In October 2009, the Senate of the United States of America approved the highest military budget for a single country in all of human history: a total of 626 billion dollars. This sum does not include another 400 billion that the US is investing in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The sum represents almost half of the total US budget. This ‘suicidal’ tendency is nothing new. Many analysts point out that it is precisely the North American war economy that feeds demand for an insatiable capitalist economy.

They say that there is no growth without war. Now the motto has changed: there is no economic recovery without war. Washington ideologues insist that stockpiling weapons, wars, and massive destruction are very healthy for a sick patient like North American capitalism. (When there was no crisis they said that stockpiling arms was the medicine necessary for not getting sick).
Great Britain is the country that follows in terms of magnitude of military expenses. Unbelievable but true: Great Britain has a military budget of 50 billion dollars. Approximately 7 percent of that of the US. France and Germany follow in third and fourth places with budgets of, respectively, 40 billion each. The five countries that follow the US have a combined military budget of 210 billion dollars.

Latin America is not left far behind in its military expenses (although it is hardly comparable to the US). In total, its military expenses add up to 34 billion dollars. This is almost at China’s level, but represents barely 5.5 percent of the US military budget. Chile, Colombia, and Brazil have become the countries with the highest military spending in the region in 2008. Chile is the leader in per capita military spending with 290 dollars per resident in 2008, while Colombia spent 115, Ecuador 89, and Brazil 80. In absolute terms, measured in billions of dollars, the country that spends the most is Brazil with 45 percent of the Latin American total, followed by Colombia and Chile.

According to a study conducted by SIPRI (Sweden) and FLACSO (Chile), Brazil is the Latin American country that spends the most with almost 15 billion dollars, followed by Colombia with 5.5 billion dollars. Chile is almost at 5 billion dollars and Venezuela reaches 2.2 billion in military spending. Argentina and Peru follow with 1.7 and 1.1 billion. These six countries are responsible for 89 percent of Latin America’s military budget.

The Colombian budget cannot be calculated with much certainty ever since the US decided to escalate Plan Colombia through direct military intervention in the country. The countries of South America (the South American Defense Council of UNASUR) requested that Bogota present a report on details concerning the increase in military spending. The Colombian government has refused to fulfill its obligations, placing the blame on Washington’s secrecy.

The US is presently the leading provider of military equipment (including personnel training and other ‘services’) in Latin American countries. In addition to Plan Colombia, the US president Barack Obama recently increased the military budget for the Merida Initiative that includes Mexico, Central America, and Panama. It also maintains a privileged military relationship with Peru, Chile, and Argentina. Since the end of the 19th century, the US has been the principal market for arms in the region, repeatedly promoting arms races between countries in order to sell more and dominate them.

* Marco A. Gandásegui, Professor at the University of Panama and researcher associated with the CELA.

*(Translation provided by Jaimie Boyd Guevara)*