By Atom Markarian
The share of defense expenditures in Armenia’s Gross Domestic Product will be the second largest in the Commonwealth of Independent States this year, highlighting its unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan.
The Armenian military is to receive 61.3 billion drams ($125 million) from the cash-strapped government’s 2005 budget, 22.5 percent more than last year. The defense allocation equals 3.6 percent of the country’s anticipated GDP.
Uzbekistan is the only other member of the loose grouping of 12 ex-Soviet republics to boast a higher figure: 5.2 percent. In neighboring Georgia, by contrast, the relative size of the military budget is projected at only 1.2 percent despite a significant rise in defense spending planned by the administration of President Mikhail Saakashvili.
Armenia’s arch-foe Azerbaijan will spend less than 3 percent of its GDP on its armed forces. However, its defense budget is substantially bigger than Armenia’s in absolute terms and is expected to total $244 million this year.
The Armenian government has cited this as a key factor behind its decision to boost military expenditures. It initially asked parliament to set them at 54 billion drams. However, the figure was revised upwards at the insistence of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
The army has until now been the single largest recipient of scarce public funds in Armenia. It will get slightly than the public education sector in 2005 for the first time in Armenia’s post-Soviet history.