Military budgets, warfare waning Combat: Around the world, armed services expenditures and conflicts are declining, but the United States remains the single largest spender.


The end of the Cold War and of several regional and local hot wars in recent years has brought military expenditures down in many countries. By a preliminary estimate, world military expenditures fell by 4 percent in 1996, to $701 billion. They are now 39 percent below the peak of $1.1 trillion that they reached in 1984. Relative to global economic output, military spending stands at 2.6 percent, down from 5.7 percent in the mid-1980s.

The quality and reliability of information made available by national governments are still poor. Many governments, China prominent among them, reveal only a portion of relevant items in the budgets of civilian agencies.

As a consequence, military budget watchers report widely different figures. For 1995, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency puts global spending at $865 billion, the International Institute for Strategic Studies says the figure is $828 billion, but the Bonn International Conversion Center pegs it at $728 billion.

Most uncertain are Russian and Chinese expenditures. Given its methodology, the ACDA tends to inflate these outlays; for Russia, it relies on estimates of what it would cost in the United States, in dollars, to outfit and maintain Russia's military. For China, it uses purchasing power estimates of the Chinese yuan. Even if reliable local currency expenditure estimates were available, converting these into dollars, applying proper exchange rates, creates more problems.

For 1995, the ACDA pegs Russian spending at $76 billion and Chinese expenditures at $63.5 billion. The IISS believes the figures are $82 billion and $33 billion, respectively. Trying to correct for the problems just mentioned, the BICC puts Russia's budget at a mere $13 billion, perhaps too low, and China's at $34 billion.

But there is no disputing that the single largest spender by far is the United States. According to the Pentagon's National Defense Budget Estimates, which provides more recent data than in other countries, U.S. outlays came to $243 billion, or 35 percent of global military expenditures, in 1997.

Besides the United States, Russia and China, other big spenders (in 1995) include Japan ($43.9 billion), France ($43.1 billion), Germany ($37.8 billion) and the United Kingdom ($33.9 billion) -- all close allies of the United States.

A third tier of military spenders includes Italy ($19.8 billion), Saudi Arabia ($16.8 billion), South Korea ($13.6 billion), Taiwan ($12.6 billion) and Canada ($10.7 billion).

They are followed by India ($9.8 billion), Switzerland ($8.2 billion), Australia ($8.1 billion), Spain ($7.7 billion), Israel ($7.5 billion), the Netherlands ($7.1 billion), Turkey ($6.1 billion) and North Korea ($5.6 billion). All other countries spend less than $5 billion a year on their militaries. Among the top 20 military spenders, only North Korea is hostile toward Western countries.

The number of armed conflicts in the world is also declining.

There were 25 armed conflicts in 1997, and half the peak number of 51 recorded during 1992. These data are collected by the Unit for the Study of Wars, Armaments and Development at the University of Hamburg in Germany.

Other analysts report slightly different numbers. The Conflict Data Project at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, for example, puts the peak in 1992 at 55 and pegs the number of conflicts in 1997 at 24. Discrepancies are due to definitional and methodological questions, along with the frequent lack of reliable information. Though the numbers in the analysis that follows are frequently inconsistent, the trends are reliable.

From 1989 to 1996, there were a total of 101 armed conflicts. Ninety-five took place among combatants within countries rather than between states. This is reflected in the large number of conflict parties -- 254 in all, including government armies, paramilitary forces, guerrilla bands, drug warlords and others.

An estimated 250,000 children are serving as soldiers, often against their will. Children under 18 years old were among the combatants in 33 current or recent conflicts, while 26 involved children younger than 15. In 1995, Project Ploughshares in Canada found that children participated in fighting in more than 80 percent of the countries that were at war during the year.

Although the number of conflicts is high, few of them are full-fledged wars, killing more than 1,000 persons per year. Most are "intermediate" armed conflicts (fewer than 1,000 deaths in any one year) or "minor" ones (fewer than 1,000 deaths during the conflict). During 1996, there were 17 minor conflicts, 13 intermediate ones and six wars. By contrast, as recently as 1989, the respective numbers were 15, 14 and 18.

Of the 101 conflicts between 1989 and 1996, two-thirds had ended by the close of 1996. Conflict termination was due to one party's victory in 23 cases, the result of a peace agreement in 19, and halted by a cease-fire in seven. In the remaining 17 cases, fighting simply ebbed away, and it is unclear whether the violence is gone for good or whether hostilities might resume. (A conflict is considered terminated if there is no fighting for at least one year.)

Many of the active conflicts have lasted many years, although in some cases fighting is sporadic. Most were initiated during the 1970s and 1980s, but some, like the violence in Myanmar, originated in the 1940s.

More than half of the 19 peace agreements reached from 1989 to 1996 were achieved in Africa. Four agreements were concluded in the Americas, three in Europe and one each in the Middle East and Asia. Most of the conflicts since 1989 in the latter two regions remain unresolved.

Yet every region has seen a reduction in warfare since 1992. Of the 36 conflicts in 1996, 14 were in Asia, 14 in Africa, five in the Middle East, two in the Americas and one in Europe. In 1996, the heaviest fighting took place in Afghanistan, Algeria, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Turkey.

But the number of armed conflicts alone is not a sufficient indicator of the loss of human life or the disruption of societies. A single major conflict might cause far greater suffering than a large number of small ones.

During the first half of the 1990s, at least 3.2 million people died of war-related causes -- either due to fighting or to hunger and disease caused by the fighting. This is one of the highest death tolls of any five-year period since the end of World War II. Since 1946, at least 25 million people have been killed.

Some analysts contend that the number is far higher. According to Milton Leitenberg of the University of Maryland, it might be as high as 44 million. Civilians account for a growing share of the victims, rising from 14 percent in World War I to 67 percent in World War II, 75 percent in the 1980s, and 90 percent in the 1990s.

Pub Date: 5/13/98

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