Investing in Human Security: How Reducing Military Spending Can Ensure Gender-Equal and Safe Communities
Originally published here
The year 2020 marks numerous milestones for the international community’s dedication to building sustainable, inclusive and gender-equal peace. These include the 25th Anniversary of Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the 20th Anniversary of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, the 5th Anniversary of the Youth, Peace and Security agenda, and the 2020 Review of the UN Peacebuilding Architecture. These critical normative frameworks recognize the importance of addressing root causes of armed conflict – including gender inequality and the exclusion of youth – in order to build sustainable peace. Yet, governments across the world continue to prioritize their national defense interests over their obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of women and youth and their populations in general.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to human rights globally and magnified insecurities, especially for the 2 billion people worldwide living in areas affected by fragility, conflict and violence. The pandemic has also exacerbated social, economic and health inequalities around the world. Preliminary estimates project that in 2020, as a result of the compounded impacts of COVID-19 and other ongoing crises, between an additional 88 to 115 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty, bringing the total to between 703 and 729 million. Meanwhile, governments’ over-militarized responses to the pandemic have led to human rights violations, abuses of state power and increases in violence against civilians in various contexts, but have failed to halt the spread of the virus to all regions of the world. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) reports that political violence increased globally in 2019, and state forces were responsible for over one quarter of all violence targeting civilians which amounted to a greater proportion than any other type of actor.
In 2020, states have never been less secure – despite the record $1.917 trillion USD of global military expenditure, representing 2.2% of the global gross domestic product (GDP). According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), this staggering figure represents an increase of 3.6% compared to the 2018 total, and is the largest annual growth in global military spending in the past decade. Yet, the Global Peace Index (GPI) reports that the level of global peacefulness deteriorated in 2020, marking the ninth deterioration in the past 12 years. In fact, the average level of global peacefulness has declined by 2.5% since 2008, with 79 countries improving and 81 countries recording a deterioration overall between 2008 to 2020. Additionally, the Georgetown Institute for Women Peace and Security (GIWPS) reports that despite significant advances, more than 50 countries fell 10 or more positions on its WPS Index for 2019-2020, which measures women’s inclusion, access to justice, and security.
The pandemic highlights the ineffectiveness of massive military spending
The failure to deliver on WPS commitments, the limited progress to reduce barriers to women’s participation and access to justice, and the widespread lack of access to basic services due to dismal investments in public infrastructure have clear, profound and alarming implications for peace globally. The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a prime example of the ineffectiveness of global increases in military spending to protect human rights during concurrent health, economic and political crises. These crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic highlight that public investments in social services and social protections are of fundamental importance in protecting all people, their rights, and the planet. As Danai Gurira, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, eloquently stated at the UN Security Council Open Debate on WPS in October 2020: “$1.9 trillion in military spending is not making us safer today.”
At the heart of the WPS agenda is a focus on peace as a prerequisite for equality, social justice and human security. Human security is an approach introduced that calls on Member States to identify and address “widespread and cross-cutting challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of their people.” This approach introduced in the 1994 Human Development Report (HDR) outlined seven dimensions of human security, namely economic, health, personal, political, food, environmental, and community. The 1994 HDR also called on Member States to target reductions in military spending as an opportunity to move from investments in arms to investments in sustainable development, by making clear and explicit links between reduced military spending and increased social spending.
From a feminist perspective, the core challenge to achieving human security is the highly militarized, state-centric and patriarchal nature of the present international security system, as explained by Dr. Betty Reardon, world-renowned leader in peace education and human rights. Too often, the concept of national security, with a focus on state’s military interests and territorial integrity, is at the forefront of discussions on peace and security. While national security remains essential, its prioritization comes at the detriment of funding for social services that seek to implement and ensure human security. It also impedes full implementation of WPS agenda – particularly in cases when National Action Plans (NAPs) and other policies and strategies designed to implement the agenda, have a narrow militaristic focus. They center on the reform of the security sector and increasing women’s participation in the military. While important to the effective implementation of WPS, these considerations are not sufficient to realize the agenda’s core ambition to end armed conflict and build gender-equal, democratic and peaceful societies.
Framing national security through a gender-responsive, people-centered lens would allow states to prepare to effectively respond to global crises surpassing international borders, such as COVID-19 and the climate crisis, through cooperation and multilateralism. The notion of human security acknowledges the need for coordinated efforts to prevent conflicts and crises, because “in an interconnected world, none of us is safe until all of us are safe”, as asserted by the UN Secretary-General in his speech to the European Union in May 2020. The notion of human security is also central to the Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace twin resolutions, adopted by the UN Security Council and the General Assembly in 2016. Most notably, the twin resolutions call for a “comprehensive approach to sustaining peace, particularly through the prevention of conflict and addressing its root causes, strengthening the rule of law at the international and national levels”. Sustainable peace also requires accounting for the different ways in which diverse groups of people are impacted by militarization and the intersecting effects of racism, sexism, classism and other forms of discrimination. This includes using intersectional, gender-sensitive and conflict-sensitive analyses to inform crisis response and recovery and ensure equitable and inclusive outcomes for all.
It is imperative that states begin to shift their focus away from militarization and weapons spending toward efforts to ensure human security for all their citizens. Global efforts must be made to support and maintain peacebuilding strategies that would provide an alternative to the present costly, maladapted and militarized approach to state security. This includes recognizing women peacebuilders as leaders and pioneers in devising and implementing such strategies, and investing in their work at local, national and international levels. It also entails investing in the implementation of the WPS resolutions, as a transformative tool to build gender-equal and sustainable peace. Presently, only 18 out of 83 NAPs have budgets, representing a major challenge to the implementation and localization of their objectives. It is essential that states commit to tangible investments in the leadership of women, in all their diversity, to guarantee human security of their populations.
Reducing military spending is possible
Good practices in moving towards the implementation of a feminist human security framework exist. GPI reports that between 2008-2020, 100 countries reduced their military expenditure as a percentage of their GDP, and 67 lowered their levels of nuclear and heavy weapons. However, these reductions were outweighed by the increase in spending by other countries. In the context of an equitable COVID-19 response and recovery, all states must commit to a shift in priorities, beginning with “an end to the constant upward trend of global military spending” as urged by the UN Secretary-General. This shift must be accompanied by a re-evaluation of decision-making on resource allocation. A diversion of public funds away from militarization and weapons spending toward investments in peacebuilding and sustainable development is crucial in order to materialize international commitments to peace, human rights and gender equality into concrete actions. Investing in human security means ensuring that women, youth, and their communities are supported in their efforts to deliver crisis response, prevent conflict, and build sustainable peace.
Now, more than ever, it has become apparent that in order to build sustainable, inclusive and feminist peace, state actors must shift priorities, divest from militarized approaches, and divert resources to achieving human security. Conflict prevention has shown to be a cost-effective approach to ensuring peace and national security. The move towards human-centric security frameworks, with gender equality and prevention at their core, is therefore not only right, but also “smart.” In the face of ongoing and emerging crises, it can fulfil the promise of maintaining international peace and security, without the inflated mutli-billion-dollar price tag.