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The War Business

President Obama went to the Pentagon to make public the US military defence strategy review. Military spending will be cut by $487 billion over the next ten years. The President and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made it clear to US enemies, potential enemies and potential Republican Party presidential candidates that the reduction would not make the US militarily vulnerable. Reuters quotes Panetta making the situation perfectly clear: "I think the message that the world needs to understand is: America is the strongest military power and we intend to remain the strongest military power and nobody ought to mess with that."

Indeed. Even after the reductions there will be more men and women in uniform flying, sailing and walking to global locations to defend American interested than there were when George W. Bush was president. Greater people than I can explain why the expenditure for the military is justified even though we drew in Korea, lost in Vietnam and made an enormous and tragic mess of Iraq. (Admittedly the USA did have some rather theatrical military successes during Reagan’s leadership. The 1983 invasion of the small Caribbean island of Grenada, codenamed Operation Fury, comes to mind.)

However, all the news did get me thinking about military expenditure and the never ending human love affair with war. As a species we are forever preparing for war, fighting wars and cleaning up and rebuilding after wars. Wikipedia’s definition of the global arms industry is as good as any:

The arms industry is a global industry and business with manufactures and sells weapons and military technology and equipment. It comprises government and commercial industry involved in research, development, production, and service of military material, equipment and facilities. Arms producing companies, also referred to as defence companies or military industry, produce arms mainly for the armed forces of states. Departments of government also operate in the arms industry, buying and selling weapons, munitions and other military items. Products include guns, ammunition, missiles, military aircraft, military vehicles, ships, electronic systems, and more. The arms industry also conducts significant research and development.

In 2010 prices the world spends $1.6 trillion annually military expenditures. That is greater than the amount the world spends on energy. Global Issues, summarizing the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) offers the following:

  • World military expenditure in 2010 is estimated to have reached $1.62 trillion in current dollars;      
  • This represents a 1.3 per cent increase in real terms since 2009 and a 50 per cent increase since 2001;      
  • This corresponds to 2.6 per cent of world gross domestic product (GDP), or approximately $236 for each person in the world;      
  • The USA with its massive spending budget, is the principal determinant of the current world trend, and its military expenditure now accounts for just under  half of the world total, at 43% of the world total.

SIPRI has commented in the past on the increasing concentration of military expenditure, i.e. that a small number of countries spends the largest sums. This trend carries on into 2010 spending. For example,

  • The 15 countries with the highest spending account for over 82% of the total;
  • The USA is responsible for 43 per cent of the world total, distantly followed by China (7.3%), UK (3.7%), France (3.6%, and Russia (3.6%).

The United Nations, all its agencies and funds, spends the equivalent of 1.8% of the worlds military expenditure on peace. Or, while military expenditures amounts to approximately $236 for every person on earth, the UN spends about $4 for each of the world’s inhabitants.

Depending on who you are and where you stand, the words in Isaiah 2:4 are either some of the most beautifully powerful words ever written or some of the most painfully naive words ever written.

God will judge disputes between nations and settle arguments between many people. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations will never fight against each other, and they will never train for war again.

Copyright © 2012 Dale Rominger

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