The $500 billion arms bill

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The cost now comes to over $500 billion a year, according to a regular annual study sponsored by American, Canadian, and British arms control groups. This is the report issued by Ruth Leger Sivard, former chief of the economics division of the US Arms Control and Disarmament of Agency and now head of the nonprofit research organization, World Priorities. The world for the eighth year increased its military expenditures faster than the rate of inflation. It is doubtful if it is getting greater security by its greater expenditures.

In November 1979, and twice again in 1980, the computer signaled an approaching nuclear attack on North America. These were false alerts as it turned out. Fortunately the nation was not jittery, and it made no response with an answering nuclear salvo. The false alerts -- detected before the reply was triggered -- were traced to a defective electronic component no bigger than a dime and worth about 46 cents. War or peace at some future date may hang on this little gimmick.

Paul C. Warnke, director of arms control in 1977 and 1978, declares in a recent press comment, "Our security needs can best be met by continuing to seek meaningful agreements on control of nuclear and conventional arms." He wants revival of the Russian-US SALT II arms talks but the treaty has stalled in the Senate (where 34 members have veto power) since Russia invaded Afghanistan. Mr. Warnke argues that a Russian-US arms race has no ending, because anything one nation does the other automatically follows.

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The new sivard study gives a dozen pages of tables comparing military and social expenditures of the worldhs nations. Many global problems spring from fast birth rates: Population increase is greater int he underdeveloped countries so that by A.D. 2000 the global craft will look like an unbalanced rowboat with prow sticking out of water and its over- weighted stern sinking under the mass. The tables show vividly that the leaders of the densely populated poor countries are avidly buying arms from the superpowers.

In the 1960s and '70s the world spent $370 billion a year for arms. Soon it will be $600 billion. The United States and the Soviets account for nearly 60 percent.

Nuclear weapons have spread; currently there are 50,000 on earth. Six nations can produce them and 18 other probably have weapons stationed on their soil. Missiles can carry the strategic nuclear weapons 6,000 miles in half an hour. They have surprising accuracy: Fired from the other side of the globe, some can hit within a few hundred feet of the target.

Here are items from the study: The World War II tank cost $50,000, the latest tak $1,500,000. The new tank gets a mile on 1.9 gallons of gas. The training of military personnel in the United States costs twice as much per year as the education budget for the 300 million school-age children of South Asia. Average life span in the richer countries is 30 years longer than in the poorer countries.

The new Sivard report contends that "there is no defense at all against an attack with nuclear weapons."

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