Stockholm, Sweden (UPI) Apr 13, 2011
Global arms spending rose to more than $1.6 trillion in 2010, with South America and Africa accounting for the fastest relative increases over the previous year, a Swedish defense industry watchdog said.
Money spent on defense in South America last year increased 5.8 percent to $63.3 billion on the region's economic boom, the geopolitical rise of Brazil and internal security threats in some states, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in a study released this week.
"This continuing increase in South America is surprising given the lack of real military threats to most states and the existence of more pressing social needs," Carina Solmirano, Sipri's South America expert, said in a statement. The watchdog from Stockholm has in the past warned of an arms race in South America.
Defense spending in Africa increased 5.2 percent over 2009, led by major oil-producers such as Algeria, Angola and Nigeria. Over the past decade, military expenditures rose by 64 percent.
While the increases in South America and Africa are cause for concern, they're coming from a relatively modest total and are dwarfed by the U.S. focus on military power.
While growth in U.S. defense expenditures slowed in 2010, its $698 billion spent remains exceptional compared to other nations.
"The United States has increased its military spending by 81 percent since 2001 and now accounts for 43 percent of the global total, six times its nearest rival China," said Sam Perlo-Freeman, the project's head researcher. "At 4.8 percent of gross domestic product, U.S. military spending in 2010 represents the largest economic burden outside the Middle East."
Defense spending in Europe, plagued by a debt crisis, fell 2.8 percent to $382 billion.
While major spenders such as Britain, France and Germany experienced modest cuts, many smaller Central and Eastern European countries saw large falls, Sipri said. They include Bulgaria (28 percent), Latvia (26 percent) and Georgia (25 percent).
In Asia, economic growth slowed down in 2009 while military spending continued to rise rapidly, Sipri said.
"Thus, the slower increase of 1.4 percent in military spending in 2010 partly readjusts growth in military spending to economic growth rates," the watchdog writes. "The Chinese government, for example, explicitly linked its smaller increase in 2010 to China's weaker economic performance in 2009."
In the Middle East, countries spent $111 billion on military in 2010, an increase of 2.5 percent over 2009. Sipri notes, however, that its data for the Middle East is plagued by a "very low level of transparency."
Iran, for example, is exempt from the report: It hasn't revealed its spending on arms.
earlier related report
The upsurge in large-scale purchases of firearms by high net worth households contrasted with an overall decrease in the number of gun owners from 5.3 percent to 4.9 percent, the National Institute of Statistics said in its seventh National Urban Citizen Security Study.
Crime is a major problem in some of the congested urban areas of Chile with huge income disparities, but is generally considered to be less of a threat to individuals and the corporate sector than in other Latin American countries.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera vowed to reduce income gaps when he took office last year but faced challenges after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and aftershocks in February 2010 caused huge destruction. Reconstruction after the quake claimed financial resources originally meant for economic development.
Chile was struck by further earthquakes and aftershocks in March this year.
Economic changes and urban insecurity are seen behind the rise in firearms purchases, though this is contested by officials.
Between 2009 and 2010 the number of wealthy Chileans owning guns rose from 9.5 percent to 13.8 percent, said the study.
Around 36.5 percent of Chile's upper class gun owners justified their purchases as necessary for protecting their families and households from criminal elements, MercoPress reported.
The government rejected any link between rising gun ownership and the security situation in Chile.
Deputy Director of Public Security Catalina Mertz said the statistics could be misleading and wrong, with a substantial margin of error. She said the rise in gun ownership among the wealthy had little to do with a heightened sense of insecurity and the need to protect one's home, the Santiago Times reported.
"If there has been an increase, then we have to look at what is motivating people to buy firearms, and there we can see a decrease in the percentage of people who say they bought their weapon to prevent or protect themselves from delinquents," Mertz said.
Security expert Lucia Dammert told La Tercera newspaper it would be important to establish "whether the heightened sales of guns are linked to protecting oneself or whether it is just people exercising their right to bear arms, which they were not able to do before."
She said the linkage between gun ownership and statistics for crime had to be treated with care. "If delinquency continues to drop we enter into a dangerous area where people will believe the drop is due to an increase in the acquisition of firearms," Dammert warned.
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