30/10/2017 |

Transparency in military spending

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The UN Secretary-General’s annual report on military expenditure data submitted by UN member states has been published since 1981. In 2017, however, the number of UN member states participating in the reporting process has been comparatively low. As shown by SIPRI researchers Dr. Nan Tian and Dr. Pieter D. Wezeman, many member states are not submitting this data directly to the UN.

Participation in the reporting process has declined from annual levels of participation with an average of 40 per cent of UN member states in the 2002–2008 period to 25 per cent in 2012–16. A total of 49 of the 193 member states submitted reports in 2016, and only 41 reports were received in time to be included in the 2017 report. As in previous years, it is expected that a few other states will report later in the year.

However, many non-participating member states, including countries in sub-Saharan Africa, now release much of the relevant data into the public domain, according to SIPRI. As of September 2017, no sub-Saharan African country had submitted an annual report on its military expenditure to the UN. But many sub-Saharan African countries do make a substantial number of their budgetary reports available at the national level. SIPRI monitors these reports and has found considerable improvements in transparency in recent years, specifically in terms of availability, accuracy, reliability, ease of access and level of disaggregation.

Ease of access to the relevant budgetary information is essential for true transparency in military expenditure. Of the 49 sub-Saharan African countries, 34 have official budget documents published on their Ministry of Finance (MOF) websites, while 8 countries have no information on their respective government (MOF or other) websites and 7 do not have an official MOF website.

The advantages of transparency in the military sector are well known; thus, the discussions on poor participation must focus on the issues of reporting fatigue, the perceived lack of relevance and the required resources (human and capital) in a way that demonstrates that the benefits of collective transparency outweigh the small effort needed to submit already available information.