Military spending, food aid and the strange priorities of the G8 nations

The G8 leaders meeting in Japan have been talking about feeding the poor, as rising prices threaten to drive millions more into poverty and hunger. In their summit statement on global food security, the eight leaders expressed their deep concern, acknowledged the pressures being generated in low income countries by rising world food prices, and called for countries with food stockpiles to release them to assist those in need.

The unfamiliar experience of exercising their caring side seemed to exhaust the G8 leaders, who needed a 19-course banquet to rejuvenate them. Not surprisingly, their self-indulgence was castigated in the news media, which took great delight in itemising the exotic and (for most of us) previously unheard of ingredients in the various delicacies.

But the real problem is feeding the hungry, not how the rich and powerful do lunch. And what can the wealthiest nations of the world really do if we have indeed reached the end of cheap food?

The G8 leaders seem to have made a start, by restating a pledge to double aid for the global poor to US$50 billion per year by 2010. $50 billion sounds like a hell of a lot of money – but in reality it is just a drop in the ocean. For the 2.5 billion people estimated by the World Bank to be living on less than $2 a day, this amounts to about another 5½¢ a day each.

If care for the poor of the world was a real priority, wealthy nations would dig far deeper. And there is one source of funds that the G8 nations could redirect towards food aid very easily indeed: military expenditure.

In a report published in June 2008, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that world military spending in 2007 was US$1339 billion. 62% of this came from the G8 nations, with the United States contributing $547 billion, or 45% of global military spending.

The US$50 billion that the G8 aspire to spend on alleviating the distress of poverty and hunger around the world is just 6% of what they already spend on their military forces. I don’t think I have to say any more to indicate just how warped this is.

Through the detailed work by SIPRI we can also focus on the beneficiaries of all that military spending. The report notes that global expenditure on weaponry amounted to US$315 billion in 2006, with the five leading arms companies (outside of China) each posting profits of more than $1 billion. Top of the heap was Boeing, with a profit of $2.2 billion.

I suggest that a global ‘death tax’ on the profits of these purveyors of destruction could easily match the $50 billion the G8 wish to contribute to supporting the poor and hungry of the world.

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