UN urges humanitarian use of `peace dividend'

In a special study, the United Nations' development agency calls on governments in post-cold-war era to funnel military spending into more effective aid programs

SINCE the cold war ended, world military spending has declined steadily to produce a ``peace dividend'' of nearly $1 trillion. Yet, with 82 military conflicts in just the past three years, there seems to have been very little peace.

And with one-fifth of the world's population of 5.5 billion continuing to live in abject poverty (and another billion or so not much better off), any dividend would seem to be illusory.

The answer, according to a provocative report prepared for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), is a fundamental change in the way developing countries budget their government resources, and also in the way more-advanced industrialized nations allocate foreign aid.

Released on June 1, the UNDP's fifth annual Human Development Report ranks 173 nations according to a ``human development index.'' This is a composite of life expectancy, adult literacy and mean years of schooling, and standard of living as measured by purchasing power. From Canada at the top to Guinea at the bottom, nations are compared and their progress tracked.

The UN agency also takes note of ``early warning signals'' of the kind of violence that swept Somalia. These include declining food supplies, high unemployment and dropping wages, human rights violations, ethnic violence, widening regional disparities, and an overemphasis on military spending.

Troubled nations

``Countries in crisis,'' where such signs exist, according to the UNDP, are Afghanistan, Angola, Haiti, Iraq, Mozambique, Burma, Sudan, and Zaire.

In the post-cold-war era, most fighting is within nations rather than between them (79 of the 82 military conflicts since 1991).

``Each crisis is unique,'' said UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in a commencement address at Johns Hopkins University last month. ``But they all share something in common. They all involve something more than traditional state security. They all involve human security.''

UNDP human security goals are: basic education for all and a 50 percent reduction in adult illiteracy; universal primary health care and elimination of severe malnutrition; basic family planning services ``to all willing couples,'' and universal access to safe drinking water. To meet the annual costs of achieving these goals over the next decade, estimated anywhere from $30 billion to $40 billion, UNDP suggests a ``20:20 compact'' in which developing countries devote 20 percent of their budgets and industrial countries designate 20 percent of their aid to such ``human priority expenditures.''

Global military spending declined 3.6 percent annually between 1987 and 1991. If such spending were to keep dropping by 3 percent a year for the next five years, $460 billion in potential savings could be realized.

New objectives

``We would like to see a portion of this dividend allocated for new international objectives, including sustaining the environment, addressing poverty, and controlling drug-traffiking,'' UNDP administrator James Speth said in a recent interview.

Richer countries have seen the sharpest declines in military budgets. According to UN figures, developed-nation defense spending has fallen from $850 billion in 1987 to an estimated $649 billion in 1994 - a drop of some 23 percent. Poorer developing nations, by contrast, show a 19 percent military funds reduction over the same period, with spending falling from $145 billion to an estimated $118 billion.

Likely to stir more controversy are the UNDP report's suggestions for a ``world social charter,'' strengthened international agencies, and perhaps even a global tax on such things as polluting energy sources and speculative transactions in currency markets.

Mr. Speth says, ``We have to recognize that, in the age of global interdependence, human crisis anywhere is a human threat everywhere.''

The UN development chief does not think it unrealistic to hope that the developed world could devote 20 percent of its aid to such an effort. National governments could set up separate demilitarization funds to ensure money would not be siphoned off into other categories. These funds could be augmented by a global demilitarization fund. Other sources of money could build the global account. ``One idea is a tax on international financial transfers,'' Speth says.

UN economists say they are not exactly sure where the world peace dividend has gone. Much of the $1 trillion savings may be going towards domestic deficit reduction.

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