Military Expenditures by Developing Countries

High-Level Expert Group Meeting

23-24 March 1985

Wye Plantation, near Washington D.C., USA

Chaired by Olusegun Obasanjo


1. At its previous sessions the InterAction Council has expressed its particular concern with the preservation of peace, stability and economic and social progress and has emphasized that growing military expenditures bear the risk of reduced real security and increased levels of conflict, diminish prospects for conflict resolution and divert scarce resources from urgent development purposes.

2. In particular, the Council saw the growing military expenditures worldwide as a significant causal factor in the economic difficulties confronted by the world community today.

3. The terms of reference of the Group were as follows:

a) to review current trends in military expenditures in developing countries and their lationship to investments in social services and development activities;

b) to examine the underlying causes for the increasing expenditures in developing countries for military purposes and to identify their implications;

c) to review proposals made in the past as to how the arms build-up in developing countries could be arrested or reversed;

d) to develop realistic, action-oriented recommendations to be considered by the InterAction Council, as to how present trends could be countered.


4. In its discussion the Group identified some salient features characteristic of the present situation in developing countries. While some experts may have different opinions on the analysis of a particular situation, general agreement was reached on the following elements:

  • The arms build-up continues in developing countries although there has Been a slight reduction in transfers from developed countries in real terms.
  • The transfer of highly sophisticated weapons from developed to developing countries continues unabated, in an increasingly competitive manner.
  • The weapons systems transferred from developing countries are increasingly complex, based on electronics and other dual-purpose technologies. Their use requires technical training, expertise and spare parts from the suppliers creating new forms of dependence. Furthermore, most of the arms transfers, licensing agreements and co-production arrangements take place under the aegis of transnational corporations which are only in part under Government control.
  • Arms sales are an important instrument of economic, trade and strategic policies of developed countries.
  • The production of arms and the trade of arms are of growing importance to the economies of developing countries.
  • This growing militarisation runs parallel to an increasing fragmentation and polarisation in the international system, which impairs the ability of the major powers to restrain and control conflicts.
  • The international machinery for the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the maintenance of peace is largely rendered ineffective.
  • Regional efforts to preserve or achieve peace have been frustrated by a lack of financial resources or the intervention by major powers, aggravating already critical and explosive constellations.

5. The Group noted that the present situation appears to be acceptable to many of the parties concerned - arms producers, recipients and traders. It, however, is not in the real interests of the developing countries - where the inflow of increasingly sophisticated arms reduces security and increases dependence - or of the developed countries which have a major stake in stability, economic progress, trade and investment throughout the world.

6. The Group concluded that all efforts to influence the present situation should depart from a recognition of the following points:

  • Attention to the rise of arms expenditures in developing countries should not distract from the fact that the responsibility for the arms race as a whole and the overwhelming portion of military expenditures are attributable to the major nuclear powers and their respective military alliances.
  • Generalized and highly aggregated data and statistics present graphically present trends, but convey a misleading picture of the global import of developing countries' arms expenditures, as few high- and middle-income countries account for some three-fourth of these countries' total military expenditures. Moreover, they are all concentrated in areas of acute or potential conflict. Meaningful conclusions can only be based on country-specific data which are, however, virtually unavailable because of the sensitivity attached to such information.
  • The allocation of substantial budgetary resources by developing countries for military purposes negatively affects their domestic development prospects.
  • Part of such expenditures serve legitimate security interests in an insecure world and are associated with the usually complex and turbulent process of nation-building in the post-colonial period, which is still in progress in many developing countries.
  • The security problems encountered by developing countries may be caused by domestic problems, local and regional tensions or by external intervention, overt or covert. External threats and intervention may precipitate or aggravate problems which might otherwise be solved by national or regional efforts.
  • Domestic conditions, policies or developments often exacerbate tensions at the national level and induce additional, genuinely unwarranted military expenditures.
  • Furthermore, arms expenditures are a result of sales efforts by suppliers, economic and political pressures in producer countries, continuing technological development and massive arms production and sales efforts by a few major countries, competition between suppliers and political intervention. Efforts to contain the arms buildup in developing countries can only succeed if they address all these aspects.
  • The increasing transfer of sophisticated arms to developing countries generates insecurity and dependence, aggravate the devastation caused by actual conflict and fuels local arms races, thereby diverting urgently needed resources from development activities.

7. The Group considers, as does the InterAction Council itself, that strenuous efforts must be made by all concerned to reduce the build-up of arms in developing countries.


8. In spite of urgent economic pressures and of short-term economic, technological and political advantages to producer countries, large arms transfers do not promote peace and stability throughout the world. The waste of scarce financial and human resources in developing countries, economic distortions and balance of payments effects reduce their prospect for development.

9. The fundamental interests of both developed and developing countries would be served by restraint in the production and flow of arms throughout the world. Unless a concerted effort is made by all parties to reduce the levels of armaments expenditures, adverse effects on the recovery of the world economy will be inevitable.

