The most common measure of military effort is the fraction expressing military expenditures as a share of GNP or GDP: “The share of GDP is a rough indicator of the proportion of national resources used for military activities, and therefore of the economic burden imposed on the national economy” (SIPRI). This measure makes it easier to compare small countries with big ones, rich countries with poor ones, and it allows us to compare a country’s investments in education, health or employment and other areas of public interest with military spending.
As is often the case with regard to awareness campaigns, GCOMS challenges an issue that is still largely unknown and misunderstood by the public – even though each and every one is concerned. Indeed, “there is a serious problem of perception, or rather of quasi-invisibility”. This is exacerbated by that fact that military spending is usually considered as a guarantee of security, and therefore as a condition for peace. For example, typical missions of the Army are to defend the nation, protect national interests and preserve the peace and security. But, on the contrary of this presumption, other analysis like the one promoted by GCOMS state that “we point to the dynamics of the military economic cycle as responsible for the difficulty of getting out of the inertia that leads to approving, year after year, military public budgets that generate much of the armed violence in the world”.
This perception problem is attributable, among other things, to the fact that the field of military spending is utterly lacking in transparency. Accordingly, understanding the full scope of “military spending” is the first step into “tackling this largely contribution of public money to the global spread of arms”.
Military expenditure refers to “the amount of financial resources allocated by a government to provide its military with weapons, equipment, and compensation for soldiers”; in other words, it would refer to “the economic resources devoted to the military”. Anyway, there is no consensus on what it includes exactly, thereby generating a lot of confusion. For instance, “media reports on military expenditure, including in specialist publications, tend to report simply the defence budget of the country in question, although many countries have significant military expenditure in other budget lines”. Another common error “is to refer to military spending as arms spending”. Military expenditure has a broader scope and covers a much more complex reality. More importantly, the definition of military expenditure is the result of variable and subjective criteria for determining what does or does not belong to the military area, and even more so of a subjective definition of the very concept of security. Overall, military-related expenditures’ review is facing many obstacles.
Indeed, there is no universal definition of military spending and what kind of expenditures refers to. In this context, the GCOMS Handbook shows the variety of definitions that do exist today. Also data concerning military’s expenditure must be interpreted with caution. As a matter of fact, depending on the source (SIPRI or NATO for instance), researchers will achieve different results over a country’s military spending. In order to gain a greater understanding of this issue, the GCOMS Handbook presents various definitions of military spending, these ranging from SIPRI’s definition to those from pacifists, also including NATO’s definition.