Off-budget spending and secrecy are limiting the democratic accountability of the military sector in Latin America and the Caribbean. This comes at a time when military spending is rising rapidly in the region. Nevertheless, transparency is improving and the increased military spending has not had an impact on health and education budgets, according to two new reports released by SIPRI today.
Transparency improving but off-budget arms purchases still a problem
Transparency in Military Spending and Arms Acquisitions in Latin America and the Caribbean, by Mark Bromley and Carina Solmirano, shows that while all states surveyed in the region now make information on their defence budgets available to the public, further transparency is needed in the reporting of off-budget funding for arms acquisitions. In Chile, Peru and Venezuela, income from natural resources such as oil, gas and copper has been used to directly finance a major share of weapons purchases.
‘The trend at the national level is encouraging, with some states now providing quite detailed information on their military expenditure and arms acquisitions’, says Carina Solmirano of the SIPRI Military Expenditure Project. ‘But the information available in many states leaves important questions open regarding exactly what is being spent and why.’
States in the region have also expressed strong support for sharing information among themselves on military spending and arms acquisitions to help build trust and confidence. However, implementation of these agreements remains uneven.
‘Insufficient regional and international reporting is still a major concern, especially when it comes to arms acquisitions. This makes it difficult for countries to get a reliable picture of their neighbours’ military capabilities, hampering regional confidence-building efforts’, states Mark Bromley of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme. ‘We hope that this study will help pave the way for increased efforts in the field of reporting.’
Questioning the military—social budget balance
‘Most Latin American countries seem to be maintaining or increasing health and education spending despite rising military budgets,’ states Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman, Head of the SIPRI Military Expenditure Project and author of Budgetary Priorities in Latin America: Military, Health and Education Spending. ‘But this doesn’t mean that they are necessarily striking the right balance in spending. Any money spent on the military is in principle not being spent on improving the life of ordinary citizens.’
Rapid military spending increases and major arms purchases in Latin America and the Caribbean come at a time when the region is relatively peaceful yet is still plagued by poverty and inequality.
The report shows that, although military spending is generally rising across the region, health and education spending have risen even faster in most countries since 1995 and remain significantly greater. In fact, while health and education spending have grown as shares of GDP, military spending has fallen, in most cases. Chile and Ecuador stand out as countries with much higher ratios of military to social expenditure than the regional average.
These papers were part of a joint research initiative by SIPRI and the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress (Costa Rica), as part of the Arias Foundation’s project Armed Violence: Controlling Arms Proliferation and Social Impacts, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). Individual spending data by country available on request.
Transparency in Military Spending and Arms Acquisitions in Latin America and the Caribbean is written by Mark Bromley of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme and Carina Solmirano of the SIPRI Military Expenditure Project.
Budgetary Priorities in Latin America: Military, Health and Education Spending is written by Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman of the SIPRI Military Expenditure Project.