What would you do with $1,738 billion (US dollars)? If you were told you had to spend it this year on making people safer, what would you spend it on?
$1, 738bn is how much was spent on the world’s military last year, according to estimates by the Stockholm International Peace Institute (SIPRI).
With expenditure on military being one of the few areas not facing massive government cut backs we should ask: is our world becoming a safer place?
What consolation can be sought in the world’s awesome military might by the parents of the 7.6 million children under five who die each year, mostly in developing countries?
What consolation is it in a world where 925 m people do not have enough to eat, 98% of whom live in developing countries? What peace does it bring them?
In a world where millions are being displaced from their homes due to climate change related factors: droughts, shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and agricultural disruption, will the military provide them with new homes?
The hawks and their accountants would probably argue that this is an acceptable price to pay to maintain national and international security.
But, what do they mean by security? What is true security? The UN Development Programme said in 1994: ‘Human security is a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, a job that was not cut, an ethnic tension that did not explode in violence, a dissident who was not silenced. Human security is not a concern with weapons - it is a concern with human life and dignity.’ That is good enough for me.
In Greenpeace we have always worked for true security; it is at the heart of what we stand for. We believe that instead of spending vast amounts of money – and, perhaps worse, human ingenuity -- on the machinery of war, we need to direct our financial and intellectual resources towards true security. We need to tackle the unprecedented threat posed by climate change in increasing pressures on basic resources: food, water, energy and land. Pressures which are already triggering conflicts, war and suffering.
There is a lot of money being squandered in the name of security, few nations can be said to fully have their priorities right. But, lets look to those who spend the most. Lets look to those who are charged on behalf of the global community with keeping the peace. Lets look at the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Russia, the UK and the US. Looking at the data provided by SIPRI, there are no big surprises there. The top five big spenders are the same five countries. The US is topping the list with nearly half of the total global spending. The other four lag considerably behind but when added they make up the five national trillion dollar military spending club!
Putting it into a little perspective: it’s a bit like a macho cliché from many war movies that somewhere there is a bullet out there with your name on it. Well, according to Oxfam there are actually two, or more. This year two bullets are being produced for every person in the world.
A lot of money is being spent on preparing for war, how much is being spent on preventing it? How much is being spent on mitigating the risks of climate change? Very little by comparison and nowhere near enough.
In 2009, at the Global Climate Conference in Copenhagen the heads of state of the developed countries pledged 30bn US dollars to the developing world for the period 2010-2012 for climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. They promised that would increase to an annual fund of US$100bn by 2020 which sounds like a lot until you make the comparison: 10bn a year is 1% of the military budgets of the five permanent members of the Security Council, while 100bn is only 10%. The US alone could meet the 100bn commitment and still be ahead of its nearest military spending competitor, China, by half a trillion dollars.
Changes wrought by climate change increase the threat of war and conflict and pose an unprecedented threat to true security. To secure true security we must tackle the climate threat and invest in green solutions.
For example, how about investing in ocean protection? Scientists estimate that conserving 20-30% of our oceans would cost between $5bn and $19bn a year. In return a million new jobs would be created, sustainable fish catch worth $70-80bn a year promoted and further ecosystem services worth a gross value of $4.5-6.7tn a year!
How about saving our forests? The global economy is losing between $2tn and $5tn dollars each year due to deforestation. The cost of halving deforestation is estimated at $15bn a year.
And last, but certainty not least, how about an energy revolution in the power sector? Moving away from climate-destroying fossil fuels and dangerous nuclear power, would require additional annual investments of some $280bn. These are investments that will more than pay back in the form of saved fuel costs and additional jobs created. And, it does not take a rocket scientist to know this would fundamentally reduce the threat of war by reducing our dependence of fossil fuels.
An extraordinary amount of money, imagination and human ingenuity goes into preparing for and fighting wars. Just imagine what could be achieved if the same energy, imagination and ingenuity was invested in peace, a green peace.