Secrets and classified information
Nuclear weapons are surrounded by secrecy – the nuclear economy being no different. Nuclear expenditure is often hidden behind shady headlines in the state budget, or as in the US case, is not part of the Defense Budget but of the Department of Energy Budget, making the expenditures all the more difficult to trace. Some older numbers and data are available, but the officially available information on nuclear weapons expenditure is very limited. When we realize the amount of dollars or Euros being spent, it is easy to understand why governments want to keep quiet about it.
Global Military Expenditure
Global military expenditure in a year is $1.464 trillion (1464 000 000 000).
In a month this means $ 122 billion
Every week this means $ 28 billion
Every day this means $ 4 billion
Every hour this means $ 167 million
Every minute this means $ 2,8 million
Every second this means $ 46.400
This means that almost 50.000 dollars are spent every second, all year round on weapons, militaries and wars!
What could you do to make the world a better place if you had a hundred thousand dollars to spend?
- You could offer 1860 girls in poor countries education, food, health care and clean water for one year. (1)
- You could adopt 3,7 million hectares of rainforest to protect it from exploitation and devastation. (2)
- You could offer 372 families access to clean water for a whole year and save them from life threatening diseases. (3)
All this and far more could be done – just with the amount of money spent in one second by the world’s governments on their militaries. Just imagine what you could do with all the money spent on weapons and wars in an hour or a day or a week or a month or even a year. Save the world, basically.
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What do nuclear weapons cost?
There is no publicly available data on the amounts spent by nuclear weapon states on their weapons programs per year. The most reliable data comes from the US, who spent at least $ 52 billion on their nuclear weapons in 2008. We also know that the British Trident nuclear submarines cost about $3.7 billion in a year. Between the years 2002-2008 France spent about $ 2.7 billion a year on its nuclear weapons program. This means only three nuclear weapon states together spent more than $ 58 billion on nuclear weapons. And this number does not include the costs of Russia or China, nor of India, Israel, Pakistan or North Korea.
What could we do instead?
There are many ways of assessing how money for militaries and defence could be spent differently. A few of these alternatives are presented here.
The World Bank estimates a need for $ 35-76 billion per year leading up to 2015 if the international community wants to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Taking in to account our calculations above on the total nuclear weapons expenditure of the US, the UK and France in 2008 – $ 58 billion – it is easy to conclude it would not pose a big problem for the world’s governments to rake together $ 58 billion in a year. Not even to do so every year leading up to 2015 in order to reach the MDGs. Today, too many states still consider nuclear weapons and weapons in general to be a greater guarantee for their national security than world development.
Every year, between 25 and 30 million children worldwide are infected by measles. Each year more than 164.000 of these children die, most often by complications such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and malnutrition. Many of those who survive measles suffer from life-long disabilities, such as blindness, deafness or mental disorders. Measles is extremely contagious, and without a vaccination every child exposed to the infection will fall ill. Children under the age of five suffer the greatest risk. But the fact is that no one should have to die from measles. Vaccinating one child costs one dollar! This means 65 billion children could be vaccinated for measles for the $ 58 billion spent by the US, the UK and France on nuclear weapons in 2008. This is far more children than live in the world, which means enormous amounts of money left for other things – if not spent on nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons costs in one state can also be compared to other budget posts in that country, e.g. public health services and education. Let’s use 2008 as an example again. The US spent $ 52 billion on their nuclear weapons. That year, the total US State Budget amounted to $ 997 billion. The nuclear weapons costs were about 5.6 percent of the total budget. This can be compared to the costs for education which constituted 6.3 percent of the budget, while costs for health care were 5.6 percent of the budget.
It is also important to remember US nuclear weapons expenditure is only a small fraction of US total military expenditures, which in 2008 amounted to more than half of the State Budget. Thus, the US government spends almost as much money on their nuclear weapons as they do on education and health.