issue 163 - September 1986
The world at war
The world spent $663,120 million on arms in 19851.
This affected all of us, however far we were from the nearest
missile base. Military expenditure distorts economies and
renders wars more likely - especially in the Third World.
Every government makes choices about how to spend its money. Comparing the amount spent on arms with that spent on health care indicates current global priorities.
The superpowers are by far the world's biggest spenders on arms. But when both military and health expenditure are calculated as a percentage of gross national product (GNP), they come much lower in the global league table.
Note that nine of the top ten military spenders are from the Middle East while nine of the top ten health spenders come from Western Europe6.
GREAT DOUBLE ACT
The United States and the Soviet Union have just 11% of the world's people. But they spend more than half the world's military budget, perform 80% of its military research, account for 53% of its arms exports - and possess 97% of it nuclear weapons.
In addition, of the 1.8 million soldiers stationed on foreign soil around the globe, 69% come form the USSR and the US.9
Every time one of the superpowers develops a new weapon,
THE ECONOMY UNDER FIRE
Spending resources on arms may actually harm a country's economic health, as this table shows10.
This is because wealth spent on arms adds nothing to a nation's capital stock. And the UN estimates that one thousand million dollars spent in a major industrialized country on public service employment would yield 51,000 more jobs than if it were spent on the military sector11.
1. World Armament and Disarmament, SIPRI 1986. Expressed in US$ at 1980 prices and exchange rates. All other values expressed in US$ at 1982 prices and exchange rates.
2. Ruth Leger Sivard World Military and Social Expenditures 1985.
3. ibid. The 12 countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. Their combined health budget for 1982 comes to $204 million.
5. ibid. The Third World spent $163,034 million on health and education in 1982.
11 The Relationship between Disarmament and Development, United Nations Centre for Disarmament 1982