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War in Ukraine & Rise in Arms Spending Undermine Development Aid to the World’s Poor

April 15, 2022
Inter Press Service

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 15 2022 (IPS) - The unprecedented flow of arms to Ukraine, and the rising miliary spending by European nations to strengthen their defenses, are threatening to undermine development aid to the world’s poorer nations.

Yoke Ling, Executive Director of Third World Network told IPS the escalating military spending will definitely have a direct impact on a range of spending that the North has committed to developing countries — from official development assistance (ODA) to climate finance, “that is a legal obligation under the climate treaties”.

Even before the Russian-Ukraine war, she pointed out, the North has been reducing development financing. “So, we expect the regression to worsen,” she added.

A UN report, titled 2022 Financing for Sustainable Development Report: Bridging the Finance Divide released April 12, says record growth of Official Development Assistance, increased to its highest level ever in 2020, rising to $161.2 billion.

“Yet, 13 countries cut ODA, and the sum remains insufficient for the vast needs of developing countries”.

The UN also fears “the fallout from the crisis in Ukraine, with increased spending on refugees in Europe, may mean cuts to the aid provided to the poorest countries”.

In the face of a global crisis, near-time actions and additional international support are needed to prevent debt crises and address the high cost of borrowing, the report warns.

“However, the vast majority of developing countries will need active and urgent support to get back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs).

The report estimates that in the poorest countries a 20 per cent increase in spending will be required for key sectors.

A New York Times report on March 29, said across Europe and Britain, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is reshaping spending priorities and forcing governments to prepare for threats thought to have been long buried — from a flood of European refugees to the possible use of chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons by a Russian leader who may feel backed into a corner.

“The result is a sudden reshuffling of budgets as military spending, essentials like agriculture and energy, and humanitarian assistance are shoved to the front of the line, with other pressing needs like education and social services likely to be downgraded,” said the Times.

Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director at the Oakland Institute, told IPS “whereas combination of droughts and conflicts result in massive human suffering and hunger in a number of countries, UN humanitarian appeals for these acute crises are chronically underfunded.”

Last year, he pointed out, only 45% of the UN appeal for Yemen and the Horn of Africa was funded, only 29% for Syria. With such shortfalls amidst the war on Ukraine, it is critical that all donor countries ensure their solidarity and support is focused on all victims.

Increase in military budgets in Europe will automatically result in more sales for the major Western arm exporters, i.e. USA, France and Germany.

The industrial military complex yields increased economic returns for these countries, and fuels conflicts across the world. In 2021, the second largest humanitarian aid requirement was for Yemen, whereas Saudi Arabia, waging war on this country, is the first importer of weapons from Western countries.

It is to be seen, he said, how actual aid budgets will be affected by the war in Ukraine.

“But regardless of what happens in Europe, a major issue that undermines our ability to promote peace and stability in the world -and reduce the need for international assistance, is the US military budget that continues to increase under the Biden administration to reach an all-time record of $813 billion this year”.

This is more spending than the next eleven countries combined, Mousseau pointed out.

“The USA is not just the highest military budget in the world, it is also the largest arm exporter and coincidently the largest aid donor. US international aid, however, represents just 4% of the US military spending. Priorities have to change drastically to meet the humanitarian and environmental challenges of the world’, he declared.