Total global military expenditure rose to $1981 billion in 2020, an increase of 2.6 per cent in real terms from 2019, according to new data published today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The five biggest spenders in 2020, which together accounted for 62 per cent of global military expenditure, were the United States, China, India, Russia and the United Kingdom. Military spending by China grew for the 26th consecutive year.
The 2.6 per cent increase in world military spending came in a year when global gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 4.4 per cent (October 2020 projection by the International Monetary Fund), largely due to the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, military spending as a share of GDP—the military burden—reached a global average of 2.4 per cent in 2020, up from 2.2 per cent in 2019. This was the biggest year-on-year rise in the military burden since the global financial and economic crisis in 2009.
In 2020 US military expenditure reached an estimated $778 billion, representing an increase of 4.4 per cent over 2019. As the world’s largest military spender, the USA accounted for 39 per cent of total military expenditure in 2020. This was the third consecutive year of growth in US military spending, following seven years of continuous reductions.
‘The recent increases in US military spending can be primarily attributed to heavy investment in research and development, and several long-term projects such as modernizing the US nuclear arsenal and large-scale arms procurement,’ said Alexandra Marksteiner, a researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. ‘This reflects growing concerns over perceived threats from strategic competitors such as China and Russia, as well as the Trump administration’s drive to bolster what it saw as a depleted US military.’
China’s military expenditure, the second highest in the world, is estimated to have totalled $252 billion in 2020. This represents an increase of 1.9 per cent over 2019 and 76 per cent over the decade 2011–20. China’s spending has risen for 26 consecutive years, the longest series of uninterrupted increases by any country in the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database.
‘China stands out as the only major spender in the world not to increase its military burden in 2020 despite increasing its military expenditure, because of its positive GDP growth last year,’ said Dr Nan Tian, SIPRI Senior Researcher. ‘The ongoing growth in Chinese spending is due in part to the country’s long-term military modernization and expansion plans, in line with a stated desire to catch up with other leading military powers.’
Big Arms contractors influence policy
U.S.-based companies dominate SIPRI’s list of top global arms manufacturers and military services providers. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data provided by SIPRI to identify the companies profiting most from war. Companies were ranked based on SIPRI’s estimates of arms and military services sales in 2018. The United States is home to half of the world’s 10 largest defense contractors and to 43 of the top 100 defense companies. These companies accounted for 59% of total arms sales by the world’s 100 largest defense contractors in 2018 – an increase of 7.2%. Chinese companies were not considered due to lack of sufficient data.
Although the US aerospace and defense industry takes up merely 1.8 percent of its total GDP, the role this industry plays in pulling the US economy is significant. The military industry is the core of the existing manufacturing industry in the US. Most of the manufacturing industry revolves around the survival and development of military industry and its supplies. This part of the industry is estimated to account for more than 60 percent of the total US manufacturing industry.
One reason is that its defense industry is meant to make money off of war. It provides a constant source of power for the US to maintain its dominant to the world and make huge profits from the process. The amount of money at stake is immense, both at home and abroad, the center states on its website, OpenSecrets.org. Not only is a significant portion of the Pentagon’s $740 billion annual budget spent on weapons, the report explains, but American defense firms agreed to sell $175 billion in weapons to other countries over the last year. That includes deals to sell $23 billion in F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and drones to the United Arab Emirates, and billions more in sales to Taiwan and Saudi Arabia, it adds. Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia are some of the other major buyers of American weapons.
The US arms industry is in an indispensable position in US export system. According to official US data, US arms exports totaled $175.08 billion in 2020, up 2.8 percent over 2019. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms Industry Database noted that sales of arms and military services by the sector’s largest 100 companies totaled $420 billion in 2018, in which arms sales of US companies accounted for 59 percent.
In January 1961, US President Dwight D Eisenhower used his farewell address to warn the nation of what he viewed as one of its greatest threats: the military-industrial complex composed of military contractors and lobbyists perpetuating war. Eisenhower warned that “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” had emerged as a hidden force in US politics and that Americans “must not fail to comprehend its grave implications”.
These big companies are also able to influence foreign policy because of their campaign contributions and other means including through lobbyists, and PR firms to prolong wars to be able to profit from them. Five of the nation’s biggest defense contractors — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Technologies and General Dynamics — spent a combined $60 million in 2020 to influence policy, according to a new report from the Center for Responsive Politics. The paper, “Capitalizing on conflict: How defense contractors and foreign nations lobby for arms sales,” details how a network of lobbyists and donors steered $285 million in campaign contributions and $2.5 billion in lobbying spending over the last two decades, as well as hiring more than 200 lobbyists who previously worked in government.
