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News & Analysis

Military Budgets Unexplored Source for Development Funding

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) - As the United Nations continues its intense search for trillions of dollars needed to finance 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders last September, there is one rich source that remains unexplored: world military budgets. SPANISH | GERMAN | HINDI | JAPANESE

Addressing the SDG summit, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan was one of the few – or perhaps the only – head of state who urged every UN member state to contribute 1.0 per cent of its military budget towards the funding of SDGs.

But there has been little or no response to the appeal – particularly at a time when rising terrorist attacks in Europe and the Middle East are likely to force countries to increase– not decrease– their arms spending.

The implementation of the SDGs, including the eradication of poverty and hunger worldwide, could cost a staggering 3.5 trillion to 5.0 trillion dollars per year, according to UN estimates, while global military spending last year was more than 1.8 trillion dollars.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) says it will cost about 1.4 trillion dollars a year just to eradicate poverty alone – excluding other goals which include the protection of the global environment, improved health, quality education, gender equality and sustainable energy for all.

Colin Archer, Secretary-General of the Geneva-based International Peace Bureau (IPB), told IPS it is disappointing to see that, yet again, the option of using some of the world’s military treasure is not even considered.

He said IPB, a global network of over 300 member organisations dedicated to the vision of a “World Without War,” has been trying to raise this issue for over 10 years.

And this perspective, he said, will be developed at a major world congress to be held next year in Berlin: www.ipb2016.berlin

IPB has campaigned for a 10 percent annual reduction of military budgets by all member states – and to redirect the resources to social and environmental spending durïng the life of the SDGs through 2030.

“This is deliberately modest, in order to encourage moderates/realists to join us,” he added.

Asked how feasible this proposal was, Archer said there have been many UN resolutions (the 1987 UN Special Session on Disarmament and Development), many fine speeches (US President Dwight Eisenhower…), much lip service, several fine analyses (Ruth Sivard…SIPRI…Seymour Melman, etc) but little real action.

During the Cold War, he pointed out, the spending issue was overwhelmed by the urgency of the nuclear crisis, even though funding was part of that too.

The issue has a long history (back even into mid-19th century and certainly post WWI, but we believe the Global Campaign on Military Spending (GCOMS) is the first properly organised worldwide effort.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the six largest military spenders in 2014 include: the US (610 billion dollars), China (216 billion), Russia (84.5 billion), Saudi Arabia (80.8 billion), France (62.3 billion) and UK (60.5 billion).

Last week, the UK announced it would to boost its military spending, ending years of cutbacks. Prime Minister David Cameron said his government would add about 18 billion dollars to the military budget over the next decade.

Addressing the American Society of Newspaper Editors back in April 1953, Eisenhower famously said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.’

This world in arms is not spending money alone, he said, but it also spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of all scientists, the hopes of its children.

This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron, he warned.

Asked how best even a fraction of military spending could be diverted into development funding, Archer told IPS: “This is a complex question. In my view, it requires a powerful civil society movement to put pressure on law makers and also mass media”.

He said this is what IPB is struggling to foster and develop. “It probably requires a change of government to the left in most countries.”

Archer said there are huge vested interests, and a powerful (growing…) nationalist culture that tends to believe in military defence against all external threats.

However: the disastrous adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya. etc etc have done much to make (Western) public opinion at least more questioning…

IPB has pointed out that the world diverts huge amounts of resources to the defence sector, leaving basic needs such as food, health, education, employment and environmental challenges greatly under-funded.

The imbalance between defence and social or development aid budgets is striking in most countries.

Yet despite the global economic crisis and world public opinion opposed to military spending excesses, there are few real signs that governments are ready at this point to initiate a radical shift in spending priorities.

Asked who should take the initiative to push this proposal, Archer said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has already said “the world is over armed but peace is under funded.” But he has far too much else on his plate and is too weak to stand up to the mighty powers, said Archer.

He also said the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) is supportive. But they are bogged down in the quicksand of disarmament negotiations.

The UN General Assembly passes resolutions every year on this but it has zero effect. So, in effect, it is civil society which must fight for it, he declared. (1 December 2015)

This article is part of IPS North America’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and Devnet Tokyo.

 

Photo: U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the 2nd-11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) cautiously advance into a bunker area as they conduct a raid on the Hateen Weapons Complex in Babil, Iraq | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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