According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) annual rankings of global military spending, last year the world saw the first decrease in arms spending in the last 15 years. Still, global military spending amounted to a staggering $1.75 trillion in 2012. The decrease in overall spending is a result of a 6% drop in American military spending, to about $682 billion.
Cuts to the US military budget have many members of Congress up in arms. But the United States surpassed the next ten countries combined in military spending in 2012, and is responsible for about 40 percent of total global spending. Our military dominance is nowhere close to dissipating, and other countries are slowly catching up.
So, how does global military spending compare to money spent on global aid? Global aid is dropping, and fast. Total global aid decreased in 2012, as well as in 2011. Experts attribute the decline in Official Developing Assistance (ODA) to financial struggles faced by the wealthiest countries over the last few years. The ODA statistics for 2012 can be seen here.
Last year, the United States only contributed 0.19 of its gross national income (GNI) to ODA in 2012. This amounted to about $30 million, a 2.8% decrease from 2011.
Compare the United States to countries like the United Kingdom, which gave 0.56% of its GNI. Look at northern European countries such as Sweden and Denmark, which surpassed the target, set in 1970, of a 0.7% of GNI national contribution to ODA.
In 2012, the United States spent over 20,000 times as much on military spending as on foreign aid. If just a small percentage of that money were redirected toward development assistance and humanitarian aid, global hunger and poverty could be virtually eliminated. The cost to end world hunger is about $30 billion. That’s only 1.7% of total global military spending in 2012.
With such limited resources dedicated to fighting global poverty, we are left to wonder: what is the cost of war for the world’s developing nations, where in some places nearly half of people live on less than $1.25 per day, or $450 per year?
The simplest answer for the cost of war is that the world’s poor continue to live and die in poverty. Policy makers, governments, and militaries at home and abroad are more concerned with acquiring the latest weapons technology manufactured by corporations making millions of dollars in annual profits. Meanwhile, a child dies from lack of adequate sanitation every 20 seconds.
In addition to the cost of unaddressed poverty, military action directly harms an alarming number of civilians. At least 132,000 civilians have died as a direct result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade. This number excludes refugees, the seriously injured, or civilian deaths in unofficial conflicts in Yemen or Somalia. And 132,000 certainly does not account for the grieving families of those who were killed.
When it comes to foreign policy, it’s time for the United States and other global leaders to reevaluate their priorities, and consider the cost of war for the 1 billion people living in poverty today.
– Kat Henrichs