Defense lobbyists are also among the best-connected in Washington, D.C., the report states. Of the 663 lobbyists working for defense contractors, nearly three-quarters used to work for the federal government — the highest percentage of any industry, according to the report. The so-called “revolving door” also exists on Capitol Hill, the report adds. Over the last 30 years, nearly 530 staffers have both worked for a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees of both houses of Congress or the Defense Appropriations subcommittees, and then as a lobbyist for defense companies.
Supporting and continuing Global conflict and wars
The arms industry directly serves the military. And the military of the empire is not only for the maintenance of defense but also for the purpose of geopolitical expansion ambition of the countries.
These arm sales while contributing to self defense of themselves also through their easy access to weapons and ammunition has led to human suffering, political repression, crime and terror among civilians. In May 2021, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict flared up again in the Gaza Strip. Israel carried out 1500 air, land and sea strikes in eleven days. Palestinians fired around 4000 rockets. Over 250 Palestinians and 12 Israelis were killed. Yemen has entered into its 7th year of war causing catastrophic levels of hunger. The US, the UK, Spain and Canada openly supply weapons to the Saudi-led coalition.
The years of intense fighting between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led military coalition has culminated in what the U.N. deems the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s richest countries, has been bombing Yemen, the fifth-poorest nation in the world, since 2015—with support from the United States. Their mission is to topple the Houthis, an armed political movement that overthrew Yemen’s president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a Saudi ally, in February 2015.
Since 2015, the Saudi-coalition has laid siege to Yemen, blockading Houthi-controlled areas and waging an intense bombing campaign. The blockade has caused severe shortages of food and medicine for Yemeni civilians, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of young children from malnutrition or disease. The coalition’s bombing campaign has been condemned by the U.N. as indiscriminate, taking a devastating toll of civilians and civilian infrastructure. That campaign has been fueled, in large part, by American weapons manufacturers to the tune of billions of dollars.
The war in Yemen has been particularly lucrative for General Dynamics, Boeing and Raytheon, which have received hundreds of millions of dollars in Saudi weapons deals. All three corporations have highlighted business with Saudi Arabia in their reports to shareholders.
In a historic vote in April 2019, the U.S. Congress passed a War Powers Resolution directing Trump to end U.S. involvement in the conflict. Three months later, lawmakers passed a series of resolutions blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But both measures faced staunch opposition from the American defense manufacturing industry, which stood to lose billions of dollars if Washington cut support to the coalition. The resolutions were ultimately vetoed by Trump and both override efforts failed in the Senate.
Similarly Australian government has been influenced to selling weapons to another conflict state Mali. The independent United Nations human rights expert in Mali has called on Australia to cease selling arms to the war-torn country and urged the international community to do more to stop nations “actively producing and selling weapons” in conflict zones. The Guardian revealed that the Australian government had issued 16 permits to arms manufacturers to export weapons or military technology to Mali in 2019. Mali has been in near-perpetual conflict for eight years. Last year, while Australia was approving the weapons sales, the UN warned that internal conflict was causing an “unprecedented humanitarian crisis” in Mali, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and putting millions of civilians at risk.
The Australian government says its export licences are only issued after thorough assessments on whether arms will be used to breach human rights or any of Australia’s international obligations. If there is an overriding risk that the weapons could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of humanitarian law, defence says it will not issue an export permit.
Libya is another country facing continued civil war fuelled by the International powers who are increasing deliveries of suspected military supplies to factions , ignoring a poorly enforced UN embargo. The United Arab Emirates, which is backing Khalifa Haftar, the warlord commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army, is thought to have sent more than 100 deliveries by air since mid-January, according to flight-tracking data. Haftar launched an offensive in April 2019 aimed at capturing Tripoli, the capital and the seat of the UN-backed government of national accord (GNA). Frontlines have been largely static in recent months, with both sides unable to break a military stalemate.
These continuing conflicts and wars also allow these military Industry to tests their weapons in real operational environment which further enhance them perceived as being battle ready and enhance their marketabiity. In the ongoing military occupation and in the blockade of the Gaza strip, the state army has been repeatedly accused by human rights organisations (Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) of involvement in the unlawful killings of Palestinian civilians and the arrests without trial of thousands of opponents to the military occupation.
Over the years, Israel has used diverse weapons to kill more than 400,000 Palestinian civilians and injure or cripple two to three times as many, including tens of thousands of women and children. Israeli arms industry is often accused of turning the West Bank and Gaza strip into their laboratory to test new weapons which are then sold to the international market as battle proven weapons.These include tank fire, rockets, or cluster or phosphorus bombs.
