A recent study carried out by Forecast International highlights that world military expenditure had increased overall by more than 13% over the past five years: from $1451 billion in 2015 to $1642 billion in 2019. The biggest spenders on defense last year were countries in North America (43%), Asia (24%) and Europe (15%). Defense spending is expected to grow by an average of 3% each year over the next five-year period, reaching $1907 billion by 2024. At this rate, there will be an increase of 31.4% by the end of the decade. Parallel to the growth in military spending, arms imports are also on the rise in a number of regions, which could have dramatic security implications in the short term.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the United States is dominating the weapons market, ahead of Russia, France, Germany and China, and the gap between the USA and other arms exporters is widening. The total US share of global heavy weaponry exports was 36%, which easily makes America the largest exporter in this industry. Apart from that, Washington’s arms exports increased by 23% between 2015 and 2019 compared to 2004–2008, further asserting US dominance in arms sales. Among other things, the United States benefits from the high demand for weapons in the Middle East. Arms imports have increased by 61% over the past five years in the Middle East as a result of the conflicts the region is rife with. Half of US arms exports in the past five years went to the Middle East, and half of those went to Saudi Arabia. The US exports weapons to a total of 96 countries around the world.
The largest arms exporter in the EU is France. Over the past five years, French arms exports reached their highest level for any five-year period since 1990. Over this five-year period, French global arms exports increased by 72% thanks to major deals secured with Egypt, Qatar and India.
Saudi Arabia is increasing its arms imports. Despite the fact that Germany has stopped supplying the country with weapons, its imports of major arms increased by 130 percent compared with the previous five-year period. The Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud has said Saudi Arabia will buy the weapons it needs wherever it can get them. This mainly implies making deals with the US, but also includes deals with the UK and France.
As a result, Middle Eastern countries are now almost a constantly militarized region. Israel tops the regional ranking as the most militarized state. Out of the country’s population of about nine million people, 169 thousand soldiers and 465 thousand reservists serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), while 4.3 percent of the Israel’s GDP is spent on defense!
European members of NATO are continuing to arm themselves, especially the Baltic states and countries in Eastern Europe, who cite increasing tensions with Russia. For example, Latvia and Lithuania are actively arming themselves, as their share of GDP spent on defense (military burden) has increased from 1.7 percent to 2 percent. Militarization is also in full swing in Ukraine, a country which is suffering significant financial and economic turmoil due to its own mismanagement, and where default has even been declared inevitable by numerous politicians. The country increased its defense budget by 21 percent in 2019, to a total of $4.4 billion.
The world is unfortunately not becoming a safer place, but that is not the only reason why this unjustified defense spending and arms race is particularly worrying today. On the contrary, it is this excessive militarization in certain countries that fuels their desire to put new weapons to the test, which only results in more and bigger armed conflicts.
The current situation is another very significant cause for the concern among the international community, as the fight against the coronavirus pandemic has shown that ordinary people are now paying the price for the race Washington has been leading in defense spending, fueled by the hunger of US military and industrial lobbyists to generate more and more profits, mainly by cutting the budget for socially important sectors including health care, sacrificing people’s basic needs. The American propaganda machine is churning out horror stories about alleged threats stemming from Russia, China, North Korea or Iran in a shameless attempt to stupefy people in many countries that find themselves in Washington’s sphere of influence and to persuade these countries to allocate huge budgets for defense, the army and the defense industry. These countries are responding by buying more and more weapons to protect their strategic and economic interests. However, according to analysis from SIPRI, Russia’s military expenditure fell within the space of two years, from $82.6 billion USD in 2016 to $64.2 billion USD in 2018! The depressing statistics on coronavirus deaths unfortunately show that countries including the United States which have been spending huge amounts of money on defense are not winning the fight against the pandemic – quite the contrary, they are suffering the most.
Moreover, no one is going to attack the United States or NATO countries amid the coronavirus pandemic. On the contrary, China and Russia, which top the Pentagon’s list of “potential adversaries”, have indeed provided a very substantial amount of aid to the EU, the USA and several other regions around the world in the fight against Covid-19. It turns out that the vast potential of the weapons that money has been spent on is useless in the fight against the objective threat countries are faced with, which is an epidemic, not any of Washington’s myths or horror stories.
According to Reuters, US authorities have completely exhausted the US Strategic National Stockpile of personal protective equipment in the fight against the novel coronavirus, which puts this country in a position where it is essentially struggling to survive. According to official sources, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is racing to meet urgent demand for protective masks, respirators, surgical gloves and gowns, and has begun searching for them abroad. At the same time, the FEMA is mainly considering importing supplies from Malaysia and China of all countries, which is officially listed as a potential adversary in the US National Security Strategy!
In these circumstances, one can hardly be surprised by the data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University and published on April 2, which recorded over 1,200 deaths in the United States on that day based on reports from the US authorities, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other official sources on the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. This is the highest number of deaths recorded in one day since the global outbreak began! Overall, Covid-19 has already claimed the lives of more than 3,800 people in the United States, and 3,500 lives in France (which has become the EU’s biggest arms exporter). Both of these countries have overtaken China with its 3,300 Covid-19-related deaths.
As noted in the Turkish Daily Sabah newspaper, the coronavirus crisis has undermined three key pillars of America’s global power. The quality of governance the United States demonstrated in its domestic policy, its strategic vision that had global benefits, and America’s ability to lead the world in crisis management and problem solving are now all a thing of the past.
During the coronavirus crisis, the health care system in the United States and in many Western countries has proven itself to be a risk. “Many patients cannot afford medical treatment. American citizens are afraid of their healthcare system. The political reaction has been unsystematic,” writes the German newspaper Handelsblatt.
We must therefore ask ourselves whether we really need to spend such an unjustified amount of money on weapons when we are faced with other real threats, the most serious of which are global pandemics, climate change, and world hunger.
Vladimir Platov, Middle East expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.