Arms Spending Dwarfs Commitment to Development Goals

February 15, 2008 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

In September 2000, at the UN Millennium Summit in New York, 189 countries agreed to work together towards the fulfilment of eight ‘Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs). These goals, whose aim is to reduce inequalities that exist between the developing and the developed worlds, include halving extreme poverty, providing all children with a primary education, reducing child mortality, promoting gender equality and combating HIV/AIDS. They can be broken down into 18 individual measurable targets.

The year 2007 marked the mid-point of the 15-year period that world leaders had given themselves to meet these targets. 2007 was also the year that marked the breaking of the Guinness World Record for the largest number of people to stand up against poverty within 24 hours. On the 16/17th October, 43.7 million people in 127 countries gathered in numerous locations around the globe to mark the event and to remind the world’s leaders of their obligations.

However, with just over half the allocated time for the realisation of the goals having elapsed, progress towards attaining the goals has been described as a mixed picture. Although some targets are on track for being met by 2015 in certain parts of the world, progress towards other targets has been painfully slow in other parts of the globe.

The eighth and final Millennium Development goal states that developed and developing countries should form a global partnership for development which would ensure progress towards the fulfilment of the previous seven goals. Developing countries cannot achieve these goals without the assistance of the developed world. According to one source, for the MDGs to be achieved on schedule, official development assistance would need to be doubled to around $100 billion (USD) a year.

Although the figure of $100 billion is staggering, it needs to be viewed in context. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SPIRI’s) 2006 Year Book on Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, world military expenditure totalled $1.118 trillion (USD) in 2005. In turn this works out to be 2.5% of world GDP, or roughly $173 (USD) for every person on the planet. SPIRI’s book also states that world military expenditure increased by 34% in the period 1996-2005. In contrast, the UN, together with its affiliated agencies, spends a meagre $20 billion (USD) each year on all its programmes, the equivalent of $3 for every individual on the planet. It must be acknowledged that the UN has faced financial difficulties for nearly twenty years, causing it to cut back on a number of its programs. This in turn can be traced to a number of member states not paying the entirety of their membership dues as well as cutting back on their donations to the UN’s voluntary funds.

To many people, it will probably come as little surprise to learn that a minority of countries are responsible for a majority of the world’s military spending. As it stands, fifteen countries are responsible for around 84% of the money spent. Unsurprisingly, the US leads the pack when it comes to defence spending. According to the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the US was responsible for 43% of the $1.118 trillion that the world spent in 2005. Britain comes fourth in the league table of military spending, after US, China and Russia, having spent $51.1 billion or 5% of the world’s total in 2005. However, it still lagged far behind the US, as did both Russia and China who each accounted for roughly 6% of the total money spent. US military spending for 2007 was estimated to have been around $626.1 billion.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation, the largest peace lobby in Washington, states that in 2006, 28% of the money paid in taxes in the US went towards military spending, with another 13% going to disburse the cost of past wars.

The figure of $100 billion, stated earlier, amounts to just less than 1/11 of what the world spent in 2005 on arming itself.

Thus far, the Iraq warn alone has cost the US $484 billion. As the monetary cost of the Iraq war, according to the Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, is expected to total between 1 and 2 trillion dollars before its end, it would appear that some of the leaders of the developed world have forgotten about a very different kind of war that urgently needs to be fought on many fronts against an enemy that kills millions every year while condemning many more to a life of misery, thus sowing the seeds of future problems. This war, which has its battlegrounds in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as in other impoverished parts of the world is the war on poverty, deprivation and ill health.

The question was once asked: ‘What if hospitals and schools had all the money they needed, while armies had to rely on charity for money to buy the weapons they required?’

This is a point worth pondering; so too is the question of whether the leaders of the developed world will fulfil their obligations to the rest of humanity or whether they will shirk from their responsibilities. Indeed, thirty years before the Millennium Summit, in 1970, at a meeting in New York, twenty-two developed countries pledged to donate 0.7% of their GDP towards fighting extreme poverty. Nearly thirty eight years later, with almost a billion people living on less than $1 dollar a day, only five of these countries are fulfilling that pledge: Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway, Netherlands and Denmark. Perhaps this time we can do better. History will be the adjudicator.

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This post was written by Tomasz Pierscionek

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