Less Military Spending For Greater World Security

THE world's governments spend $868 billion each year to support military forces of more than 27 million soldiers.

This phenomenal expense of 12 percent of national governments' spending is itself a threat to security. Industrialized countries account for 75 percent of this total, with the United States alone spending $270 billion on its defense budget.

Sadly, industrialized countries also are responsible for 90 percent of arms transfers to developing nations, and thus contribute to the incitement and prolongation of many of the world's 44 regional and internal conflicts.

The $221 billion that developing nations spend on armed forces exacts a heavy toll on the social sector. New weapons procurements and larger armies usually mean fewer funds to invest in health, education, and economic development, even in resource-rich countries like Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

Today, more than 900 million people in developing nations are unable to read or write, yet military spending exceeds spending on education. And while military expenditures remain at a level more than twice that of spending on health, 2 million children die every year of diseases that could have been prevented. In addition to addressing these problems, cuts in military spending would reduce the political and economic power of armed forces in developing nations, reinforcing the trend toward legitimate, democratically elected governments with control over their armed forces.

World military spending has decreased in real terms by 31 percent since reaching a high of $1.26 trillion in 1987, the height of the cold war. Yet 80 percent of this decline came from the sharp drop in spending by former Warsaw Pact nations. Despite the end of the cold war, developed nations other than those of the former Warsaw Pact spend only 10 percent less than they did in 1987.

In developing countries, military-spending levels did not even decline at that modest rate. Currently, military spending is decreasing on average by only 2 percent annually in developing countries and 4 percent in industrialized countries. These numbers are not enough to produce a meaningful peace dividend.

In order to address these problems, we have proposed the "Year 2000 Campaign to Redirect World Military Spending to Human Development." On Dec. 14, we presented our plan to UN Assistant Secretary-General Rosario Green, and the following day we discussed it at a Capitol Hill symposium sponsored by Sen. Mark Hatfield (R) of Oregon. Already endorsed by our three organizations and dozens of others, our strategy calls on the UN to sponsor talks in every region of the world - talks that will result in dramatic, mutual reductions in the size, sophistication, and expenditures of military forces by the year 2000.

We recognize that this goal will be unachievable without a conceptual revolution in how the world views security and the role of armed forces. All of us must recognize that security is enhanced by building down military forces in concert with our neighbors and potential adversaries, rather than by building up forces in never-ending arms races. Furthermore, we must acknowledge that a failure to change our attitude toward military spending will deny us the opportunity to adequately address human-development issues.

The Year 2000 Campaign plan proposes that:

*The Security Council and General Assembly of the United Nations call on all nations to commit to meeting with their neighbors. These nations will agree to identify and implement confidence-building measures and mutual reductions in military threats, thereby increasing the likelihood of substantial reductions in military forces and expenditures by 2000.

*Special envoys be appointed by the UN secretary-general to organize these demilitarization talks in various regions of the world. These meeting will build confidence among nations and reduce the likelihood of future conflicts.

*Every nation meet with an envoy to present plans for regional security at reduced force levels. These nations will also participate in negotiations guided by the envoy, in order to identify military capacities and implement mutual force reductions. Such negotiations will reduce the threat that nations pose to one another because of the size, proximity, and technological sophistication of their armed forces.

* With savings from reduced military spending, all nations implement economic reforms related to demilitarization, such as the conversion of military to nonmilitary production, land-mine clearance, community reconstruction, and the reintegration of demobilized soldiers.

*Industrialized nations condition their aid to promote demilitarization. They will exchange debt forgiveness for military conversion efforts, and provide special funding for programs to assist the demobilization process, promote transparency in military affairs, and bring about the end of military involvement in the civil economy.

*All arms-exporting nations agree to a code of conduct on arms transfers that would bar arms exports to nondemocratic governments, countries engaged in armed aggression in violation of international law, countries that do not fully participate in the UN Register of Conventional Arms, and governments permitting gross violation of internationally recognized human rights.

We urge citizens and organizations in all countries to pressure their governments to endorse the ideals of this proposal and to give it unlimited support at the UN and in international financial institutions. When enough voices in enough places are raised in unison for the ideals of the Year 2000 campaign, all humanity will benefit from living in a safer, more secure world.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.