World Arms Outlays Decline; Wars Rise

Article excerpt

MILITARY spending around the world is declining. But not as fast as Ruth Leger Sivard would like.

For 20 years, Mrs. Sivard has been producing World Military and Social Expenditures, an annual report on "how nations sacrifice human health and welfare in order to arm themselves for war," as a publicity blurb puts it.

In 1992, global military expenditures amounted to more than $600 billion in 1987 dollars, or "well over $700 billion" in today's dollars. Sivard, being an economist, tries to be careful with numbers. She uses 1987 dollars in her report because it avoids the difficulty of valuing the wildly inflating Russian ruble and other exchange-rate problems in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

World military spending has been going down about $14 billion a year since it peaked in 1987 during the Reagan buildup. In terms of constant 1987 dollars, however, it is still some 30 percent more than in the early 1970s, Sivard calculates.

"It is more than we need at this time when NATO's main enemy has collapsed," she says. Though recognizing that military spending cuts do change the lives of military and defense industry employees, Sivard would like the NATO nations to speed up the shrinking process.

That's because she sees alternative uses for the resources. The developed countries, she notes, spend as much on military power in one year as the poorest 2 billion people on earth in total income. The developing countries, using half their $120 billion in military expenditures, could have a package of basic health-care services and clinical care that would save 10 million lives a year.

Sivard also cites social needs in the United States as better uses for some military dollars. "It is useful for the public to have a way of making comparisons," she says. She writes of how one person in seven lives below the poverty line, leaving "an underclass increasingly remote from the top income brackets of population where earnings have soared." And she notes that 37 million people have no health insurance and that public education expenditures per student over the past three decades have lagged behind spending levels of most of the US allies in NATO and in Japan. …