January issue 2009

By | Opinion | Speaker's Corner | Published 15 years ago

Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, President of the UN General Assembly for 2008, said in his opening address, “It is a sad but undeniable fact that serious breaches of peace and threats to international peace and security are being perpetrated by some members of the Security Council that seem unable to break what appears like an addiction to war. The state of our world today is deplorable, inexcusable and, therefore, shameful.”

The leading powers have rejected conflict resolution by peaceful means, though this addiction isn’t solely their prerogative; third world rulers too squander their resources and drive countries into penury by pursuing confrontation. Together, they are responsible for the shockingly appalling conditions that people live in today.

The latest report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute draws a truly distressing picture. It reveals that “world military spending grew 45% in the past decade, with the United States accounting for nearly half of all expenditure, [while] total military spending grew 6% last year alone. In 2007, $1.3 trillion was spent on arms and other military expenditure, corresponding to 2.5% of global GDP — or $202 for each of the world’s 6.6 billion people. The world’s 100 leading arms-producing companies sold arms worth $315 billion in 2006. In the past decade, the Middle East has boosted military expenditure by 62%, South Asia by 57% and Africa and East Asia by 51% each.”

“The United States spends by far the most, dishing out $547 billion, or 45% of global expenditure, last year. Its Defence Bill for the fiscal year 2008, minus the cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is $459 billion.” War and anti-terrorism efforts could cost the US $2.4 trillion over the next decade.

Universally rising military expenditure is both disconcerting and alarming. Sadly, South Asia ranks near the top of the list. Jingoistic leaders and frenzied hate rhetoric have perpetually kept the region in latent or open conflict and diverted precious resources from human development, with disastrous results.

The BBC reported that “overall, 10 million children die every year before they are five years old. Most deaths occur in just six countries: China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.” South Asian children suffer heavily, yet surveying the local defence budgets (India: $22bn, 2.6% of GDP (2006) and Pakistan: $4.5bn, 3.1% of GDP (2007), one would presume they are ignorant of the bitter realities. In 1999, India spent $10 billion on defence, $10.50 per capita, while Pakistan spent $4 billion, $27 per capita, which has risen to $34 now.

Human Development in South Asia, a 10-yearly review by the Mahbubul Haq Human Development Centre states “A little over 73% of Pakistanis still live below the poverty line, with the percentage of the rural poor registering an increase. The share of South Asia in the total number of poor people in the world has increased significantly, from 40% in 1993 to 47% in 2004. The progress in life expectancy in Pakistan during the last 10 years is the slowest in the region. The percentage of malnourished children under five years of age remains stagnant at 38%, compared to 40% in 1994.
“The incidence of tuberculosis per 100,000 has also increased, from 150 in 1995 to 181 in 2004,” says the report. “Public spending on health as a percentage of GDP went down from 0.8% in 1995 to 0.4% in 2004.”

Statistics show that during the year 2006-07, Pakistan’s defence expenditure was nearly Rs.250 billion, while only Rs.6 billion and Rs.22.6 billion were spent on health and education respectively. Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim recently said, “During the last 30 years, Rs.178 billion had been spent on education and Rs.98 billion on health while, on the other hand, around Rs.2,835 billion [was] consumed by defence alone.”

Note, the combined expenditure on health and education for the last 30 years is marginally higher than that spent on defence in 2006-07 alone. No wonder we possess A-bombs but 73% of our population is mostly illiterate, languishing below the poverty line and dealing with health services unfit for quadrupeds. Pakistan’s unenviable 137th place in the UN’s Human Development Index is a stark indicator of this.

The silent tsunami of poverty is engulfing the world. Globally, food prices rose by 43% while rice prices rose by 75% in 2007. The Asian Development Bank has found that a billion Asians are now at risk of malnutrition. Food prices have hit the highest levels in 30 years and about 850 million people are suffering from chronic hunger worldwide, while about 100 million more people have been forced into starvation and a further 30 million Africans are now in poverty.

The world’s existence is threatened due to addiction to war. Food inflation, rising poverty, social upheavals, fundamentalism, militarism, militancy and global warming — all these ominous features prognosticate disasters of Biblical proportions that the inept global leadership is hastening, as it remains heedless to the urgent socio-economic and environmental concerns. These global crises are relentlessly pushing the world towards certain obliteration.
When the Chinese Peoples’ Army was closing in on big cities in 1949 and severely punishing those involved in social evils, there were many who, blinded by greed, persisted and paid the ultimate penalty. Similar traits are being displayed by the insatiably greedy and power-hungry of the world, the essential difference being that the entire world will pay the ultimate penalty for the greed and reckless short-sightedness of these few. The globe today is akin to a container full of purest nitro-glycerin being transported by a clumsy crew.

This addiction to war has wasted trillions of dollars without making the world a secure place. Imagine the spectacular impact on the quality of life on earth had these sums been spent for peaceful purposes, but then again, peace doesn’t bring the dividends that war does.

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