Accessibility links

Breaking News

World: Expert Says Military Budgets And Wars In Decline

Washington, 2 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A researcher says that military budgets and armed conflicts are declining around the world despite a number of hot spots such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Tajikistan.

Michael Renner, a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute -- a U.S.-based research organization dedicated to informing the public about emerging global problems -- told RFE/RL that by preliminary estimates, world military expenditures have been decreasing steadily since the end of the Cold War.

Renner says now the global rate of military expenditure is approximately $701 billion. He says this is 39 percent below its peak period in 1984 when global military spending came in at more than $1 trillion.

Yet, despite the decline, Renner says the U.S. still remains the single largest military spender in the world.

Renner says that according to the Pentagon's National Defense Budget estimate, U.S. defense spending in 1997 came to $243 billion, or 35 percent of global military expenditures.

Renner explains: "In relative terms, the U.S. spending is quite large, although in its own terms, it has also declined from the peaks of the Cold War. I suppose that the primary reason for that is that many people still continue to see the U.S. as a world policeman."

Renner says the other big military spenders are Russia and China. But he says it is difficult to determine the exact level of spending in either country, because not all the data is available, and because converting estimates into dollars and then applying the proper exchange rates is difficult.

He adds that this is evident in the wildly divergent estimates of Russia's military budget. For example, Renner says experts have put military expenditures for Russia in 1995 as low as $13 billion and as high as $76 billion. Renner says he believes the real number falls somewhere in-between, perhaps at around $30 billion.

Explains Renner: "It is just very, very unclear. But I think all we know is that compared with Soviet times, spending is dramatically lower. So much so, that the conditions for ordinary soldiers in the Russian armed forces are really terrible. Their living conditions are very appalling. It is a very different situation from just a few years ago."

Renner says that other big military spenders besides the U.S., Russia and China are Japan, France, Germany and Great Britain.

But one the most dramatic drops in military expenditures in the past decade, has occurred in Eastern Europe, he says.

The Bonn International Conversion Center estimates that regional military expenditures for Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1985 were about $250 billion. Ten years later in 1995, the expenditures were closer to $20 billion -- a 92 percent decrease in just one decade.

Says Renner: "The sole reason is since the end of the Cold War, in just about in every Eastern European country, military spending is now perhaps one-fifth of what was being spent in the mid-to-late 1980's....What you have, practically, is a collapse of parts of the armed forces, and a collapse of the arms industries in these countries. So there is a very, very pronounced decline of all things military [there]."

Renner says the recent invitation of the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary to join NATO will put undue economic strain on these countries at a critical time during their transition to a democratic state.

Renner says: "I think it is quite clear that on the whole, these countries do not have the wherewithal to shoulder the cost by themselves. So the question really becomes -- yes, the expectation is more money will have to go into military affairs, but who will actually foot the bill? It is quite likely that the U.S. and existing NATO allies will have to subsidize the admission of these three countries into NATO....In this situation, where [these countries] are already struggling to make a transition that is difficult, it would seem that [NATO expansion] is really rather a disruptive turn of events."

Yet across the globe, Renner says countries continue to spend far less on their military budgets than one decade ago. Part of the reason for this, he says, is that the number of armed conflicts in the world is also declining.

Renner says that in 1997 there were only 25 armed conflicts in the world, half the peak number of 51 in 1992.

Renner says experts define an armed conflict as violence that causes less than 1,000 deaths per year. Any violence that kills more than 1,000 people is considered a full-fledged war, he explains.

Renner says that between 1989 and 1996, there were a total of 101 armed conflicts. It is interesting to note, he says, that of those 101 conflicts -- 95 took place among combatants within countries rather than between states.

Explains Renner: "What we see happening more and more now is that wars are not so much taking place between different countries, but rather within them. The reasons for these conflicts happening are also changing. It is partly conflicts that pit governments against an [internal] opposing force, or guerrillas may seek independence for their own group....We also see a lot of ethnic conflict happening between different groups within a country....We see very different and new reasons for armed conflicts now."

Renner also says there are an estimated 250,000 children under the age of 18 who are serving as soldiers in these conflicts, mostly against their will. He cites a study conducted by Project Ploughshares of Canada that found in 1995, children participated in the fighting in more than 80 percent of the countries that were at war during that year.

Renner says that of those 101 armed conflicts between 1989 and 1996, two-thirds had ended by the end of 1996. And, he adds that every region of the globe has seen a reduction of warfare since 1992.

Yet Renner cautions that although the number of armed conflicts is declining, it is not a sufficient indicator of the loss of human life or the disruption of society.

Renner says that from 1990 to 1995, at least 3.2 million people died of war or war-related causes such as disease, famine and displacement. He says this is one of the highest death tolls of any five-year period since the end of World War II.

He also says there are still a number of hot spots around the world where armed conflicts could easily erupt into full-fledged warfare.

Concludes Renner: "When one looks at the situation in many countries where it is not clear how stable the societies are, how accountable the undemocratic governments are, and therefore, how much of a possibility there is that someone will take up arms against a central government -- the possibility is clearly there."