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A Bad Year for Disarmament

U.S. policy toward conflict resolution and increased military spending is making the world more dangerous rather than safer, a recent study out of Bonn says.


Will the U.S.-led war in Iraq spur an arms race?

The actions of the U.S. over the past year could lead to a renewed global arms race, according to the Bonn International Conversion Center, an independent nonprofit agency that works to convert military resources for civilian purposes.

Kerstin Müller, state secretary of the German Foreign Ministry, says the BICC results to support the position of the current government. Berlin agrees with Washington on the need to fight against world terrorism, she says. However, "we are convinced that the solution to future conflicts are to be found in the framework of bilateral structures... Arms races can't and shouldn't be the solution for the future."

Fighting poverty is key

The BICC report concludes that as long as the fight against poverty isn't more decisively fought, the world can't be made more secure. While recent United Nations conferences in Monterrey and Johannesburg show that the fight against poverty has taken a more important place in world politics, diplomatic efforts can't keep up with the growing military spending.

In 2002 military spending worldwide grew to $900 million (€782 million). The lion's share of that spending was done in the U.S., the report says.

Michael Brzoska, head of research at BICC, notes that the US has increased its portion of worldwide military spending to nearly 40%, and that their defense spending rose by nearly 13 percent in 2002.

Russia and China also spent more on armaments -- although, with their share of world-wide military spending at 4 and 5 percent respectively, it is relatively low, Brzoska says "Markedly lower than that of the United States, in any case."

Many other countries haven't followed this trend of military spending. Altogether in 2001, 42 countries lowered their military spending, the report says.

US has largest arms industry

"Altogether, the (division) between military spending of the U.S.A. and the rest of the world is ever larger," Brzoska says. As for defense research-and-development spending, the U.S. share is up to two-thirds, the report says.

BICC measures the state of worldwide disarmament using various indicators -- for example, it looks at what role the defense industry plays in a given country's economy.

The number of people worldwide working in the arms industry fell in 2001 by 2.5 percent to about seven million people, mostly due to reductions in China, the report says. Still, China, with 2.5 million employed, is the country with the most people working in arms production.

But in the USA there are about 2.3 million employed in the arms industry, and this number is increasing. "It is possible that the U.S.A. in the near future will be the country with the most people employed in the arms industry worldwide," Brzoska says.

In the United States, there are three people employed in the arms industry for every two soldiers, according to the report. Of the 100 biggest arms makers, the BICC said, 42 had their headquarters in the United States.

Rise in high-tech weaponry

The number of soldiers worldwide, as well as the number of heavy armaments, fell last year, according to BICC. While this sounds good, Brzoska notes however that it isn't necessarily a positive development.

"Armies replace older weapons with fewer newer, technologically advanced weapons, so that the reduction in the number of heavy arms doesn't actually represent a qualitative disarmament," Brzoska says.

Giving equal weight to military spending, arms-industry employment, the number of soldiers and the number of heavy arms, the U.S. portion of the worldwide armament is around 22%. Following the United States comes China at 15% and Russia with some 7%.

Brzoska is critical of the US roll, saying the US has relatively few soldiers, around 1.5 million, and a relatively low number of heavy arms, but "they put their bets on high technology," he says. The U.S. spends around 21,000 per soldier -- about eight times more than the worldwide average.

From this growing U.S. technical superiority, a new military strategy is developing, the report says. In it, the USA meets real or imagined threats, to itself of its allies, with technological armament.

This course of action is "problematic," according to Brzoska, as it could lead to a world-wide arms race. In putting resources into the military rather fighting poverty, working toward social injustice or protecting the environment, also lays the foundation for new military confrontations, the BICC says.

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