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Global military spending soars in 2003
Updated: 2004-06-10 15:05

World military spending surged during 2003, reaching $956 billion, nearly half of it by the United States as it paid for missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror, a prominent European think tank said Wednesday.

The money has been effective in waging war, but threats of terror and weapons of mass destruction still exist, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Military spending rose by 11 percent, which the group called a "remarkable increase." The amount was up 18 percent from 2001.

The $956 billion spent on defense costs worldwide corresponded to 2.7 percent of the world's gross domestic product, according to the annual report.

"It's very close to the Cold War peak in 1987," said SIPRI researcher Elisabeth Skoens, who co-authored the report.

SIPRI also warned of fears that biotechnology research, particularly concerning human genes, could lead to the development of a new class of biological weapons.

"The free access to genetic sequence data for the human genome and a large number of other genomes, including for pathogenic micro-organisms, is a great scientific resource, but it could pose a significant threat if misused," the report said.

Researcher Richard Guthrie said developments in mapping the human genome, which could lead to improved medicines and vaccines for heart and neurological problems, also could be used by terrorists.

"It is something to be concerned about," he told The Associated Press, but added that no plausible threats have been made.

The United States led the world in defense spending, accounting for 47 percent of the total, followed by Japan with 5 percent and Britain, France and China, with 4 percent each.

The figures were in line with estimates by Jane's Information Group, a spokesman from the company's London office told the AP.

The 2003 rise in defense spending coincided with a decrease in the number of conflicts worldwide, which fell to 19, the second-lowest since the think tank began issuing the reports 35 years ago.

SIPRI also noted that 14 separate peace missions began last year, the most since the end of the Cold War.

The report had mixed reviews about efforts to contain weapons of mass destruction.

It warned that attempts to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons were hampered last year when North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and cited Iran's apparent possession of nuclear material and information.

Guthrie said those developments were offset by Libya's acknowledgment that it was developing its own nuclear program and its decision to abandon the program voluntarily.

"Perhaps luckily, evidence of past and present WMD problems in ... Iran, Libya and North Korea was strong enough to maintain the momentum of international cooperation against the proliferation menace — and many states were motivated to work for less violent solutions," said Alyson J.K. Bailes, the think tank's director.

As for North Korea, Shannon Kile, who follows nuclear issues for the think tank, said the country isn't likely to follow Libya's lead.

He added that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in a bid to find WMDs affected North Korea. North Korea, Kile said, "sees nuclear weapons as being very much a security guarantee."

Guthrie said that while the invasion may have served as warning to other states with weapons of mass destruction, it could have the reverse effect in that some states may see an increase in arsenals as the only way to prevent a forced regime change.

Bailes said Iraq was the biggest factor of 2003.

"It's been an illustration of how quickly history moves these days. Many of the lessons that people initially drew from that invasion, many of the ways they thought it would change the world, look quite different from the vantage point now," she said.

The report said the March 2003 invasion highlighted the U.S. military's lethal effectiveness, but said the postwar occupation, which has seen more than 800 U.S. soldiers killed in attacks by insurgents, was evident that control in Iraq remained haphazard at best.

Andrew Cottey, whose report detailed the effect of the invasion and its aftermath, warned that instability in Iraq was likely to continue and could spread and bring civil war to neighboring states.

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