Global spending on arms tops $1 trillion

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The Independent Online

Less than a month before leaders of the world's most powerful nations meet to discuss financial help for Africa, a new report reveals the extraordinary sums spent by those same countries on weapons compared to the relatively modest sums spent on aid.

Less than a month before leaders of the world's most powerful nations meet to discuss financial help for Africa, a new report reveals the extraordinary sums spent by those same countries on weapons compared to the relatively modest sums spent on aid.

In 2004 - the sixth successive year in which arms spending increased - the global total spent on munitions topped $1 trillion for the first time since the height of the Cold War. In contrast, the amount spent on aid over the same period was $78.6bn.

Once again, America was by far the greatest spender on arms. In 2004, it spent $455bn, an increase from 2003 of 12 per cent, fuelled largely by the investment in President George Bush's "war on terror". America's foreign aid spending is around 4.1 per cent of its arms bill. Britain, the second largest arms spender, spent $47bn - a tenth of the US total.

The new figures, released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), an independent research institute, emerged the day after Tony Blair and President Bush met in Washington to discuss increasing aid for Africa. The Prime Minister came away with an undertaking from Mr Bush to support a 100 per cent debt relief plan that could be worth more than $20bn to the continent. Mr Bush also announced $674m in new famine relief for the Horn of Africa.

But aid groups and campaigners say that, compared to the amount spent annually on arms, the sums being set aside for aid to Africa - a cause to which Mr Blair has pledged himself in his third term - are negligible.

"When you look at the amount being spent on arms compared to ... aid, it shows how little is being spent on aid," said Brendan Cox, a spokesman for Oxfam. "We are pushing to increase aid by $50bn annually, but the US spends $450bn on arms. This shows that, when there is a political will to find funding, the resources can be delivered. We need a war on poverty."

Other groups have accused the G8 nations of hypocrisy. A separate report by the London-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) reveals that seven of the G8 nations are among the world's top 10 arms dealers - responsible for the export of more than $24bn worth of weapons, half of which last year went to developing countries.

The group's report also refers to an investigation by the Congressional Research Service which shows that in 2003 just five members of the G8 - the US, Britain, France, Germany and Russia - were responsible for 89 per cent of arms sales to developing countries.

"The cost of arms sales, and the conflicts they help to sustain, have a massive and disastrous effect on the possibility of sustainable development. Talk about ending poverty at the G8 summit will only be meaningful if G8 countries end their political and financial support for the arms trade," said a CAAT spokesman, James O'Nions.

"G8 governments give political and financial support to arms companies, often at a highly disproportionate level to civil industries. Huge amounts of time and money goes into promoting arms sales, underwriting exports and providing subsidies. While the G8 countries push 'free trade' on the global south, they provide a system of corporate welfare for arms giants like Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Thales."

The Sipri report says while defence spending last year topped $1trn, it has not reached record levels. It is still below the Cold War peak of 1987-88, but has risen sharply since 1998.

The group said spending by the US accounted for nearly half the total spent on weapons and was more than the combined sum of the 32 next biggest spenders. It estimated spending by the US will rise to $502bn by 2010. The two largest single recipients of arms last year were China and India. In 2003, India completed a $1.8bn deal to buy Hawk jets from the British defence company BAE systems.

Regionally, south-east Asia saw the biggest rise in spending, largely due to a 19 per cent increase in India's defence budget.

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