Jul 23, 1987


GENEVA, JULY (IPS/ALEJANDRO KIRK) – (...) Many here have said that current U.S.-Soviet negotiations on the subject of dismantling their European nuclear arsenals could lead to an accord and the freeing up of substantial resources that could be used for development.

World spending on arms has reached close to 1.000 billion dollars a year, or the equivalent of the foreign debt of all developing countries.

After analysing third world countries’s need for large sums of foreign exchange to finance economic development, Soviet delegate Pichugin concluded that neither the Japanese plan to "recycle" part of its trade surplus, nor other similar projects could finance such an undertaking.

"Twenty, 30, 300 billion dollars is not enough", he said.

"Where can these resources be found without harming the economies of donor countries? By putting an end to the arms race", he said, answering his own question.

Then he asked that the UNCTAD Conference – which began July 9 – give "much more importance to this question".

But delegates from the Group of 77, which represents the developing countries told IPS such a proposal is unrealistic, especially in the light of a document distributed monday by the United States, which makes an optimistic analysis of the current state of the world economy and its perspectives.

These conclusions contrasted vividly with most other statements made here, which offered a picture of world economic crisis, and called urgently for some sort of agreement to overcome these problems.

Eighty percent of total world military spending is concentrated in the two major blocs: the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). It is the two superpowers that are responsible for the bulk of this.

But any hopes that a partial nuclear arms accord would free the world not only from the danger of destruction, but also from the economic disaster represented by spending on weapons comes up against UN studies.

These studies have recently indicated that 80 percent of these military spending goes toward conventional forces, negotiations on which have been stalemated for decades.

According to the disarmament department of the United Nations and numerous western economists, military investments have a highly negative effect on the civilian sectors of a country’s economy.

Post-war experience shows that countries which have been notable economic successes – especially west Germany and Japan – are those in which less than one percent of gross national product is devoted to military spending.

These countries, however, are in a minority in the international arena, and they, too, are now moving in the direction of supporting growing production and trade in weapons.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said here at the UNCTAD meeting that the current situation of debtor developing countries is "unacceptable", because it leaves them with the debt burden at the same time as military spending continues to grow.

"It is enough to recall, if recalling is useful", said Mubarak, "that the world spends 2 billion dollars a minute on arms".

"There are 556 armed soldiers for every 100.000 people", he continued, "against only five doctors, (and) average spending per soldier is 20.000 dollars (a year) as against an average of 380 dollars a year for the education of a child".

These shocking comparisons have a moral impact, but they scarcely ever figure in debates on the accumulation of capital, domestic savings, recycling trade surpluses, commodity markets, protectionism or the crisis of the monetary system – UNCTAD’s subjects.

In 1984 France proposed hosting international Conference in Paris on the relationship between disarmament and development, but in later postponed the meeting and suggested its location be changed.

By resolution of the UN General Assembly, the Conference will take place next august in New York, and presentations of many more comparisons like those made by Mubarak can be expected.

In this as in many other topics, symptoms of a double standard are evident.

Quite apart from the leading arms supplier, the U.S., big supporters of disarmament, like France and the Soviet Union, and victims of current world economic inequities like Brazil, have places of honour in the list of countries that sell arms to the third world.