According to a report just released by the highly-respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), world military expenditures in 2012 totaled $1.75 trillion.
The report revealed that, as in recent decades, the world’s biggest military spender by far was the US government, whose expenditures for war and preparations for war amounted to $682 billion — 39 percent of the global total.
The United States spent more than four times as much on the military as China (the number two big spender) and more than seven times as much as Russia (which ranked third). Although the military expenditures of the United States dipped a bit in 2012, largely thanks to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, they remained 69 percent higher than in 2001.
US military supremacy is even more evident when the U.S. military alliance system is brought into the picture, for the United States and its allies accounted for the vast bulk of world military spending in 2012. NATO members alone spent a trillion dollars on the military.
Thus, although studies have found that the United States ranks 17th among nations in education, 26th in infant mortality, and 37th in life expectancy and overall health, there is no doubt that it ranks first when it comes to war.
This Number 1 status might not carry much weight among Americans scavenging for food in garbage dumpsters, among Americans unable to afford medical care, or among Americans shivering in poorly heated homes. Even many Americans in the more comfortable middle class might be more concerned with how they are going to afford the skyrocketing costs of a college education, how they can get by with fewer teachers, firefighters, and police in their communities, and how their hospitals, parks, roads, bridges, and other public facilities can be maintained.
Of course, there is a direct connection between the massive level of US military spending and belt-tightening austerity at home: most federal discretionary spending goes for war.
The Lockheed Martin Corporation’s new F-35 joint strike fighter plane provides a good example of the US government’s warped priorities. It is estimated that this military weapons system will cost the US government $1.5 trillion by the time of its completion. Does this Cold War-style warplane, designed for fighting enemies the US government no longer faces, represent a good investment for Americans? After twelve years of production, costing $396 billion, the F-35 has exhibited numerous design and engineering flaws, has been grounded twice, and has never been flown in combat. Given the immense military advantage the United States already has over all other nations in the world, is this most expensive weapons system in world history really necessary? And aren’t there other, better things that Americans could be doing with their money?
Of course, the same is true for other countries. Is there really any justification for the nations of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America to be increasing their level of military spending — as they did in 2012 — while millions of their people live in dire poverty? Projections indicate that, by 2015, about a billion people around the world will be living on an income of about $1.25 per day. When, in desperation, they riot for bread, will the government officials of these nations, echoing Marie Antoinette, suggest that they eat the new warplanes and missiles?
President Dwight Eisenhower put it well in an address before the American Society of Newspaper Editors 60 years ago:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. . . . This world in arms is not spending money alone; it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. . . . This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
That sentiment persists. On April 15, 2013, people in 43 countries participated in a Global Day of Action on Military Spending, designed to call attention to the squandering of the world’s resources on war. Among these countries was the United States, where polls show that 58 percent of Americans favor major reductions in US military spending.
How long will it take the governments of the United States and of other nations to catch up with them?
A New Record is Set for Military Spending
On April 17, 2012, as millions of Americans were filing their income tax returns, the highly-respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its latest study of world military spending. In case Americans were wondering where most of their tax money — and the tax money of other nations — went in the previous year, the answer from SIPRI was clear: to war and preparations for war.
World military spending reached a record $1,738 billion in 2011 — an increase of $138 billion over the previous year. The United States accounted for 41 percent of that, or $711 billion.
Some news reports have emphasized that, from the standpoint of reducing reliance on armed might, this actually represents progress. After all, the increase in “real” global military spending — that is, expenditures after corrections for inflation and exchange rates — was only 0.3 percent. And this contrasts with substantially larger increases in the preceding thirteen years.
But why are military expenditures continuing to increase — indeed, why aren’t they substantially decreasing — given the governmental austerity measures of recent years?
Amid the economic crisis that began in late 2008 (and which continues to the present day), most governments have been cutting back their spending dramatically on education, health care, housing, parks, and other vital social services. However, there have not been corresponding cuts in their military budgets.
