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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 39

Guns Versus Bread

Development Costs of Arms Proliferation

Thursday 18 September 2008, by Bharat Dogra


While the proliferation of arms has proved costly everywhere in terms of the increased risk to human lives, this cost has been the highest in communities already burdened heavily with poverty and denial of basic needs. As a recent report by Amnesty International and other leading NGOs titled ‘Guns or Growth’ said:

The impact of the misuse of small arms is felt across the world, but most keenly in poor countries. In these countries, the infrastructure required to cope with the impact of their misuse is often stretched to the limit, and the consequences for the victims’ families is devastating.

According to another report prepared by the World Health Organisation and titled ‘Small Arms and Global Health’,

The situation is even more desperate for victims in “gun-rich, resource-poor” areas, where few have ready access to adequate health services. The health consequences of small arms go beyond the physical effect of an injury. The capacity for working can be destroyed, placing a major burden on families and wider social support systems. When the affected individuals are poor, the costs and tensions resulting from changed economic circumstances can lead to the disintegration of the family or the generation of more violence within it. It is clear that the scale of small arms death and injury, and their concomitant impact on societies, is huge.

In year 2007 world military spending increased to 1340 billion dollars, at a time when the World Food Programme was finding it difficult to raise the extra 500 million dollars it needed to meet the rising costs of its feeding programme.

The report titled ‘Guns or Growth’ (hereafter referred to as the GGR says:

In 2002, the permanent members of the UN Security Council - China, France, the Russian Federation, the UK and the USA - were the top five arms exporters in the world, together responsible for 88 per cent of conventional arms exports. The USA dominated the industry, contributing almost half (45 per cent) of all the world’s exported weapons. In 2002, arms delivery to Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa constituted 66.7 per cent of the value of all arms deliveries worldwide. In addition, and increasingly in the wake of the ‘war on terror’, military aid, grants, and loans are extended to developing countries across the world. While these are in a sense ‘free gifts’, direct financial costs are likely to be incurred by the recipient states through the demands of maintenance, training, and infrastructure requirements.

Between 1998-2007 military spending increased by 51 per cent in Africa, 52 per cent in Asia and Oceania, and 62 per cent in the Middle East, 63 per cent in the Americas and 16 per cent in Europe (figures based on constant 2005 US dollars). (Source -SIPRI).

A survey examining military expenditures in 125 nations between 1972 and 1988 found that, for many nations, military spending occurred at the expense of economic and social development, resulting in a lower rate of economic growth.

Data compiled by A.W. Dorn and B Nepram reveals that five Leagacy corporate jets from Brazilian aircraft maker Embraev costs the equivalent ($1.7 billion) of one year’s basic rural water and sanitation services for six million people in developing countries while purchase of one aircraft carrier from Russia can cost the equivalent ($1.5 billion) of basic survival income for one year for 1.1 million families.

According to data given in the South Asia Human Development Report, 1997, the cost of one tank equals expenses of vaccination of four million children, the cost of one Mirage 2000-5 airplane equals one year’s primary education expenses of three million children, the cost of one submarine equals the cost of providing clean drinking water to 60 million people for one year.

Two additional aspects can increase the development cost of arms proliferation. One is the possibility of arm race. According to GGR,

The cumulative impact of arms spending is also a cause for concern, particularly in the context of arms races. Research shows that states respond in kind to military spending by the neighbours - even non-hostile ones. Arms races in the context of developing countries can have particularly severe consequences for government spending allocations.

Secondly, there is the enormous corruption associated with arms sale and purchase. According to a report by the NGO Transparency International, the arms industry was considered the second most likely to involve bribes. Despite accounting for less than one per cent of world trade in 1999, estimates from the US Department of Commerce derived from the General Accounting Office show that 50 per cent of all bribes are paid for defence contracts. The report conservatively estimates the value of bribes to be about 10 per cent of the total value of the trade, or billions of dollars every year.

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