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United States biggest arms dealer as conflicts decrease { June 10 2004 }

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More From The Plain Dealer
Military spending up 11% worldwide as conflicts decrease
Thursday, June 10, 2004
Matt Moore
Associated Press

Stockholm, Sweden - World military spending surged during 2003, reaching $956 billion, nearly half of it by the United States as it paid for missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror, a prominent European think tank said Wednesday.

The money has been effective in waging war, but threats of terror and weapons of mass destruction still exist, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Military spending rose by 11 percent, which the group called a "remarkable increase." The amount was up 18 percent from 2001.

The $956 billion spent on defense costs worldwide corresponded to 2.7 percent of the world's gross domestic product, according to the annual report.

"It's very close to the Cold War peak in 1987," said Elisabeth Skoens, a researcher for the institute who co-wrote the report.

The institute also warned of fears that biotechnology research, particularly concerning human genes, could lead to the development of a new class of biological weapons.

"The free access to genetic sequence data for the human genome and a large number of other genomes, including for pathogenic micro-organisms, is a great scientific resource, but it could pose a significant threat if misused," the report said.

Researcher Richard Guthrie said developments in mapping the human genome, which could lead to improved medicines and vaccines for heart and neurological problems, also could be used by terrorists.

"It is something to be concerned about," he said, but added that no plausible threats have been made.

The United States led the world in defense spending, accounting for 47 percent of the total, followed by Japan with 5 percent and Britain, France and China with 4 percent each.

The figures were in line with estimates by Jane's Information Group, a spokesman from the company's London office told The Associated Press.

The 2003 rise in defense spending coincided with a decrease in the number of conflicts worldwide, which fell to 19, the second-lowest since the think tank began issuing the reports 35 years ago.

The Stockholm institute also noted that 14 separate peace missions began last year, the most since the end of the Cold War.

The report had mixed reviews about efforts to contain weapons of mass destruction.

It warned that attempts to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons were hampered last year when North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and cited Iran's apparent possession of nuclear material and information.

Guthrie said those developments were offset by Libya's acknowledgment that it was developing its own nuclear program and its decision to abandon the program voluntarily.

As for North Korea, Shannon Kile, who follows nuclear issues for the think tank, said the communist country isn't likely to follow Libya's lead.

"Quite frankly, this cabal of elderly generals that sit around [North Korean leader Kim Jong Il] sometime ago made the same cost-benefit calculation, but came up with the conclusion that the benefits of acquiring nuclear weapons outweigh not having them," said Kile, who visited North Korea in 2002.



2004 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.


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