MILITARY spending around the world is declining. But not as fast as Ruth Leger Sivard would like.
For 20 years, Mrs. Sivard has been producing World Military and Social Expenditures, an annual report on ``how nations sacrifice human health and welfare in order to arm themselves for war,'' as a publicity blurb puts it.
In 1992, global military expenditures amounted to more than $600 billion in 1987 dollars, or ``well over $700 billion'' in today's dollars. Sivard, being an economist, tries to be careful with numbers. She uses 1987 dollars in her report because it avoids the difficulty of valuing the wildly inflating Russian ruble and other exchange-rate problems in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
World military spending has been going down about $14 billion a year since it peaked in 1987 during the Reagan buildup. In terms of constant 1987 dollars, however, it is still some 30 percent more than in the early 1970s, Sivard calculates.
``It is more than we need at this time when NATO's main enemy has collapsed,'' she says. Though recognizing that military spending cuts do change the lives of military and defense industry employees, Sivard would like the NATO nations to speed up the shrinking process.
That's because she sees alternative uses for the resources. The developed countries, she notes, spend as much on military power in one year as the poorest 2 billion people on earth in total income. The developing countries, using half their $120 billion in military expenditures, could have a package of basic health-care services and clinical care that would save 10 million lives a year.
Sivard also cites social needs in the United States as better uses for some military dollars. ``It is useful for the public to have a way of making comparisons,'' she says. She writes of how one person in seven lives below the poverty line, leaving ``an underclass increasingly remote from the top income brackets of population where earnings have soared.'' And she notes that 37 million people have no health insurance and that public education expenditures per student over the past three decades have lagged behind spending levels of most of the US allies in NATO and in Japan.
``In the non-military aspects of national security, the US has not strived to attain the top status that it has in military programs,'' she maintains.
Such views did not go over well in the US Defense Department when Sivard included some figures on social spending in an annual compendium of statistics on military spending she did for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird complained to the White House in 1971 that the report was complicating the Pentagon's task of presenting the defense budget to Congress. So in 1973 the Nixon administration withdrew support for Sivard's report. Sivard left the government and has been producing the book on her own, with foundation support, ever since. (At present the MacArthur Foundation.)
President Clinton will indicate his defense plans in a new budget next year. Military spending ran around $272 billion in fiscal 1993.
In Russia, defense numbers remain fuzzy. ``It hasn't become any easier to track military spending with the fall of the Soviet Union,'' says Richard Kaufman, an expert at the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in Washington. ``Russia has not gone to a system of budget disclosure that would be comparable to any in the West. The data is not any more reliable.''
Piecing together various sources, Mr. Kaufman figures that the number of military personnel (including border troops) has declined from 5 million for the Soviet Union to about 2.5 million for Russia, with further reductions anticipated. Military spending dropped 10 percent in 1990, 25 percent in both 1991 and 1992, and probably further this year. However, the period of drastic cuts may have ended, Kaufman says. Arms procurement may even rise modestly next year. Russian President Boris Yeltsin needs to maintain good relations with the military.
Meanwhile, wars go on. Defining a war as any conflict involving 1,000 or more deaths a year, Sivard counts 29 in 1992, the greatest post-World War II number. Since that war, an estimated 23 million people have been killed in 149 wars.