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Austerity in Europe? Tighten the military belt



Five years into the economic crisis in Europe and the elephant in the room is the role of military spending in causing and perpetuating the economic crisis. As social infrastructure is slashed, spending on weapon systems has hardly been reduced. Part one of two essays on military spending and the EU crisis.


Since the economic and financial crisis broke in Europe in 2008, most analysis on the causes of the current crisis have focused on the core role of the financial sector. The effect of sustained high military spending in this context has barely been a subject of discussion, even though it has clearly contributed to fiscal problems, especially in countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain.


Between 2002 and 2009 Greek military expenditure rose 50 per cent, only to be cut in 2010. In contrast, perceived arch rival Turkey cut its defence budget 15 per cent over that period.


Similarly, Spain increased its military expenditure by 29 per cent between 2000 and 2008, largely due to the purchase of new weaponry. With current spending levels down - 18 per cent between 2008 and 2011 - it is now facing huge problems in fixing its budget and repaying the debt for unnecessary military programmes.


Lower military spending over the past decade could have mitigated the severity of the current fiscal and socio-economic problems. Hardest-hit countries have had to cut military budgets significantly, but often only after many years of excessive spending.


Even the most recent casualty of the crisis, Cyprus, owes some of its debt problems to a 50 per cent increase in military spending over the past decade; the majority of which came after 2007.


In other EU countries where military spending has barely been affected over the past five years - despite general austerity programmes - there is a strong case for slashing budgets for arms rather than education, health or other social expenditure. Overall military spending in Europe is higher today than in 2001.

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