The more than 6-year-old civil war in Syria has been a showcase for Russian-made arms. Russia has supported Assad and his forces, while the U.S. has helped moderate rebel groups and called for Assad to step down. “Syria is not a shooting range for Russian weapons, but we are still using them there, our new weapons,” Putin said. “This has led to the improvement of modern strike systems, including missile systems. It is one thing to have them, and quite another thing to see how they fare in combat conditions.Russia has emerged as the world’s second-largest arms producer after the United States. Russia surpassed Britain, which had held that spot since 2002 and remains Western Europe’s No. 1 arms maker.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in its annual report on the world’s 100 biggest armaments groups that the combined arms sales of Russian companies amounted to $37.7 billion in 2017, an 8.5 percent rise from a year earlier. Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher at the institute, said Russian producers of arms and weapon systems have been on a significant growth path since 2011. According to Rosoboronexport, a state-owned export monopoly.Russian-made weapons “proved their efficiency, reliability in the most diverse conditions,”
And since Biden’s inauguration, the report states, the State Department has approved the sale of $85 million in missiles from Raytheon to Chile, and a $60 million deal between Lockheed Martin and Jordan to provide F-16 Fighting Falcons and services.
The negotiations are further protected by laws of secrecies, making true reporting and criticising difficult. Governments maintain that the secrecy engulfing the international arms trade is essential to maintain ‘national security’. The profit-driven collusion between governments, the military and big business is a major roadblock in the way of change.
According to Francesco Vignarca, a member of Rete Pace e Disarmo (The Peace and Disarmament Network), Italy isn’t only providing the Israeli Air Force with planes that could be used to train pilots that carry out attacks, but they could also be providing planes actually used for the attacks themselves. Leonardo is the largest Italian arms producer and it is ranked 12th worldwide. The Italian government is its largest shareholder and owns 30% of the company. Francesco explains that “Italy has exported, in recent years, more than 50% of its weapon systems to the Middle East and North Africa”. Some of the items it exports are armored vehicles, aircrafts and ships. He says that amounts to three billion euros a year in arms actually sold. Saudi Arabia was Italy’s main client last year after Egypt and Qatar in the Middle East and North Africa. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest arms importer. After it engaged in the war in Yemen, its arms imports skyrocketed. It showed an increase of 61% from 2016 to 2020.
France, Germany, Spain and Italy are the main exporters in the EU. In the last five years, France’s main clients outside of Europe were Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but it also sold arms to the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Israel, Ethiopia and Afghanistan among many others. Germany has exported to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, but also to countries like South Sudan and Somalia. Spain and Italy’s exports have also headed to the same volatile destinations.
While Spain ratified the Arms Trade Treaty in 2014, they are currently the seventh largest arms exporting country in the world. Being a part of the EU means they need to comply with EU regulations on selling weapons established in 2008, which means respecting human rights and international humanitarian law in the countries where their weapons could end up. But between 2008 and 2016, the Spanish government authorised arms exports worth €22.6 billion to over one hundred different countries. Exports to 50 of these countries were identified as ‘exports of concern’ in an independent investigation by the Spanish Arms Under Control coalition, of which Greenpeace Spain is a member. It starts at the top: Spain’s Head of State, King Felipe VI, regularly acts as a mediator and exerts his influence on behalf of Spanish arms corporations.
‘Exports of concern’ and ‘potential concern’ defined as selling weapons to countries where arms have been used or could be used for serious violations of international human rights and/or international humanitarian law, and where there is a substantial risk of illegitimate use. This means selling weapons to countries where there’s a chance they might be used against civilians; bombing hospitals, markets and schools, or violently repressing the population.
In Oct 2020, The Republic of Artsakh filed a lawsuit on behalf of its civilian population against multi-billion-dollar defense contractor, L3Harris Technologies, Inc. (“L3 Harris”), in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Chicago firm Kerkonian Dajani LLC brought the suit alleging that L3Harris aided and abetted war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, extrajudicial killings, and torture committed by Turkey and Azerbaijan against the civilian population in Artsakh.
The complaint alleges that, since 2019, L3Harris has sold electro-optical/infra-red sensors to Turkey for its Bayraktar TB-2 drones and continued to do so with the knowledge that Turkey and Azerbaijan would use them to commit crimes against civilians. Recent reports indicate that Turkey and Azerbaijan use Bayraktar TB-2 drones in their attacks on Armenian civilians.
In 2013, the UN adopted the Arms Trade Treaty. On paper, the Treaty was a great thing. It was meant to stop the selling of weapons to countries when it was obvious they would be used for genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes. But in reality, the treaty’s impact remains limited. The global arms trade is still on the rise and is continuing to supply weapons to some of the most deadly armed conflicts.
“The international community, notably the security council of the United Nations and the African Union, must hold countries which are actively producing and selling weapons accountable, and pressure them to cease these practices in all conflict zones, including the Sahel.” “The democratisation and the diffusion of weapons must be considered to be a crime against humanity,” said Alioune Tine is currently monitoring the deteriorating human rights situation in Mali as the UN’s independent expert.
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