekeeping.1
Between 1995 and 1999 the total value of the world's known - 'legal' - international trade in armaments was $111 billion.
The top four arms-exporting countries accounted for three-quarters of the total – the US alone for almost half. The top three are all permanent members of the UN Security Council, as are the UK and China.
Selling armaments to insecure and ugly regimes (Saudi Arabia, Turkey) is particularly lucrative. Both sides of potential flashpoints (Taiwan and China, Turkey and Greece, India and Pakistan) are supplied. Between 1984 and 1995 alone the ‘developing world’ bought 15,000 tanks, 34,000 artillery pieces, 27,000 armoured vehicles, 1,000 warships, 4,200 combat aircraft and 48,000 missiles.
Carlos Guarita / Still Pictures
According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), global inequalities increased in the 20th century ‘by orders of magnitude out of all proportion to anything experienced before’. The UNDP has devised a measure of equality called the ‘Gini coefficient’, in which 0 equals perfect equality and 1 perfect inequality. Already much nearer to the latter than the former in 1988, at 0.63, it deteriorated to 0.66 in just 5 years by 1993. Between 1990 and 1998 average incomes fell in 50 countries.
Difference between the income of the
world’s richest and poorest country:5
1820 3 to 1
1950 35 to 1
1973 44 to 1
1992 72 to 1
In 1998 the world’s top ten manufacturers sold arms worth over $86 billion – roughly equivalent to the income of all Colombia’s 38 million people. The combined profits of these manufacturers, at over $8 billion, exceeded the income of 60 million people living in Ethiopia.4 For some of these corporations, like Boeing or United Technologies, arms manufacturing is just one aspect of their global operations.
Worldwide, there were about 23 million uniformed soldiers in 1995. The more insecure a state feels, the larger its ‘security’ forces tend to be. On this score, Israel is in a league of its own. But the US, France, Britain and Australia are next in line. In some countries private security forces are similar in size to, if not larger than, their police or armed forces. Aotearoa/NZ suggests what a more self-confident state might really require.
In 1986 the global stockpile of nuclear warheads peaked at 69,490 – the equivalent of 3.6 tons of TNT for every human being. The number of warheads has declined since then, though their sophistication has increased. India and Pakistan have added themselves to the list of ‘declared’ nuclear powers, while Israel is known to have nuclear weapons without declaring them.
An estimated 5 million people died in ‘internal’ conflicts in the 1990s, which also generated millions of refugees and a vast number of human-rights abuses.5 Most of these involved the use of ‘small’ arms – those that are portable:
Small arms worth an estimated $3 billion are shipped across international borders every year.
Just $50 million – the price of a single jet fighter – can equip a small army with 200,000 assault rifles.
Lightweight small arms increase the ability of children to participate in armed conflict: an estimated 250,000 worldwide are now soldiers.
70 million Kalashnikov assault rifles – most of which are still functioning – have been produced in 100 different versions since 1947.
There are 250,000 licensed firearms dealers in the US – 20 times the number of McDonald’s restaurants in the country.3
1 United Nations website: www.un.org
2 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) website: www.sipri.se
3 WorldWatch Institute, State of the World 1998.
4 Figures for GDP from World Bank, World Development Report 1999.
5 UNDP, Human Development Report 2000.
6 WorldWatch Institute, State of the World 1999.