Global Policy Forum

Arms Sales Killing Development Goals


By Stefania Bianchi

Inter Press Service
June 22, 2004

Also, see Shattering Lives, a full report on arms control, by Amnesty International and Oxfam.

Arms-exporting governments are undermining the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by diverting vital resources from crucial areas such as health and education, warns a new report.

New research by Oxfam International and Amnesty International says that arms sales are "diverting resources from areas such as health and education, as well as undermining the security and human rights of the population."

The report 'Guns or Growth' released Tuesday (Jun. 22) says six developing countries -- Oman, Syria, Burma, Pakistan, Eritrea and Burundi -- spend more on arms than they do on health and education combined. "Government failure to stick to their own promises on arms exports means that children are denied an education, AIDS sufferers are not getting treatment, and thousands are dying needlessly," Barbara Stocking, director of Oxfam said in a statement Tuesday.

According to the report, an average 22 billion dollars is spent on arms by countries in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa every year. This sum would have enabled those countries to put every child in school and to reduce child mortality by two thirds by 2015 - two of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The goals agreed by heads of state in September 2000 aim to reduce poverty, improve access to basic services, bring disease under control and ensure universal primary education by 2015. The Oxfam-Amnesty report says it is "shocking how few governments make a serious attempt to consider the impact on development of their arms exports. Paying lip service to such a commitment means that scarce resources are being diverted from the fight against poverty, and millions are suffering as a result."

In 2002 arms delivered to Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa represented more than two-thirds of the value of all arms deliveries worldwide. Of the total arms exported to these regions, 90 percent came from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. "This is a massive sum of money that could be used to make real progress in the fight against poverty," Ernie Regehr, director of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Project Ploughshares said in a statement.

In 2001 Tanzania spent 40 million dollars on a British military Watchman radar system -- enough to provide healthcare for 3.5 million people.

In 1999 South Africa agreed to purchase armaments í» including frigates, submarines, aircraft and helicopters for 6 billion dollars. This money could have purchased treatment with combination therapy for all five million South African AIDS sufferers for two years.

The report says that governments that sell arms can assess the impact it will have on poverty, and argues that governments should agree to an international arms trade treaty to control the arms trade and safeguard sustainable development and human rights.

Paul Eavis, director of Saferworld, a group that promotes new strategies to increase human security and to prevent armed violence says governments should be ashamed. "Inappropriate arms sales are responsible for entrenching and exacerbating poverty," he said in a statement. "Despite assurances, most governments are still only playing lip service to assessing arms sales against their impact on poverty. To ensure we have strict international controls we need an arms trade treaty."

Of 17 main arms exporting countries surveyed -- Argentina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Turkey, Britain, Ukraine, and the United States í» the report found that only Britain and the Netherlands had policies involving the government department responsible for development in export decision-making. Only four countries -- Bulgaria, Sweden, Britain and the Netherlands -- had ever refused a sale on the grounds it might undermine sustainable development.

Tuesday's report follows a warning from World Bank President James Wolfensohn last month that there is already a "fundamental imbalance" between global defence spending of 900 billion dollars compared with 325 billion dollars on agricultural subsidies and only 60 billion dollars on aid.

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