Americans, particularly, might seek to understand why in this context U.S. military spending has not been significantly decreased, instead of being raised by $13 billion — admittedly a “real dollar” decrease of 1.2 percent, but hardly one commensurate with Washington’s wholesale slashing of social spending. Yes, military expenditures by China and Russia increased in 2011. And in “real” terms, too. But, even so, their military strength hardly rivals that of the United States. Indeed, the United States spent about five times as much as China (the world’s #2 military power) and ten times as much as Russia (the world’s #3 military power) on its military forces during 2011. Furthermore, when U.S. allies like Britain, France, Germany, and Japan are factored in, it is clear that the vast bulk of world military expenditures are made by the United States and its military allies.
This might account for the fact that the government of China, which accounts for only 8.2 percent of world military spending, believes that increasing its outlay on armaments is reasonable and desirable. Apparently, officials of many nations share that competitive feeling.
Unfortunately, the military rivalry among nations — one that has endured for centuries — results in a great squandering of national resources. Many nations, in fact, devote most of their available income to funding their armed forces and their weaponry. In the United States, an estimated 58 percent of the U.S. government’s discretionary tax dollars go to war and preparations for war. “Almost every country with a military is on an insane path, spending more and more on missiles, aircraft, and guns,” remarked John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus.
Of course, defenders of military expenditures reply that military force actually protects people from war. But does it? If so, how does one explain the fact that the major military powers of the past century — the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and China — have been almost constantly at war during that time? What is the explanation for the fact that the United States — today’s military giant — is currently engaged in at least two wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan) and appears to be on the verge of a third (with Iran)? Perhaps the maintenance of a vast military machine does not prevent war but, instead, encourages it.
In short, huge military establishments can be quite counterproductive. Little wonder that they have been condemned repeatedly by great religious and ethical leaders. Even many government officials have decried war and preparations for war — although usually by nations other than their own.
Thus, the release of the new study by SIPRI should not be a cause for celebration. Rather, it provides an appropriate occasion to contemplate the fact that, this past year, nations spent more money on the military than at any time in human history. Although this situation might still inspire joy in the hearts of government officials, top military officers, and defense contractors, people farther from the levers of military power might well conclude that it’s a hell of a way to run a world.
Lawrence S. Wittner is professor of history emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is “Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual” (University of Tennessee Press).
In its report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) disclosed on March 20 this year that volume of international transfers of major weapons was 24 percent higher in the period 2007-11 compared to the 2002-06 period. While indicating the purchases of arms and weapons by various countries, the report pointed out, “India is the world’s largest recipient of arms… India’s imports of major weapons increased by 38 percent between 2002-06 and 2007-11.”
It is of particular attention that under the pretext of military build up by China and Pakistan, India on March 16 this year, boosted military spending by 17 percent to $40 billion. In this regard, announcing the 2012-13 budget, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the parliament, the government is engaged in a massive programme to upgrade the country’s ageing military hardware, increasing defence spending to $40 billion for the financial year to March 31, 2013.
Now, India is the biggest importer of arms in the world. New Delhi’s military is acquiring a slew of new equipment from combat aircraft to submarines and artillery. It is currently finalising a deal with France’s Dassault Aviation to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets in a contract worth an estimated $12 billion.
Despite a series of political setbacks which exposed vulnerability of India’s beleaguered regime, it avoided bold reforms in its annual budget to shore up growth and modest targets to rein in a bloated deficit. The government reflects investors’ disappointment with Mukherjee’s half-hearted attack on the worst deficit among the emerging-markets.
However, on November 2 last year, the United States agreed to sell India the most expensive—the new F-35 fighter jets. In a report to the US Congress, the Pentagon said, “We believe US aircraft such as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)… to be the best in the world”, referring to the radar-evading F-35 jet. The Pentagon indicated that the programme faces rising costs, with a price tag of nearly $150 million each. It also noted that India is working with Russia on developing a fifth-generation fighter aircraft.
Notably, on November 3, 2011, CNN TV channel pointed out, “The Pentagon is portraying India as a major customer for US military arsenal… India also decided a major purchase of US F-16 and F-18 fighters…is a reminder of the vast sums in play.”
James Hardy, Asia Pacific Editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly stated, “With a potential contract price of US$9 billion to US$14 billion, this is the single biggest competition in the global defence aviation industry.”
While the Pentagon’s government-to-government program of foreign military sales to India have included C-17 and C-130 aircraft, Northrop Grumman E-2D, the latest version of the E-2 Hawkeye, aircraft radar systems, Harpoon weapons and specialised tactical equipments. It will cost 232 million dollars. Besides, America signed a deal of civil energy technology with India in 2008, which lifted sanctions on New Delhi in order to import nuclear technology.