10. While the direct and indirect effects of superpower rivalry and their arms race are a significant contributing factor to the level of military expenditures by developing countries, the prospects for successful negotiations between the superpowers and between the developed countries of East and West have been, and are now, conversely influenced by tension and conflicts in the developing world. The solution of regional conflicts in the developing world could thus help reduce the level of superpower rivalry with beneficial consequences for peace throughout the world.

11. Urgent efforts are required to contain and resolve conflicts in a number of areas of acute tension ('hot spots) such as Africa (Chad, Horn of Africa), the Middle East, Central America (Contadora), Afghanistan, Kampuchea, South Asia and Sri Lanka and the Korean Peninsula, where flows of arms have not achieved peace and security.

12. The Group also reviewed the practical difficulties of restraining the flow of arms identifying both 'real' and 'artificial' reasons which motivate the acquisition of arms, such as prestige, the need to satisfy domestic military interests, the personal security of leaders and misperceived threats aggravated by inadequate or erroneous information about the military strength of rival neighbour countries.

13. The Group strongly considers that the security of all countries depends fundamentally on internal equity, the judicious use of scarce resources for development, and the practice of peaceful coexistence supported by a necessary level of expenditures on military services and weapons.


14. Armaments by themselves do not ensure peace and security and they detract from the task of development, whether they are purchased or produced by developing countries. All parties concerned need to take effective and co-operative measures at various levels - national, subregional, regional and global - to reduce military expenditures, so as to make more funds available for national development purposes, to strengthen security and to enhance chances for a peaceful coexistence among neighboring countries. There are no global prescriptions for the removal of real or artificial causes of conflict; approaches will differ from region to region and from situation to situation.

The developing countries should

  • adopt suitable, fair and socially just policies for all their societal groups
  • tap the resourcefulness and the development potential of the rural population through appropriate economic policies in the rural sector which will minimize population pressures on urban centres and thereby reduce sources of internal unrest;
  • attach priority to the resolution of conflicts arising in the nation-building process as a result of multi-ethnic, multinational, multireligious or multiracial constellations;
  • initiate or strengthen bilateral or subregional economic co-operation, which might develop into non-aggression pacts and formal security co-operation;
  • foster the gradual emergence of zones of disengagement, distancing themselves from external intervention ('security communities');
  • explore possibilities for regional or subregional initiatives to promote self-restraint in military expenditures or the acquisition of certain types of weapons.

The developed countries should

  • reduce their own production of armaments, especially new generations of arms which constitutes a principal driving force of the world-wide arms race;
  • take unilateral action where possible to reduce arms flows;
  • support and promote regional efforts by developing countries to restrain arms purchases;
  • promote restraint by arms companies;
  • provide incentives in their bilateral economic and technical assistance programmes to encourage developing countries to restrain expenditures on armaments.

15. In addition, both developed and developing countries should

  • consult on the possibility of restraints among arms suppliers on the transfer of arms, at least for particular classes, such as chemical weapons, or through the creation of a permanent forum of suppliers to agree on principles of restraint;
  • promote an increased participation by Governments in United Nations reporting exercises on military expenditures to foster mutual understanding, establish authoritative knowledge about existing potentials and prepare an objective basis for verification;
  • participate constructively in the 1986 United Nations Conference on Disarmament andDevelopment;
  • undertake a review of multilateral arrangements to guarantee the security of small states and to promote the peaceful resolution of conflicts and improved United Nations conciliation procedures;
  • support regional efforts to resolve conflicts and establish a machinery for conciliation and improved confidence ;
  • explore the establishment of small, independent consultative bodies on security matters which could advise developing countries on most suitable security arrangements;
  • consider and support the establishment or reinforcement of institutions in the developing world to study security problems, develop and accumulate data, and promote wider understanding and support for the peaceful resolution of conflicts;
  • undertake studies to improve understanding and awareness of choices and issues related to expenditures on armaments.

16. The Group suggests that the InterAction Council might focus in its missions on the following aspects:

a) Explore with developing countries in specific regions the possibility of initiating and actively pursuing regional or subregional co-operation ranging from

  • the negotiation and conclusion of non-aggression pacts, - mutual restraint on arms purchases or expenditures levels, - to the introduction of a variety of confidence-building measures and widened co-operation.

b) Within the framework of an overall effort to reduce the development and production of armaments in developed countries, to explore with arms producers the possibility of an effort to restrain arms transfers of specific sophisticated weapons and to promote efforts to achieve peaceful solutions at regional and subregional levels.

c) Promote the setting up of financial stand-by arrangements for peace-keeping operations at regional or subregional levels so that quick action can be taken where needed pending the launching of formal conciliation procedures.

d) Encourage specific regional peace efforts where the Council might, in appropriate circumstances, assume the role as an informal mediator or a catalyst to reinforce positive initial steps or where it might help restart processes of regional conciliation.

e) Encourage in developing countries the adoption of policies governed by equity and social justice.

f) Bring to the attention of the major powers on a regular basis the deep concerns and views of the wider world community on issues of peace throughout the world.

g) Undertake a study and establish an ad hoc expert group to examine the dynamics of the production of sophisticated weapons in developed countries.