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How the US is like North Korea

Much of North Korea’s population is starving, yet its government pours money into missile and nuclear programs. Such behavior seems to be the height of irrationality. But North Korea is only following the international community’s – especially America’s – example.

By John Feffer / April 14, 2011



Washington

The international community is rightly aghast at North Korea for spending a fortune on its military when its populace is suffering. Nearly one quarter of North Korea’s population is either starving or at risk of starvation, according to a recent UN report, yet its government pours money into missile and nuclear programs. Such behavior seems to be the height of irrationality.

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But North Korea is only following the international community’s – especially America’s – example.

Last year, the financial crisis continued to paralyze the world economy, the mercury in the biosphere’s thermometer inched up, and the gap between rich and poor continued to widen. And yet, global military spending increased for the 13th year in a row.

According to the latest figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the world is now spending $1.63 trillion on fighting and preparing to fight war. This is part of an increase in global military spending that has doubled since 2000, even according to conservative estimates.

Military spending over human needs

Not all countries have behaved irrationally during the economic crisis. European governments have finally begun to cut back on their war budgets, reducing expenditures last year for the first time since 1998. But Europe was the exception.

In 2010, military spending climbed more than 5 percent last year in both Africa and South America, regions that can, like North Korea, ill afford to divert funds away from human needs.

Most irrational country of all? US

But the most irrational country of all has been the United States, which was responsible for more than one-third of all military spending and 95 percent of the global increase in military expenditures last year. This remarkable news comes at a time of unprecedented budget deficits and a veritable fever of budget cutting on Capitol Hill.

The Pentagon has promised to play well with others. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has pledged $100 billion in cuts. But these turn out, on closer inspection, to be a mere shift in funds from overhead to acquisitions and ongoing operations. The Obama administration has asked the Pentagon to cough up another $78 billion in cuts over the next five years.

But $15 billion a year, in an annual outlay of nearly $700 billion, amounts to little more than two percent – chump change for the Pentagon. Most of the reduction will come from the drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the fine print of the proposed 2012 budget, the Pentagon will actually see a 15 percent increase in its base budget, the budget not devoted to ongoing wars, by 2016.

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