Nato leaders are under pressure to increase defence spending – but clean water and education for all could prove a powerful weapon against extremism

By David Williamson, Wales Online, Sep 02, 2014 10:26
Nearly three million Syrians are registered as refugees. The world now has the chance to stop a disaster, win much-needed friends and give them the shock and awe of hope.

When Nato leaders gather in Wales this week many of the statesmen and women around the banquet and negotiating tables will come under intense pressure to stump up cash.

No country can match the military and economic firepower of the United States, but that doesn’t mean the Americans are not growing weary of financing the most advanced defence alliance in human history.

Nato states that have only modest defence spending can expect to be urged to join the US, Britain, Greece and Estonia and commit at least 2% of their budgets to this area.

Supporters of defence spending may find it easier to make this argument when the relevance of Nato membership has been dramatically illustrated by the violence in Ukraine. Would Russia have dared seize Crimea or cross the eastern border if Ukraine had been under the Nato umbrella?

If a new Cold War descends on Europe and states – particularly those that were once part of the Warsaw Pact – face the threat of Russian-sponsored cyber-attacks and subversion, that 2% GDP target may seem a reasonable membership fee.

Many defence hawks who support greater defence investment may resent the fact that the UK invests 0.7% of its GDP in international development. In the Whitehall battle for cash, foreign aid is often seen as an indulgence – particularly in an era of austerity when welfare is under pressure, the cost of new drugs stretches the NHS, and our armed forces routinely face danger overseas.

Rather than seeing international aid spending as an alternative to defence spending, there is a strong argument that such “soft power” can help the UK tackle threats to its security. Access to education does not always stop a person falling victim to radicalism and morphing into a terrorist. Osama Bin Laden did not grow up in poverty and there are plenty of people in vile organisations who have academic degrees as well as pistols under their belts.

But if the West wants to stop failed states turning into rogue states it will need more than fleets of battleships and a new generation of drones.

Nelson Mandela – a true expert on regime change – famously remarked that “education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”. Extremists recognise this and fear the spread of enlightenment, which is one reason why the odious Nigerian group famed for kidnapping schoolgirls goes by the name Boko Haram – “Western education is a sin”.

Would the ideological ogres find it so easy to recruit followers and seize territory in areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia if both men and women had the highest standards of literacy, if economic development was a reality in their neighbourhoods, if political corruption was stamped out and if clean water and basic medicine were available for all?

The number of registered Syrian refugees has now reached almost three million, the equivalent of the population of Wales. A nation of people who have fled for their lives is spread across countries including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

The West has the chance to demonstrate its values by providing these men, women and children with a hope and a future, with education and sanitation. The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 proved that we can topple a regime, but what would “shock and awe” look like if it came from the actions of the Department for International Development and not the Ministry of Defence?

There is a regrettable reluctance among governments to write cheques to fund the United Nations efforts to address the needs of Syrian refugees, with the most recent figures showing a 57% funding gap.

This is not just about charity. By investing in the lives of people in countries threatened by extremism we are challenging the narratives of the demagogues who snort at the notion of Western civilisation and point to civilian deaths from air strikes as evidence of mendacity.
It may be more exciting for a Government to authorise the purchase of a jet fighter or a submarine than light bulbs and schoolbooks but this could prove an act of self-defence.

The emergence of healthy and educated young people throughout the Middle East and North Africa can only add to the security of Wales and the UK.
Of course, countries need strong, well-trained, corruption-free armed forces to root out extremist militias and western states need to be able to counter tyrants and terrorists alike. But Nato leaders should recognise that investment in diplomacy and development may do more to protect member states than a hike in spending that will delight the arms industry but do nothing to help those who live under the curse of poverty, disease and ignorance and whose communities are routinely ravaged by extremists.

A joined-up policy will bring the best minds in the MoD, DfID and the Foreign Office together. The challenge is not just to forge a safer world but a better one.


UN expert urges States to be more transparent on military expenditure

At the conclusion of an expert consultation convened by the Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order in Brussels on 15 May and attended by senior representatives of several organizations including NATO, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute(SIPRI), Transparency International, the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the International Peace Bureau (IPB), the Bonn International Conversion Center (BICC), the Group for Research and Information for Peace (GRIP), the Quaker Council for European Affairs and the Flemish Peace Institute, the Independent Expert, Alfred de Zayas, called for increased transparency on military expenditure:

“Since a democratic and equitable international order requires peace, States must engage in good faith negotiations for disarmament and significantly reduce military expenditure and the arms trade. While States frequently give lip service to disarmament and some progress could be observed, considerable efforts should still be made to reduce military spending. There is a general lack of transparency with regard to military budgets worldwide. Governments are reluctant to come forward with detailed information and statistics on military expenditures. Insufficient attention is devoted to these issues by the media, as if such matters were taboo. There is also scarce public participation in the determination of budget priorities. Powerful lobbies, including the military-industrial complex, weigh heavily on parliaments and governments and impose priorities that have no democratic legitimacy.

