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It's back: the global arms race

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A global arms race has picked up speed. Leading the pack is the United States, whose military spending exceeds that of every other nation on earth combined.

"It's not a spiraling thing," says Siemon Wezeman, an arms trade expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in Sweden.

Nonetheless, the "peace dividend" resulting from the end of the cold war has disappeared. World military expenditures slightly exceeded $1 trillion in 1990, a year before the collapse of the Soviet Union, figures SIPRI. They again topped $1 trillion in 2005 (in inflation-adjusted 2003 dollars).

SIPRI won't finish its compilation of last year's national defense spending around the world until June. But with the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars rising, and with more spending on arms by China, Russia, the Middle East, and elsewhere, it is likely that global spending will easily beat $1 trillion again.

"That's a tragedy," says John Siebert, executive director of Project Ploughshares, an antiwar program of the Canadian Council of Churches, in Waterloo, Ontario. Though not opposed to absolutely necessary levels of defense expenditures, spending on education, health, and other social programs should have a higher priority, Mr. Siebert holds.

Mr. Wezeman warns that arms build-ups are "a dangerous game." There's always a risk that some nation will use its weapons, not just parade them.

Revived military spending has caught the attention of Wall Street. Merrill Lynch several months ago issued a 20-page report for investors on the global arms race, ending with a list of technology areas likely to receive more funding from the US government.

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