The Insanity of Weapons Spending

By Shlomo Maital  

Scrapped German battle tanks

      “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  This quote is often attributed to Einstein.  Whoever said it – it applies today.  Here is what I mean.

      The world faces a climate crisis, famine, an endemic pandemic, floods, and vast poverty.  And a hot war in Ukraine, and a burgeoning Cold War between the West and Russia/China/Iran.

      Resources are scarce for improving life for billions of people.  We can’t even find a few bucks to buy math textbooks for poor kids in Bangladesh, who want to learn math.  We need many billions of dollars for climate disaster mitigation. Parts of the world swelter, as I write this; parts (Afghanistan, Pakistan) face devastating deadly floods.

      Yet consider this.  Even in the face of the global pandemic, defense spending has continued to rise, totaling a staggering $2.1 trillion in 2021 –the entire annual output of South Korea.  This was a 6% rise.

      In 1980 military spending was $366 b. [All the data come from SIPRI, Swedish International Peace Research Institute, a respected source].  So since then, in 42 years, defense spending has doubled twice, and then rose half again. 

     By my calculation, in the past 42 years, despite the end of the Cold War, collapse of the Soviet Union, and global trade and finance —  the world has spent a staggering $48.2 trillion on ‘defense’.  This is 2.4 times the US’s annual GDP – the largest GDP in the world. 

      And for what?  Yet rain or shine, peace or war, defense spending continues to grow almost everywhere. 

     I live in Israel, a country living in a bad neighborhood.  We face threats continually.  Yet even in Israel, massive spending exists on heavy weapons that seem like dinosaurs, in an era of asymmetric warfare featuring cheap drones and improvised explosive devices.

    Imagine, as John Lennon dared to sing.  Imagine – if just a small part of this wasteful spending were put to good use – to feed, house, clothe, and educate people everywhere.  Why?  Because inequality, a global pandemic on its own, leads to conflicts that seem to justify defense spending.

    Is anyone trying to think about arms races, the insanity of them?  Yet they are heating up, as US-China rivalry grows alarmingly.  And modern weapons?  Somehow, when they exist, they seem to get used, alas.

    One F-35 fighter costs $136 million, including spare parts. Imagine what good could be done with the cost of just one of these gold-plated planes.

    Consider Russia.  The lives and resources wasted by the demonic delusions of a crackpot will cost, have cost, the people of Russia heavily, and will for decades.  Much of its fossil fuel wealth has gone into weaponry.  It is not just a waste.  It has encouraged a military adventure that will impoverish, ultimately, the nation. 

     Yet year by year, defense spending keeps growing.  Globally.  We need to change the words.  “Defense”?  Is Russia’s war on Ukraine defense?  China’s threats to Taiwan defense?   Let’s call it what it is.  Wasteful moronic insane weapons spending, ultimately destined for what you see in the photo – the scrapyard.

      In every country, strong military establishments lobby for more and more money.  Politically, they are irresistible.  Those who oppose them, sound like crackpots.  And the military appetite grows, as military technology gets more and more costly, far more than the rise in the cost of living.

      The US engaged in a pointless war in Vietnam.  Apart from lost lives, billions of dollars were wasted.  Was the lesson learned?  No.  The US did it again, for 20 years, in Afghanistan.  What would Afghanistan’s citizens enjoy today, if those military resources were invested in improving their lives?  $300 million per day, or $2 trillion total. Again: the whole South Korean annual GDP.

               Yet the insanity goes on. And likely will.   We can only join with Bob Dylan, who sang, despondently, when will they ever learn?  Ever?