Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Military Spending vs. People’s Health


The latest report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that, considering some data uncertainties, the world military spending in 2012 dropped slightly (0.5 percent) when compared to 2011. It is the first decline in military spending since 1998. This could be a cause for celebration, except that it is still a perverse use of funds, which could be better diverted to improve people’s health and to promote peace.

According to SIPRI’s estimates, world military spending in 2012 was $1,75 trillion, of which $682 billion were spent by the US, $166 billion by China and $90.7 billion by Russia. There was a slight decline in spending by the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, and Western and Central Europe. Reductions in those countries, however, were upset by increased spending in Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America.

In perspective, military expenditures were several hundred times the World Health Organization (WHO)’s annual budget of $3,95 billion for the 2012-2013 period. Programs funded by the organization include: addressing the global AIDS pandemic; controlling resurgent tuberculosis; dealing with the global disease burden among women and children; addressing accident and trauma victims’ needs; responding to emergency and humanitarian crises, and developing effective health systems, among many other tasks.

World military spending is also several hundred times higher than the annual budget of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of over $10.0 billion, and the Gates Foundation, which in 2012 donated $ 1.3 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Efforts by these agencies have succeeded in eliminating diseases or minimizing their negative impact on people’s health.

It is difficult to assess if the recent leveling of military spending represents a long-term change. Although some countries have diminished their disbursements others have maintained or even increased them. This slight decrease may be temporary, mainly due to the current economic crises and will resume as soon as these crises end. For example, most European countries’ dire economies may mean that spending will continue to fall for the next 2-4 years.

In the US, military spending fell 6 percent, mainly because of the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and the diminished number of troops in Afghanistan. In these cases, reduced spending on the additional war budget, also known as Overseas Contingency Operations, will probably continue falling if plans to end combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014 are fulfilled, and if the US doesn’t get involved in another major war. The US still spent more than the next 10 biggest military spenders in 2012.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has stated that redirecting just one quarter of developing countries’ military expenditure would allow for many drastic improvements in people’s health and well being. Funds could be better used to immunize children, eliminate severe malnutrition, provide safe water and universal primary education, and reduce illiteracy.

However, distorted priorities remain, and the leading industrialized countries share the responsibility, since they are the main arms suppliers. The top five arms exporters to developing countries are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

The leading world powers devote astronomical sums to activities aimed at destroying life in detriment of the paltry sums spent on improving people’s health (particularly of the most vulnerable.) This is a sad commentary about the possibilities of creating a peaceful, harmonious world.

Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future