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World Military and Social Expenditures by Ruth Sivard, 1st edition (1974)
Selections

Overview by Ruth Sivard

One of the most concise and revealing means of measuring national priorities is the allocation of public resources through government budgets. By this standard, the expenditure of public funds in the world today shows a preoccupation with national military power which dominates all other concerns of government.

Neither the spirit of detente nor increasing evidence of a burgeoning economic-social crisis succeeded in slowing the arms race in 1973. In a period relatively free of major wars, the nations of the world were spending upwards of $240 billion a year on “defense”- each presumably in anticipation of military attack by some other member of the world community. An estimated $40-50 billion of this annual outlay was for nuclear arsenals which, if used, would mean global destruction.

Viewed in U.S. dollars in constant prices, the military budgets of the world were more than five times as large as they had been prior to World War II. Even if spending goes no higher than at present (an optimistic assumption not warranted by the record of the past), world military outlays in the 1960’s and 1970’s will have exceeded the staggering sum of $4,000 billion, at 1972 values, or more precisely, $4,329,000,000,000.

The economic side of this unprecedented investment in military power is difficult to grasp. Some comparisons give it perspective. A total of $4,329 billion exceeds the value of all goods and services produced in 1973, that is, it is more than the entire product of one year’s labor by all the world’s people. In a single year, world military expenditures are larger than the annual value of the combined GNP of the one-third of the world’s population living in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

The crushing burden of the arms race on society at large is also measurable in terms of other needs which are in competition for the resources absorbed by military programs. In ways critical to the well-being and to the survival of society, the search for military security is pursued at the expense of other goals. These represent the “opportunity costs” of military expenditures. They are numerous. This report covers a few which can be quantified on a worldwide basis.

In contrast to the build-up of military power, progress in meeting the basic needs of a growing population is in many respects disturbingly slow. In the early 1970’s, annual public expenditures worldwide for all forms of education, including the education of more than one billion children of school age, were still appreciably less than world military expenditures. A large proportion of school-age children (in developing countries, over one-third) were not enrolled in schools. Although the public funds going to education had increased significantly since 1960, as had the number of teachers, the gain was apparently not large enough, or sufficiently widespread, to stem a steady rise in the number of illiterates in the world. Out of an adult population of two an one-half billion, more than 700 million were unable to read and write.

Relatively few countries devoted as much public revenue to the protection of the public from disease, illness, and injury, as from military attack. Worldwide, governments’ expenditures on health-care were only half as large as military expenditures. In the developing nations, where poverty and disease were closely correlated, annual public outlays for health care averaged under $3 per person, about one-fourth of military expenditures. In these countries, there was one physician to 4,000 people. In many, the average life span was under 45 years. Infant mortality at the rate of 20 per cent was not uncommon.

World food scarcity, with the threat of growing starvation, became a grave issue in 1972 and 1973, and continued increasingly so in 1974. Acute food shortages were reportedly more widespread than at any time in recorded history. In the developing world, an estimated 460 million people were suffering from severe malnutrition; up to half of the deaths of children under 5 years were attributed to food deficiencies. Although the food crisis produced new efforts toward cooperative international action, an increase in food aid and financial aid was slow in developing. As the shortage became more pronounced, the volume of food aid available for developing countries, rather than increasing, diminished to half the average level of the preceding 10 years.

The total of official foreign economic aid extended to poorer countries continued to grow in nominal terms, although at a rate which was less than the inflation of prices, and far short of targets set by intergovernmental agreement. In 1972, over thirty countries were recorded as donors of economic aid. The value of their economic assistance, loans as well a grants, was equivalent to less than 6 per cent of their military budgets.

A lag in development assistance, combined with food shortages and sharply higher prices for fuel, contributed to a bleak outlook for many developing nations, especially those dependent on food imports. The gap in income between the richer and poorer nations, and between the more and less affluent of the developing nations, was stretching wider, revealing an increasing number of people living in dire poverty.

If in 1972-74 famine sharpened the contrasts between the developed and developing worlds, it may also have clarified, for smaller as well as major military powers, the opportunity costs of defense spending- the costs to society in terms of opportunities lost. With evidence mounting that the backlog of unfilled social needs had swollen to serious proportions, there was also growing awareness of the limits on the resources of even the richer countries. The competition between military and social needs was plainer.

To meet the social deficit there was one rich source of resources as yet untapped, the world military budget. Whether the urgency of other needs and public demand would bring about some shift of priorities and revenue away from the arms race was not yet clear. At midpoint in the decade which the United Nations had hopefully named the Decade of Disarmament and the Second Development Decade, there was still no evidence that two alternatives to the build-up of national military, which could free materials, money, and manpower urgently needed in constructive activities elsewhere, were being vigorously pursued.

One alternative, internationally-agreed disarmament, had been under negotiation since 1962 but so far had produced no agreements of a kind which actually reduced arms or military expenditures. The agreements which had been made attempted to control the arms race by limiting nuclear proliferation (NPT), new technology (LTB), or numbers of strategic weapons (SALT). They may have prevented some expenditures, but they did not achieve a reduction.

Another alternative to the arms race, the strenghtening of international peacekeeping mechanisms, continued to face stringent financial limitations. The world’s budgetary commitment to this alternative still has a long way to go (see chart 1 below). The total annual investment in international peacekeeping was 0.03 per cent of global expenditures on national military establishments. Or, put another way, for every $100 that went for the build-up of national armed forces less than 3¢ was spent on international peace-keeping.

Foreword from this edition...

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