It read a little like the early returns on the medal count in the Olympics. "España bate su record en venta de armamento y supera los 900 millones" - Spain beats their arms sales record and passes 900 million Euros - let the flag waving begin! It isn't so much the facts as the wording of the article that struck me. I found it in El Pais, from what I understand a left-leaning newspaper, yet the patriotic fervor and upbeat wording of the report made my skin crawl. "Military material exports have quadrupled since 2001", read the subtitle, and later "the billion euro psychological barrier will in all probabilities be surpassed next year". According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Spain now ranks 8th in the world conventional arms sales race, woo hoo, cue the music, let's party because we're causing more death!
You'll find most of the usual suspects at the top of the list, USA, Russia, Germany, France, Holland, the UK and France. Holland? Yep, 5th place in arms sales, and you thought their economy was based on weed and sex. The global military budget is somewhere in the range of $1.339 trillion or 2.5% of the world's GDP. Military spending has reached a few peaks in the past, obviously WWII, and then again during the cold war. Once the cold war ended, as has been well documented, military spending declined for a decade only to see that trend reversed starting in 1998, albeit quite slowly at first. Of course the US' War on Terror has seen global military spending escalate rapidly once again.
The top military spenders globally nearly mirror the exporters, in order: the US, France, the UK, China (vastly understated), Japan, Germany, Russia and Italy. Together they'll ensure that not too many jobs in the military industry get lost in the latest economic downturn. The last couple of days has seen a justification for the Russian military budget as they were able to push those pesky Georgians out of South Ossetia, phew! And they´ll still have to deal with Abkhazia and there's always Chechnya. The UK, well with there involvement in Iraq and the fact that they're surrounded by water, the spending is justified. The French, well, the world hates the French so... China? Well, they seem to have there own terrorist problem now that the Olympics have started and you never know when Taiwan will need re-taking. The Japanese of course see the Chinese increase their military budget by 17.8%, the 19th year of double digit growth, and of course need to keep pace. The Italians, well, Berlusconi does fancy himself a fascist dictator, so a strong military is needed. And Germany, well, insert your own WWI or WWII or Franco-Prussian war joke here.
What's more illuminating is the percentage of GDP spent on arms, here the US doesn't even crack to top 30, around 3.7%. Leading the hit parade is North Korea, quite comfortably at a whopping 22.9%, no wonder they need their heating oil subsidized by the rest of the world. Georgia slides into 2nd at 15.9% with Oman at 11.4% and Qatar and Saudi Arabia next at 10%. Those oil rich states don't know what to do with all their money plus they need to keep the US happy by buying equipment off them, but the Georgians expose themselves here I'm afraid. When a nation is spending nearly a sixth of its output on the military it becomes pretty clear what their intentions are. War in the Caucasus has a lot of factors behind it, but it surprised no one, least of whom Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.
It's not my job to show you how else to spend this money, but increased military spending doesn't equate to increased security, in fact, the inverse is true. If your from the US click here to see how else to spend your money.
For a great analysis of global military spending:
Anup Shah, World Military Spending, GlobalIssues.org, Last updated: Saturday, March 01, 2008