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The Facts


new internationalist
issue 221 - July 1991


Illustratin by Hector Cattolica

The arms race looks like slowing down. But is it really?
NI assesses the new picture in the light of the Gulf war.

The world continues to spend more on arms than it spends on anything else.

. In the past decade $8,000 billion was spent on arms - which could have provided all the people in the Third World with an income for three years.1

. The cost of mounting Operation Desert Shield - not including devastation caused by the Gulf war itself - was $53 billion. This is almost as much as the total annual foreign assistance that Third World countries get.2

. Six times as much public money in the world goes for research on weapons as for research on health protection.1 The Third World spends 66% more on the military than on education.3

. There is one soldier per 240 people in the Third World, one doctor per 1,950. Yet the chance of dying from social neglect, malnutrition and preventable disease is 33 times greater than dying from war.1



Since the end of the Cold War the big spenders are cutting defence budgets - but they still spend a lot.

Global military spending fell by 5% in 1990 to about $950 billion. But this follows a decade of soaring spending. So although the US and USSR have cut defence budgets by 6% and 10% they are still spending 30% and 38% more than in 1980.2

Military spending as percentage of GNP1

[image, unknown]


The global market in conventional arms has shrunk by 35% in just one year-from 1989 to 1990-and now stands at around $21 billion a year.2 Up to 1989 USSR sold most.

[image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]

Who armed Saddam?
Iraq bought over $31 billion worth of arms between 1970-1989. These were supplied by several countries including all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - USSR, US, UK, France and China.

The top suppliers were:2
USSR 19.2 bn (61% of total)
France 5.5 bn (18% of total)
China 1.6 bn (5%)
Brazil 1.1 bn (4%)
Egypt 1.1 bn (4%)
Others 2.8 bn (8%)


If redirected, the money consumed by the military could eliminate Third World poverty.

Suresh Karadia / Camera Press . Tornado GRI - Function: high level precision bomber. Producer: British Aerospace (UK). Cost: $40m. The price of five of these could feed 20 million Africans for one month.6

. Patriot missile - Function: missile interceptor. Producer: Raytheon (US). Cost: $1 m per missile. The price of 23 of these could keep two million Mozambicans in seeds, clothes, pots and storage facilities for one year.8

. Tomahawk Cruise Missiles - Function: nuclear capable missile. Producer: General Dynamics (US). Cost over $1 .4m each. The price of five of these could run UK charity Save the Children's budget for Ethiopia for 1990-91.6

. To create one job in the arms industry in India costs $13,500 compared with $3,800 in civilian industry, $90 in road construction, $80 in agriculture and $9 in commerce.7

. Two thirds of F-111 fighter planes are grounded for maintenance work at any one time. One hour's flight requires 98 hours' maintenance work.7

. A B52 bomber uses 3,600 gallons of fuel per hour of flight. An F-16 jet in training ignites more fuel in an hour than the average car driver consumes in two years.8


Following the Gulf war several big deals are in the pipeline.

. The US is negotiating sending $20 billion of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, and $1 billion to Israel.9

. British tank-makers Vickers are negotiating orders worth $2.5 billion with five Middle Eastern states.10

. Increased foreign demand for US Patriot Missiles is expected from countries in the Middle East.'10

. The US budget for the Strategic Defence Initiative (Star Wars) is estimated to rise $2.9 billion to $4.58 billion.4

. Syria is negotiating a $2 billion deal to buy military equipment from the USSR.11

. Malaysia has just bought 300 UK Hawk fighters worth $400 million.'10


The arms trade is scaling down in many parts of the world - but gearing up in others.

. In 1990 there was a reduction in nuclear forces for the first time ever. Fewer nuclear tests were conducted than in the past 30 years.2

. US defence spending is expected to fall from 6.7% of GDP to 3.6% in 1995 - the lowest since 1945. The Pentagon plans to scrap a dozen major defence systems including the MX missile and Trident submarine.4

. One in three of those employed in the military industry in the UK could be out of work by 1995.12

. Half a million jobs could be lost in the European arms industry over the next six years.13 Output at the huge USSR Tula defence plant is down 72%.4

. EC major weapons procurement has dropped by 10%. Upgrading existing weapons systems is taking over from developing new weapons. European countries are moving towards co-production of weapons systems.2


. Sub-Saharan African and Latin American nations are importing less weaponry due to the debt crisis and the ending of some 'hot' wars.

. Military aid to the Middle East is being increased to stimulate markets. Jordan is getting $28 billion from the US, and Egypt has had $7 billion of military debts waived.9

. More than 20 countries can now make or acquire biological and chemical weapons - seen in the Third World as the 'Poor Man's Atom Bomb'. Experts predict a chemical arms race.


. Defence budgets are estimated to be growing at a rate of 2% a year in the Far East. The area is becoming increasingly insecure due to loosening of superpower influence. Japan is arming fast to protect itself against China.14

. Aotearoa (NZ) is joining with Australia in a $4 billion deal to buy frigates for the navy to boost defence industries in both countries. Aotearoa's military component exports (worth $8 million) are set to quadruple this year.15

. The India / Pakistan arms race continues apace;10 India's defence spending recently went up by $450 million.16


. Some initiatives are getting off the ground and should produce massive cuts within the next three years. They are the Intermediate- range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, 1987, and the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, 1990. The Missile Technology Control Regime (MCTR), meanwhile has increased its membership from 7 to 16 and aims to become global.

. Other initiatives are having less success. The Strategic Arms Reductions Talks (START), 1990, which should have led to massive US and USSR cuts, have so far failed to conclude a treaty. And the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), 1990, has seen no clear political breakthrough.2


1 World Social and Military Expenditure, Ruth Leger Sivard, (World Priorities, 1989).
2 Stockholm Institute of Peace Studies (SIPRI) Yearbook, 1991.
3 World Social and Military Priorities 1987/89.
4 South Magazine, London, March 1991.
5 SIPRI Yearbook, 1990.
6 Oxfam, 1991.
7 The Baroque Arsenal, Mary Kaldor, (Verso, 1983).
8 Oar Smith, Earth Island Journal, 1991.
9 Guardian, 6 March, 1991.
10 Independent on Sunday, 3 March, 1991.
11 BBC Radio 4, May 16, 1991.
12 The Engineer, UK, 28 March 1991.
13 Eurobusiness, December 1990.
14 Flight International, 6 December, 1990.
15 Peace Researcher, Lincoln University, Aotearoa (NZ), 1991.
16 Mari Marcel Thekaekara, New Internationalist, May 1991.

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New Internationalist issue 221 magazine cover This article is from the July 1991 issue of New Internationalist.
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