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Opinion

Peace is profitable: time for the US to invest

The US ranked an abysmally low 82 on the recent Global Peace Index. Unless America invests in the structures to promote peace, it will continue to find itself at war. The peace dividend is worth it: The world could have saved $8 trillion if it had been at peace last year.

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This all sounds very pie-in-the-sky; who doesn't want to reap the economic benefits of peacetime? As it turns out, weapons industries, among others, profit mightily from conflict – whether it happens in Afghanistan or Detroit.

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Profits of peace outweigh capital of conflict

Since 9/11, America's defense budget has grown 7 percent annually, correlating positively with money spent by the defense lobby, which grew by 7 percent in the last year alone. This growth serves defense contractors well. In 2009, for example, shares of Lockheed Martin, one of the US Defense Department's primary contractors, reached a decade-high price of $120, the same year the company received nearly $40 billion in US contracts, made $3 billion in profits, and paid its chief executive officer $22.9 million. And yet Lockheed tops the Federal Contractor Misconduct Database compiled by the Project on Government Oversight.

Despite defense industry influence, peacetime economies are ultimately more profitable for the public. That's not surprising, given the economic activity that thrives during peacetime (development, trade) and the additional business that could be redirected from industries that generate and contain violence to other more productive sectors.

From institutions of war to schools of peace

That the economics of peace have had such a hard time prevailing in policy conversations is, in part, because the dominant language, lobbies, and learning environments are all geared toward the mechanics of war.

Attempts to offer alternatives to defense departments, war colleges, military academies, and national defense universities remain fledgling due to lack of funding. For example, the Institute of Peace in Washington receives a mere 1 percent of what Lockheed gets in government funds annually.

Unless we invest in a federal department or agency, with cabinet-level access or advisory status, devoted to building the structures necessary for peace, we will continue to find ourselves at war.

The investment is worth it. Reductions in violence and crime to rates equal to Canada's would yield an estimated $89 billion in direct savings and $272 billion in additional economic activity for America, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, in Sydney, which publishes the global – and a US – peace index.

Thankfully, there are some alternatives. The nonprofit National Peace Academy in Shelburne, Vt., is one such institution, building the skills for the professional peacemaker in every aspect of life, be it at the personal, social, political, institutional, or ecological level. And, thankfully, university programs like George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, which pioneered the country's first graduate programs in peace, are becoming more numerous.

But more is needed as invasions loom, inmates abound, and poor index rankings continue. The economic argument for peace may be unassailable – all we need now is to make this field as professionally attractive as the war business.

Michael Shank is the senior policy adviser for US Rep. Michael Honda (D) of California, and is a doctoral candidate at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. This article reflects the author's opinion and not the views of Mr. Honda's office.

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