In recent years, India has bought reconnaissance aircraft from US aerospace major Boeing worth 2.1 billion-dollars, medium range missiles for 1.4 billion dollars from Israeli Aerospace Industries, and signed a contract with the Russian Aircraft Corporation to upgrade its MiG 29 squadrons for 965 million dollars. Several deals are planned for the near future including one of the largest arms contracts of recent times—an 11-billion-dollar project to acquire 126 multi-role combat aircraft.
As regards New Delhi’s purchases from Israel, India’s The Tribune wrote, “Tel Aviv “agreed to share its expertise with India in various fields such as surveillance satellites and space exploration.” With the support of Israel, New Delhi has been acquiring an element of strategic depth by setting up logistical bases in the Indian Ocean for its navy.
Nevertheless, Indian defence expenditures have no bounds. In the past decade, India has spent billions of dollars on purchases of arms, planes, radars and ships from the US, Russia, Britain, Germany, Israel and France including other western countries.
Over the next 12 years, India is set to spend a whopping US$200 billion on defence acquisitions to replace its outdated inventory. In this respect, on February 15, 2010, a report of the Indian strategic defense magazine (India Strategic’s DefExpo) had pointed out that 70 per cent of the inventory of the Indian armed forces is 20-plus years old, and needs to be replaced with the modern technology. It explained that nearly half of this funding ($100b) will go to the Indian Air Force (IAF), which would need to replace more than half of its combat jet fleet as well as the entire transport aircraft and helicopter fleet. The army needs new guns, tanks, rocket launchers, multi-terrain vehicles, while the navy needs ships, aircraft carriers and a new range of nuclear submarines.
It is noteworthy that from 1994 to 1997 India’s defence budget was increased from 20 percent to 24.4 percent. In 2009, New Delhi increased its defense budget by a whopping 28.2 percent or Rs 130,000.00 million. Some experts estimate that military spending will increase further, totaling as much as 200 billion dollars over the period to 2022.
While exposing India’s ambitious defence policy, Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) has revealed in its report of April 2011, “India’s defence budget has roughly quadrupled (in real terms) since 2001—reaching $36.3 billion in the 2011–2012 budget—and enabled the implementation of long-term acquisition plans. Of the total defence budget, approximately 40 percent (some $14.5 billion) is allocated to the defence capital outlay budget.”
In fact, currently, more than half of India’s budget is allocated for armed forces, but its major portion is being expended on defence purchases and debt servicing, which leaves less than half for everything else including infrastructure development projects, education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, and various human services. New Delhi’s latest arms purchases will leave even less for what India needs most to lift hundreds of millions of its citizens from abject poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease.
Indian defence analyst Ravinder Pal Singh, while calling New Delhi’s unending defence spending at the cost of poverty-alleviation—with security requirements competing with socio-economic concerns for money calls it a guns-versus-butter question.
In this context, a report of the United Nations pointed out that India ranks 134th of 182 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index. It estimated that 50 per cent of the world’s undernourished population lives in India. Nearly 31 per cent of the billion-plus Indians earn less than a dollar a day.
Secretary General of the Control Arms Foundation of India Binalakshmi Nepram remarks, “When people are dying of poverty and bad sanitation, what protection will arms provide them?”
Indian civil society organisations, while complaining of excessive defence spending on buying, indicated that the defence budget is rapidly increasing every year because of India’s unending defence imports.
While, the world is rapidly moving towards the idea of one world as in the cyber age, states prefer welfare of their people at the cost of undue defence expenditures. Europe which learnt a drastic lesson from the two world wars, presents an ideal model by integrating the continent through the European Union. On the other side, despite criticism from various circles, the Indian government’s unlimited defence purchases are in full swing.
Ignoring regional problems and resolution of Indo-Pak issues-especially the thorny dispute of Kashmir, Indian rulers claim that they do not have any aggressive designs. But it becomes a big joke of the 21st century, reminding a maxim, “armed to the teeth, but no enemy”, if we take cognisance of India’s unlimited defence imports, raising India as the biggest arms recipient of the world.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations
- Indian demand drives growth in arms trade (smh.com.au)