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ARMS

Global arms spending flat in 2011: Swedish think tank sees

World military spending failed to rise last year for the first time since 1998 in what could herald a major trend break, but the global nuclear threat remains strong, think tank SIPRI said Monday.

Global arms spending flat in 2011: Swedish think tank sees

As the global economic crisis cuts into defence spending, conflicts around the world are also becoming smaller, shorter and less deadly, and the number of wars between states are at historically low levels, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said.

The Arab Spring also demonstrated that new types of conflicts are emerging, it added.

World military expenditure in 2011 was essentially flat at $1.73 trillion — an increase of just 0.3 percent from 2010 — representing 2.5 percent of global gross domestic product or $249 per person, SIPRI said in a report.

“However, it is still too early to say whether this means that world military expenditure has finally peaked,” the think tank wrote.

Nuclear arsenals declined last year, the report said, as the United States and Russia further reduced their inventories of strategic nuclear weapons.

At the start of 2012, eight countries — Britain, China, India, Israel, France, Pakistan, Russia and the United States — held some 19,000 nuclear warheads, compared to 20,530 at the start of 2011, it said.

However, long-term modernisation programmes under way in nuclear states “suggest that nuclear weapons are still a currency of international status and power,” SIPRI researcher Shannon Kile said.

“In spite of the world’s revived interest in disarmament efforts, none of the nuclear weapon-possessing states show more than a rhetorical willingness to give up their nuclear arsenals just yet,” he said.

The report noted that Iran and Syria came under intensified scrutiny in 2011 for allegedly concealing military nuclear activities.

“The unresolved Iranian and Syrian nuclear controversies raised further doubt about the efficacy of international legal approaches, in particular the role of the UN Security Council, in dealing with suspected or known cases of states violating important arms control treaty obligations and norms.”

In Iran, “the main question now is whether the current negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 states (UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the US plus Germany) will yield concrete results,” Kile told AFP.

“The prospects for reaching a negotiated settlement remain unclear, with both sides engaged in political gamesmanship,” he added.

As for Syria, international concern about its alleged undeclared nuclear activities has been “completely overshadowed” by the public uprising in the country and the Security Council “has shown no willingness” to take up the matter, he said.

Meanwhile, SIPRI said North Korea was believed to have separated roughly 30 kilos of plutonium, enough to build up to eight nuclear weapons “depending on North Korea’s design and engineering skills.”

According to a leaked report prepared in 2011 by the Security Council, the country has pursued a uranium-enrichment programme for several years or even decades, but “it is not known whether North Korea has produced highly-enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons,” SIPRI said.

The institute also noted that civil wars in developing countries were now the main form of conflict worldwide.

“We have witnessed the practical disappearance of wars between states — with numbers at a historically low level,” armed conflict researcher Neil Melvin told AFP.

Nowadays, “violence emerges within states, escalating from political opposition to civil wars,” as in Libya and “it seems we are reaching that point with Syria,” Melvin said.

Finally, the think tank said the Arab Spring demonstrated the growing complexity of armed conflict.

“The events of last year were not isolated in terms of contemporary conflict trends,” Melvin explained, saying they “echoed changes that have been occurring in armed conflict for decades.”

“Taken together, these changes suggest there’s a new kind of conflict environment emerging, one in which international interventions become far more difficult to carry out,” he said.

SIPRI, which specialises in research on conflicts, weapons, arms control and disarmament, was created in 1966 and is 50-percent financed by the Swedish state.

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ARMS

‘Scrapping Saudi deal has damaged Sweden’

A sharp debate has broken out in Sweden after the government's decision to end a controversial military co-operation agreement with Saudi Arabia.

'Scrapping Saudi deal has damaged Sweden'
Swedish PM Stefan Löfven made the announcement on a visit to Kiev. Photo: Joakim Goksör/TT

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Sweden has been selling arms to the oil rich nation for decades but the policy has been strongly debated in the Nordic nation and caused divisions within the Social Democrat-Green coalition government.

The leader of the Swedish Left Party Jonas Sjöstedt referred to the news to end the deal as a “victory” on Tuesday and wrote on Twitter: “Credible feminist politics demanded this.”

But former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt issued sharp criticism of the government.

"This is not least about Sweden's credibility as a contractual partner. That credibility is important to a relatively small country like Sweden,” he wrote on his blog.

“What has happened is unfortunate. Sweden has been damaged,” he added.

And Leif Johansson, chairman of Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson, warned that the decision, which comes hot on the heels of a human rights spat between Sweden and the Arab League, could harm Sweden's trade relations.

He told newspaper Dagens Industri: “If you make yourself the enemy of the Arab League it could cause very great damage. But we don't know how this will play out until after a few years, it depends completely on how we manage to patch up our relations with these countries.”

But Saudi Arabia researcher Thord Janson at Gothenburg University said he did not think the scrapped deal would have a long term effect on Swedish trade.

"I think that the Saudis feel that they have made their point and that they will want to return to normal conditions as soon as possible," he told newspaper Expressen.

The announcement by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven came late on Tuesday, following a spat between Sweden, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League over human rights violations.

Foreign Minister Margot Wallström said on Monday that Saudi officials had stopped her from making her opening address to an Arab League meeting in Cairo due to her stance on human rights.

“The ministers have voiced their condemnation and astonishment at the issuance of such statements that are incompatible with the fact that the Constitution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on Sharia,” read a statement issued by Arab League ministers following their meeting in Cairo.

Wallström's press secretary Erik Boman told The Local on Tuesday that the statement “should be interpreted as a way of Saudi Arabia trying to save face.”

“It is one of very many statements on different issues released by the Arab League after a meeting – by tradition they do that kind of thing,” he added.

Wallström has rarely commented on Saudi Arabia but in January she slammed the kingdom's treatment of blogger Raef Badawi, who had been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam.
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