According to new figures released on Monday, last year a whopping US$1747 billion was spent on armies across the world. Modest decreases in spending in austerity hit Western Europe and reduced spending in the US, which is still the biggest spender by far with almost 40% of global spending, were matched by increased spending in Eastern Europe and Asia. While the West still spent over half of global defense outlays, this is down from two-thirds of global totals in 2010. In the perverted logic that equates development and regional power with military might, emerging economies continue to ramp up their so-called defense spending levels. 'Defense' outlays in China and Russia have been rising since 2008 by more than 40% and 30% respectively, while massive increases are also taking place in India and Saudi Arabia.
Not only is weapon spending higher now than in the peak of the Cold War, it is also projected to further increase this year, after five years of remaining relatively stable.
"The world is over-armed and peace is underfunded," said Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General. When you consider these figures alongside the volume of international weapon trade, which has also grown by 14% in the last four years, it is hard to disagree. Consider this - the regular budget of the UN, the body set up following World War II to preserve peace through international cooperation and collective security - is only US$2.7 billion. A fraction of what is spent on weapons.
Sadly, there is a large gap between which countries are prepared to allocate for military means to prepare for war and maintain their global and regional power status, on the one hand, and to prevent war and promote true security, on the other. Fighting poverty, which kills millions worldwide, and promoting sustainable development, gets only a fraction in comparison to these so called ‘defense’ spending. In fact, the term 'defense' spending, commonly used to describe these costs, is grossly misleading as spending on tanks, bombs, battleships, nukes and so on does little to defend people, but rather defends the interests of those who are in the business of war - manufacturing, trading and subsidizing weapons.
Only last month, we heard the world’s leading scientists warn that climate change will increasingly threat human security and could, if not addressed, fuel insecurity and conflicts. A grim picture, but there is room for hope. A new report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this weekend shows that climate action is in fact an opportunity, not a burden. The report makes the solution crystal clear: transforming the world’s power system from one that is dominated by fossil fuels to one dominated by renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. Renewables - safer, cleaner and now cheaper than ever - hold the key to our future.
Earlier this year, we heard US Secretary of State calling climate change "perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction". It is only right then that money is diverted for defending us from such destruction. That would be a true defense spending. It is coal plants and oil rigs that are in fact weapons of mass destruction - not only destroying our planet, but killing people already. And subsidizing fossil fuels at a total of US$1.9 trillion annually is no less than a crime against humanity.
In light of the rough estimates by the IPCC and others, diverting even half of military spending into preventing climate change and adapting to the impacts we can no longer avoid would bring much more security than any tanks and bombs can ever do. In return, we would get clean and safe energy, clearer skies, healthier oceans and a better future for our children. Just imagine how fast we could achieve the clean energy future climate scientists are calling for if we redirected all this money.
Jen Maman is the Peace Advisor at Greenpeace International.