MILITARY COSTS v. HUMANITARIAN NEEDS
Statement for the Global Days of Action on Military Spending 2016
For obvious reasons, several news outlets have dubbed 2015 – and no doubt 2016 also – as the Year of the Refugee. In May 2015 the UN Secretary-General established the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, in preparation for the Global Humanitarian Summit to be held in Istanbul in May. The Panel analysed both needs and resources in this area and assessed the gap as around $15 billion:
The world spends today around US$ 25 billion to provide life-saving assistance to 125 million people devastated by wars and natural disasters. Despite the generosity of many donors, the gap between the resources needed for humanitarian action and the available resources is increasing..1
More recently OCHA assessed the overall needs as $20.1 billion2. At the same time the world’s governments spent $1776 billion on the military sector3. It is unfortunate that when the Panel considers that “the deficiency in global aid could be solved by implementing new policies designed to tap into creative sources of funding4” it does not point to the elephant in the room.
Over the last few years the International Peace Bureau has repeatedly called for a re-allocation of public funds from the military to social need: to development (funding the newly agreed SDGs); to public services, notably education and health; to the environment (Green Climate Fund); and of course to peace and disarmament initiatives. “Ending wars saves lives, avoids humanitarian crises, obviates mass refugee movements, and saves money. It is without question the least costly and most practical form of humanitarian assistance available in the world”5. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
This year we once again call for a minimum 10% annual reduction in military budgets. The $180 bn thus released would cover roughly nine times the $20 bn called for by the humanitarian agencies.
If only it were so simple… For there are other trends at work. This year could also be called the Year of the Drone – the Robot – or Cyber-warfare. High-tech gadgetry for armed conflict is all the rage. We are also witnessing an intensification of nationalist politics, a hardening of the authoritarian state, and a growing determination to secure access to dwindling natural resources6. Not to mention terrorism. All these factors tend to swell the national military coffers.
And these are not the only justifications: states have increasing recourse to military ‘assets’ during natural catastrophes or civil commotion. They replace roles formerly taken by police, fire services and coastguards, and even diplomats. ‘Disaster militarism’7is a new fashion. Furthermore, their humanitarian initiatives are only partially appreciated: aid agencies are wary of being used for political objectives and protest at the blurring of lines between the two sectors.8
This is altogether a dangerous path. Just as the early peace movement9 called for drastic reductions in the big powers’ conventional arsenals in the late 19th century – for fear of the Great Conflagration which indeed broke out in 1914 – so we today call on governments to rethink spending priorities before similar disasters befall us.
It will be argued in reply that military budgets are already declining, that the military are stuck with outdated equipment, and are not properly protected. This is a distortion of the facts. Overall military spending remains at astronomic levels – higher than even at the peak of the Cold War. True, some western states trimmed a little from their allocations in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis; and some oil-dependent countries are suffering on account of the low oil price today. But the Asian military buyers have fat wallets and there is intense pressure in both Russia and America to ‘make the country great again’ – usually code for more money for those who make war.
It is no secret that the military and the defence industry lobbies are powerful, and effective. But they are only effective to the extent that their strategies and technical prowess fit well with the underlying philosophy of governing elites who base their ultimate power on the monopoly of violence within their territories and on the projection of force abroad. The lesson of the Afghan, Iraqi and Libyan quagmires seems to be that Western adventurism and quick fixes to complex conflicts do not work. A more subtle policy is needed – hence recent calls for ‘smart power’ and ‘all of government’ approaches.
The danger in such policies is that by wrapping the iron fist in a velvet glove, civilian-based services which could provide the basis for a non-military approach end up helping promote military domination and control.
What IPB advocates – in addition to meeting humanitarian needs via a switch in priorities – is the development of tools and strategies to facilitate a ‘great transformation’ in our societies over the coming years. This means extending the concept of human security to planetary security in an age threatened by climate change; investing in massive programmes of education and job creation to undermine the temptation posed by jihadi extremism; and more generally building societies based on tolerance, rule of law, nonviolent resolution of conflict at all levels, gender equality and sustainable economies and lifestyles.
There is work here for everyone, and the hour is late.
Geneva, 31 March, 2016
For details of the Global Days of Action (5 – 18 April) and the Global Campaign on Military Spending, go to:http://demilitarize.org/
The International Peace Bureau is a global network dedicated to the vision of a World Without War. We are a Nobel Peace Laureate (1910), and 13 of our officers have also been recipients of the Prize. Our 300 member organisations in 70 countries, and individual members, form a global network bringing together expertise and campaigning experience in a common cause. IPB has UN Consultative Status and is the Secretariat for the NGO Committee for Disarmament (Geneva). Our main programme centres on Disarmament for Sustainable Development, of which the Global Campaign on Military Spending (GCOMS) is a key part. Coming events in 2016: Global Days of Action on Military Spending – April 5-18, and Disarm! For a Climate of Peace – world conference, Berlin, Sept 30-Oct 3.
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5 Vatican meeting of the High Level Panel: http://www.pass.va/content/scienzesociali/en/events/2014-18/crisis/statement.html
9 David Cortright, Peace: A history of movements and ideas, Cambridge University Press, 2008