I watched a short documentary last week about a young boy in Uganda named Locheng, who dreams of learning how to read and write (watch it if you can, it's only 12 minutes but is very powerful). Primary school in his village costs the equivalent of $14, which he cannot afford. So he just hovers outside the classroom – peeking in through the windows and trying to make sense of the strange script on the board.
I thought about this boy when I read this morning that $1.8 trillion were spent last year on the military world wide, according to the latest figures by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
This so-called 'defense' spending topples all other forms of government spending both domestically and internationally. For example, according to the 5 Per Cent Campaign, on average, industrialized countries spend three times as much on military as on education (in the US – it is six times as much). Many of the world's poorest countries and fastest growing economies spend much more on defense than on education or health. Military spending in Africa for example, has increased by 5.9% last year with Algeria and Angola (both major oil producers) leading the ranking. Sales of arms to Africa have increased by 45% since 2005.
In contrast, education aid funding had dropped by 5% each year since 2009, rather than decreasing. Today, there are still 58 million children around the world without access to primary education. The cost of achieving universal primary education is $26 billion annually. This is equivalent to the amount spent each week on military activities by countries across the globe.
This can't be right. Why are governments willing to allocate so much for preparing for war and maintaining their global and regional power status, and so little for preventing war and promoting true security?
In October last year, the Pentagon launched a report, confirming that it now views climate change as an imminent risk and would factor it into operational day to day decisions. Former US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (and a former climate change denier) then said: "Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict".
Yet, military spending in the US still trumps spending on climate security by a staggering amount. The US spent $610 billion on its military last year, a 6.5% drop from the year before due to its budget deficit but still three times more than the next big spender – China.
Consider this: for the price of four Littoral Combat Ships it would be possible for the US to double the Energy Department's entire budget for renewable energy and energy efficiency. Retiring the cold-war era B-1 bomber, would create a saving of $3.7 billion over five years, that would be enough to retrofit approximately 4.6 million homes to achieve 20% greater energy efficiency.
What science is telling us is clear: transforming the world's energy system into one driven forward by renewables holds the key to a better, more peaceful future. Spending must be allocated accordingly.
We must call on our governments to get their priorities straight. We must end spending on newer warplanes, tanks and bombs and divert the money into making peoples' lives better and safer – invest in education and in transforming our energy system.
Jen Maman is Greenpeace International's senior peace advisor based in Istanbul.