Weapons spending worldwide increased in 2015 and now stands at a mind boggling $1676 billion, according to a new data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute today. This 1% increase from 2014 marks an important shift: Since 2011, military spending stayed at more or less at the same level. It is now going up. Even worse, it’s expected to continue to rise globally.
The US remains the world’s biggest spender, with a whopping $596 billion. They are followed by China with $215 billion (a 7.4% increase) and Saudi Arabia with $87 billion (a 5.7% increase).
Spending in Central Europe has increased by 13%, while in Western Europe it seems that the decrease in spending seen since the 2009 global economic crisis is now giving way to projected increases. UK, France and Germany have all announced plans to increase their military spending in the coming years.
If for you, like me, these numbers are simply so big that they are beyond grasp, think about some of the things that even a fraction of global military spending could achieve:
The Sustainable Development Goal on health - ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all at all ages – could be achieved for only 5% of the annual costs of military spending.
Ensuring inclusive and quality education for all – worldwide – would cost just 12% of what is being spent on arms.
Ensuring universal access to affordable, modern and reliable energy services, and substantially increasing the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix – would be possible with only 11% of the money allocated to arms instead. This one is especially jaw-dropping to me. One in five people worldwide still lacks access to electricity. The burning of fossil fuels is the major contributor to air pollution, which causes an estimated 5.5 million deaths a year. And if that’s not enough, fossil fuels are the main contributor to climate change. Clearly, spending money on the energy revolution we need can do so much more to achieve real security for all than all those arms!
Some oil producing countries seem to be reducing military spending due to the low oil price. Dramatic oil revenue related reductions in spending took place in Venezuela (-64%) and Angola (-42%), as well as Bahrain, Brunei, Chad, Ecuador, Oman and South Sudan. Other oil exporting nations have increased spending – most notably Russia, and Saudi Arabia that has so far spent an additional $5.3 million on its military intervention in Yemen. However, both Russia and Saudi Arabia too are planning cuts.
We must call on our governments to get their priorities straight. We must shift the money wasted on shiny new warplanes, tanks and bombs into making peoples' lives better and safer. Health, education and 100% renewable energy for all can deliver real human security.
Jen Maman is Senior Peace Advisor at Greenpeace International. She is based in Istanbul.