In order to remedy this situation, States should proactively inform their citizens concerning past, present and future military expenditure and engage the public in a debate on budget priorities. Good practices in combatting corruption and increasing transparency should be promoted. Moreover, the culture of fear that is advanced in some countries to justify the need for more sophisticated and extremely expensive weapons should be combatted.

States should henceforth report to the Human Rights Council on military expenditure, not only on the production and stockpiling of weapons, personnel and military bases abroad, but also on military-related research, including research into nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedure would be an appropriate forum to discuss a shift away from the “military first” approach prevalent in many countries towards the promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. States should report to the UPR on the percentage of the national budget used for all military-related expenditure (including slush funds) and contrast it against the percentage of the budget devoted for the administration of justice, education and health care.

Disarmament would help free resources necessary for sustainable development. Financial resources released through disarmament and downscaling of the military should be used to retrain personnel and to promote development of peaceful industries domestically and internationally.”

NZ Budget, Frigates or Families / Welfare or warfare?

The NZ Budget was released on Thursday, 16 May, and military spending has gone up by an unexpected 13.82% from last year, tragic. We published some comparative facts and figures in the GDAMS Aoteroa New Zealand index page and on Facebook.

The “centrepiece” of the Budget was a $493 million package for families, and as the Budget included a $446 million combat capability upgrade for the navy’s two frigates, the similarity of the amounts led to a ‘Frigates or Families?’ comparison. Our comments on the Budget – pre and post release – have been compiled into ‘Frigates or Families / Welfare or warfare? Comments on Budget 2014′.

Incidentally, the frigates’ combat capability upgrade also highlighted the NZ government’s ongoing complicity around nuclear weapons production – despite the Crown Financial Institutions divesting from Lockheed Martin some years ago because of its involvement in the production of nuclear weapons and cluster munitions, both banned under NZ law, the contract for the combat upgrade was awarded to Lockheed Martin Canada.

Source: Peace Movement Aotearoa,  17 May 2014

Paying for the Climate Change Pivot – world leaders can’t really fight climate change unless they slash military spending

We only have a few decades to deal with climate change. If humanity fails to cut back dramatically on carbon emissions by 2050, according to an alarming new UN report, our planet may warm past the point of our ability to fix the problem.

Given global dependence on oil, gas, and coal, weaning every economy from fossil fuels to save Mother Earth won’t come easy or cheap. Fortunately, there’s a big pot of money available to avert a climate catastrophe.

Accessing that money, however, requires cutting back on a different set of pollutants — the huge cache of weapons the world continues to produce.

Europe has trimmed its military spending and the Pentagon budget is leveling off. Yet other regions are burning through more cash to wage or gear up for war than they used to.

Military outlays are rising the most in Africa and the Middle East. And Asia surpassed Europe last year for the first time in terms of overall military spending.

The United States still faces no competition for its distinction as the world’s military spending champion. The Pentagon’s $640 billion tab amounted to more than a third of the $1.75 trillion in global military spending the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute itemized for 2013.

What does worldwide military excess have to do with today’s reliance on fossil fuels? Instead of investing in ways to slow global warming and adapt to a changing climate, too many nations are pouring money into weapons in an ongoing fight over the dwindling resources we haven’t quite used up yet.

There’s still time to pivot in a new direction. One big step governments, industries, and investors must take is to quadruple the money they’re pumping into sustainable alternatives to oil, gas, and coal.

Click here to read the complete article.

Global military spending trumps global aid

Russia and China are among the nations that are sharply increasing their military spending while contributions to global humanitarian aid decrease.

The possibility of rising U.S. and Russia-China tension, the Ukraine and Syrian crisis, the conflict in Africa particularly in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, the ongoing instability in the Middle East, the conflict between South-North Korea, all can speed up the armament race in the near future while global humanitarian aid slows down.

While the UN in 2013 and 2014 asked for almost $13bn to fund its humanitarian operations for a one year period, global military spending totaled $1.75 trillion in 2013 – 130 times higher than the planned humanitarian aid in 2013 and 2014.

The UN appeal for humanitarian aid for this year, which will be used for 52 million people in 17 countries, was the highest ever but not even close to the global military spending.

While global military spending in 2014 is in uptrend, the development on global humanitarian aid is totally different. The international humanitarian response fell by 8 percent from $19.4 billion in 2011 to $17.9 billion in 2012.

Click here to read the complete article.