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Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), SIPRI Yearbook 2008. Armaments, Disarmament and International Security

This year sees the 39th edition of the SIPRI’s red-covered Yearbook; without contest the most authoritative annual review of developments in the field of security and conflicts, military expenditure, arms production and disarmament. In his Introduction, SIPRI Director Bates Gill gives a mixed appreciation of the global security situation.

While he acknowledges that the world faces several difficult security challenges (“a fragile security environment in certain regions, continuing build-ups of conventional and unconventional arms around the world, and uneven progress for arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament”, p. 1), he points out that a “widening window of opportunity” exists for disarmament, due mainly to a growing public expectation worldwide, so that we might soon witness “the beginnings of the first serious discussions of arms control and disarmament in more than a decade” (p. 1).

The first chapter, devoted to ‘Euro-Atlantic security institutions and relationships,’ (pp. 15-41) gives particular attention to Russia’s new ‘offensive’ approach to the West witnessed during the last full year of Putin’s presidency, through four prominent disputes: missile defence, the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) regime, energy security and Kosovo. It sheds light on the increasingly complex and conflictual relationship between Moscow, the EU and the US, which is now reflected in the recent confrontation over the status of the two secessionist regions of Georgia.

The chapter also analyses developments in Europe (mainly the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon, and the European-US rapprochement led by Sarkozy’s France government), and signals a shift in US foreign policy, the author asserting that “the policies that had diminished the [US] influence and prestige at home and abroad have largely been abandoned in favor of a more pragmatic approach to world affairs” (p. 41). In this regard, it would have been appreciated had the author further elaborated and provided more evidence of an actual shift in policy, particularly as regards the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian nuclear controversy.

The chapter on ‘Trends in Armed Conflicts’ (pp. 43-71) contains comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon of ‘fragmentation of violence’ (p. 58) in 2007 in Iraq, Sudan-Darfur and Pakistan. The author, Ekaterina Stepanova, describes the ‘erosion of the boundaries between, for example, insurgency, terrorism, sectarian violence and one-sided violence against civilians’ (p. 43). A typical manifestation of this phenomenon, according to her, is he rise of sectarian (Sunni-Shia) and even intra-sectarian violence in Iraq, as well as the emergence of other armed actors, among them the controversial private security companies (PSC), whose “status […], chains of command, operating guidelines and role in security operations have not so far been subject to any formal control” (p. 53).

The activities of PSC, in Iraq and elsewhere, have indeed in recent years drawn the attention not only of human rights advocates, but also of academics, particularly in the field of international humanitarian law (See for example E.-C. Gillard, ‘Business goes to war: private military/security companies and international humanitarian law’, 88 International Review of the Red Cross (2006), pp. 525-572, and B. Perrin, ‘Promoting compliance of private security and military companies with international humanitarian law’, Ibid., pp. 613-636).

The Yearbook also contains each year a chapter devoted to international Military Expenditure and another to Arms Productions trends. Like the previous edition (See Stalenheim, P., Perdomo, C. and Sköns, E., “Military expenditure”, SIPRI Yearbook 2007: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2007), pp. 267-297; Sköns, E., and Surry, E., “Arms production”, Ibid., pp. 345-373), the work under review highlights the impressive level of activity and expenditure of both the US Defence administrations and US arms-producing companies. The author points the fact that since 11 September 2001 “it has proven difficult to keep track of the appropriations and actual expenditure incurred for the ‘global war on terrorism’ ” (p. 183), mostly to fund military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

It is interesting to note that in 2007, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has criticized the extensive use by the Department of Defense (DOD) of ‘emergency supplemental appropriation requests’ rather than base budget requests, and concluded that “continuing to fund the ‘global war on terrorism’ through emergency funding requests ‘reduces transparency and avoids the necessary re-examination and discussion of defence commitments, and since the Bush Administration defines the ‘global war on terrorism’ as long term, more of its cost should be included in the base budget to allow it to be transparent and subject to debate” (p. 185).

The same chapter again provides reference on the “rapidly rising military expenditure in the South Caucasus” (p. 185), with particular emphasis on Georgia, which military expenditure “has increased more than tenfold in real terms since 2003” (p. 189), not to speak of the significant foreign military aid the country receives from the USA and several NATO members. As regards ‘Nuclear arms control and non-proliferation’ (pp. 337-365), the numerous developments occurred during 2007 regarding the controversial nuclear activities of North Korea, and above all Iran (up to the NIE report of December 2007 which concluded that Iran had abandoned its military nuclear program in 2003) are well synthesized, as the failure of the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) to open the negotiations on a global fissile material cut-off treaty.

Among the many other topics covered by the present edition, it is worth mentioning a comprehensive appendix on ‘International public health diplomacy and the global surveillance of avian influenza’ (pp. 456-469), highlighting the enhanced role of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the transnational coordination of the prevention of the pandemic, and a concise and well-documented ‘survey of US ballistic missile defence programmes’ (pp. 402-414), a must-read on this topic likely to remain, after the US-Poland agreement (20 August 2008) one of the main East-West confrontational issues in the foreseeable future.



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