Now we know how the peace dividend was frittered away

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The Independent Online

Figures just released by one of Europe's premier research institutes convey a thoroughly dispiriting message. The value of international military spending rose last year by another 6 per cent to exceed US $1 trillion. This is only slightly less than the equivalent spending a generation ago, when the Cold War was at its height. Where, we ask despairingly, did that much-anticipated "peace dividend" go?

Figures just released by one of Europe's premier research institutes convey a thoroughly dispiriting message. The value of international military spending rose last year by another 6 per cent to exceed US $1 trillion. This is only slightly less than the equivalent spending a generation ago, when the Cold War was at its height. Where, we ask despairingly, did that much-anticipated "peace dividend" go?

There are many answers to that question, all of them contained directly and indirectly in the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's annual report. US military spending rose by a massive $41bn. The increase alone is almost as much as the annual spending of Britain, France or Japan, more than that of China, more than double that of Russia and as big as the spending of Israel, Canada, Turkey and Australia combined. President Bush has extended US military involvement around the world more than any president since Ronald Reagan. While maintaining its commitments in the Far East, the US is engaged in intensive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has new bases in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. It is also assisting several new Nato members from the former Eastern bloc to develop their military capabilities.

All this has a cost. And it is a cost of which only a small portion can be passed on to the countries concerned. Research and development on post-11 September "homeland security", on the Republicans' pet missile defence project and on implementing the aims of the "Rumsfeld doctrine" for a leaner, slimmer, higher-tech US military machine are all additional expenses on the US public purse.

More disturbing, perhaps, because less easily explained, is the fact that the biggest percentage rises in military spending were registered by India and China. The Sipri report assessed India's 19 per cent increase as potentially a real setback to prospects of a durable peace with Pakistan. As for China, Sipri estimates its real spending as far higher than its official figure, with a 10 per cent rise over 2004. Russia's military expenditure has edged up, but remains a fraction of what might be expected of a superpower.

Perversely, perhaps, it is many of the Nato allies the US has pressured to spend more on defence that have actually kept their spending stable or spent less. Britain, despite its commitments in Iraq, managed a fall in spending, although the overall military outlay remains on a steady upward trajectory. As with the US, moreover, it is not clear whether the outsourcing of many security functions to civilian operators is fully included in this category of spending. Although far behind, Britain remains in second place to the US and is, with France, by far the highest military spender in Europe.

All these figures and rankings combine to expose one of the greatest missed opportunities for changing priorities and serving the common good in recent times. After the collapse of communism, the most powerful countries had the chance to make the world a safer and less arms-ridden place.

Consider the arithmetic. The 2004 increase in US arms spending alone is many times more than the $674m President Bush promised to add to US foreign aid spending when he spoke alongside Tony Blair on Tuesday. The annual cost of the Africa package Mr Blair and Gordon Brown want to place before next month's G8 summit is many times less than the amount Britain and France together spend on weapons. Just a small amount less spent in one category would have translated into a proportionally much larger amount spent in the other. What a desperate shame, and what a failure.

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