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Annual Report Reveals Big Increase in Trade

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JULY 13, 2007 (Zenit) - World military expenditure grew 3.5% in 2006, reaching $1,204 billion. On June 11 the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute published the latest edition of its annual yearbook that provides an ample panorama of armaments and global security issues.

Last year's increase means that between 1997-2006 world military expenditure rose by 37%. Moreover, almost 50% more conventional weapons were transferred internationally in 2006 than in 2002.

Elisabeth Sköns, one of those involved in writing the report, commented: "It is worth asking how cost-effective military expenditure is as a way of increasing the security of human lives, if we talk about avoiding premature deaths and disability due to current dangers."

"For example, we know that millions of lives could be saved through basic health interventions that would cost a fraction of what the world spends on military forces every year," she said in a press release accompanying the report's publication.

The report pointed out that world military expenditure is unevenly distributed to an extreme degree. In 2006, the 15 countries with the highest spending accounted for 83% of the global total. The United States spent $528.7 billion. Military spending by the U.S. has increased sharply due to the cost of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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The report noted that in 2006 China's military expenditure continued to increase rapidly, reaching $49.5 billion. For the first time it surpassed that of Japan ($43.7 billion), thus making China the biggest military spender in Asia and the fourth biggest in the world. In fact, Japan decreased its military spending last year, for the fifth consecutive year. India was the third biggest spender in Asia, at $23.9 billion.

Sales up

The arms sales of the 100 largest arms-producing companies in the world (figures for 2005) increased by 3% in real terms compared to 2004, and by 18% for 2002. American companies dominate the top 100 with 40 U.S. firms accounting for 63% of the groups' arms sales of $290 billion in 2005.

Some 32 Western European companies accounted for another 29% and 9 Russian companies for 2%. Companies based in Japan, Israel and India, in descending order, accounted for most of the remaining 6% of world arms sales.

The report explained that an important factor behind changes in the arms industry is the high and rising costs of advanced weapon systems. In fact, most governments cannot afford to maintain their current levels of arms procurement due to the increasing costs.

In terms of the international trade in conventional arms, the United States and Russia were the largest suppliers in the five-year period of 2002-2006, each accounting for around 30% of global deliveries. Exports from European Union members to non-European Union countries accounted for just over 20% arms delivered. The list of the top-10 arms importers is headed by China and India, but there were also five Middle Eastern countries in the top 10.

The report added that 2006 saw new attention given to the problem of state supplies of weapons to rebel groups, due to the arsenal acquired by Hezbollah from Iran and used in its war with Israel. There is little transparency regarding arms transfers, the report lamented. Although there were improvements in this area in the 1990s, with more and better national reports by countries on their exports no further progress has been made in recent years.

Nuclear worries

The situation regarding nuclear weapons is worrying, the report commented. In October 2006 North Korea carried out a nuclear test explosion. The explosion followed a series of ballistic missile flight-tests. In addition, Iran has ended the voluntary suspension of its uranium enrichment program.

When it comes to chemical weapons there is concern that the deadline of April 2012 for the destruction of all these arms, established by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, will not be met by all states.

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Regarding biological weapons the report noted that efforts continue in terms of improving surveillance and response, and talks continue regarding non-proliferation and disarmament measures. Nevertheless, there is little reliable public information on the attempts to acquire, develop or use such weapons.

Talks also continued last year to control or reduce conventional weapons, but they continued to remain stalled according to the report. On the positive side, however, the number of states adhering to the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mines Convention is rising. The report also noted that interest in humanitarian efforts to contain the scourge of what it termed "inhumane weapons" is steadily growing.

Maintain efforts

During the last year, Vatican representatives have intervened on a number of occasions during meetings of the United Nations to put forward the Church's position regarding armaments.

Last October 6 Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations, spoke before the General Assembly's first commission during a session devoted to disarmament and international security.

He commented that some of the efforts to control arms have failed. For example, last summer's meetings on the issue on small arms did not produce any concrete results. Moreover, arms expenditures continue to be high.

"Too often, the debates over small arms and nuclear weapons are carried on in abstract terms from preconceived positions and there is little sign of willingness to learn," said Archbishop Migliore.

He did, however, observe that on the positive side the number of conflicts between states is declining. As well, peacekeeping missions are controlling wars in many places. The Vatican representative urged the United Nations to continue efforts at dialogue on arms issues, noting in particular the urgency of taking steps to control the proliferation of nuclear arms.

Just a few days later, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace published a statement supporting a U.N. resolution on the international control of the import, export and transfer of conventional weapons.

In the statement, dated Oct. 10, 2006, the council noted that over the past decades many millions of deaths have resulted from conflicts in which conventional weapons were used. There are, in fact, the document stated, few controls over the sale of such weapons and no effective monitoring system for conventional arms trading.

"Weapons cannot be considered as any other good exchanged on the global, regional or national market," the statement declared. "Their possession, production and trade have deep ethical and social implications and they must be regulated by paying due attention to specific principles of the moral and legal order," the council exhorted.

On the matter of nuclear arms, Monsignor Michael W. Banach addressed a meeting May 1 of the United Nations held in Vienna to review the treaty on the non-proliferation of these weapons.

He commented on the importance of both nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, not only in order to defeat nuclear terrorism, but also as an important step in realizing "a culture of life and of peace capable of promoting in an effective way the integral development of peoples."

"The truth of peace requires that all -- whether those governments which openly or secretly possess nuclear arms, or those planning to acquire them -- agree to change their course by clear and firm decisions, and strive for a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament," Monsignor Banach stated. As the latest data on arms sales reveals, achieving this truth of peace remains an elusive, but urgent, goal.


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