The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the subsequent end of its cold war with the United States was greeted globally with a collective sigh of relief; finally, the days of massive military spending could end and efforts to rid the world of hunger, disease and poverty could get under way in earnest. For a time in the 1990s, that certainly seemed to be the case. Rather than buying weapons to frighten off potential enemies, the richest nations began diverting funds towards issues benefiting humanity - climate control, disease eradication and poverty reduction in developing countries. In 1997, most of the wealthiest nations signed up to the Kyoto Protocol to prevent global warming; three years later, the United Nations set goals to improve the lives of the world's poorest people and reduce child mortality rates by 2015. But such good intentions began disappearing by 1998 with China's rapidly expanding economic strength, rising tension between India and Pakistan and ethnic unrest in the former Yugoslavia. Then came the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001. Overnight, the cold war mentality returned. A report by the respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on Tuesday revealed that international military spending rose by 5 per cent last year to US$1.04 trillion, just 6 per cent below the cold war high of 1987-88. Although it was the sixth yearly global rise in a row, the major determining factor was the US and its war on terrorism. American military spending accounted for nearly half the global figure, increasing 12 per cent to US$455 billion. With US-led military action in Iraq and Afghanistan unfinished and the perceived threat from terrorists undiminished, that figure is going to rise - despite US military spending being more than the next 32 most powerful countries combined. Such figures do not bode well for the good intentions of those like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, seeking to get the Group of Eight of the world's wealthiest nations to write off poor countries' debt and strengthen efforts against climate change. His meeting with US President George W. Bush in Washington on Tuesday won only lukewarm support for eliminating the debt of the 30 poorest countries and no enthusiasm to back the Kyoto accord. Mr Blair next visits Moscow, Berlin and Paris to win support for his scheme, which will be voted on by the G8 at its summit in Scotland next month. Of all the attempts to drag the world out of its cold war-like malaise, Mr Blair's is the most worthy yet. Nations should embrace it to bring a return to the hopeful environment that followed the fall of the Iron Curtain. By doing so, perhaps they can convince the US and nations intent on spending more on their militaries that the world can be improved far more effectively by putting the money elsewhere.