GCOMS and SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
The argument that too much money is spent on war and not enough on human welfare is not a new one. Peace activists in the 19th century called on governments to change their priorities. After the First World War there was a wave of popular revulsion at the profits made by the arms merchants, whose products had caused such appalling carnage during the war. The same sentiment is embodied in Article 26 of the UN Charter, signed in 1945:
In order to promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources, the Security Council shall be responsible for formulating, with the assistance of the Military Staff Committee referred to in Article 47, plans to be submitted to the Members of the United Nations for the establishment of a system for the regulation of armaments.
And every year since at least 1970 the UN General Assembly has passed a resolution on Disarmament and Development. The text is usually a paragraph along these lines:
…Urges the international community to devote part of the resources made available by the implementation of disarmament and arms limitation agreements to economic and social development, with a view to reducing the ever-widening gap between developed and developing countries…
In 2012 and 2013 it added the following:
…Encourages the international community to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to make reference to the contribution that disarmament could provide in meeting them when it reviews its progress towards this purpose in 2013, as well as to make greater efforts to integrate disarmament, humanitarian and development activities
The problem is that these texts are ignored, and meanwhile the pressure for ever-higher military budgets intensifies with each worsening of the international security situation.
Global military spending is now at a level even higher than at the height of the Cold War, with an estimated $1’730 billion in 2013.
Figures for the cost of tackling poverty vary greatly. According to the Wold bank in 2003 the total of additional resources to meet the MDGs was between $400-600 billion annually.
However, according to UNCTAD’s 2014 World Investment report:
At current levels of investment in SDG-relevant sectors, developing countries face an annual gap of $2.5 trillion. Estimates for total investment needs in developing countries alone range from $3.3 trillion to $4.5 trillion per year, for basic infrastructure (roads, rail and ports; power stations; water and sanitation), food security (agriculture and rural development), climate change mitigation and adaptation, health, and education. At today’s level of investment – public and private – in SDG-related sectors in developing countries, an average annual funding shortfall over 2015-2030 of some $2.5 trillion remains.
Ultimately this is a debate among experts, and the figures given are highly dependent on the definitions and assumptions used. What remains very clear is that the obsession of almost all governments with security – and their own survival in the face of hostile neighbours and rebels – means that they devote far more money to the hungry military interests than to the hungry people who make up, in many cases, large sections of their populations.
And the rich states – how much do they devote to development cooperation compared to war preparations? According to the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, the annual total of overseas aid amounts to approximately $130bn. Less than 1/10th of what they spend on the military.