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Priorities? Global military spending just hit US$1.6 trillion

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Military spending worldwide is going up.

2016 has seen governments around the world spend US$1.686 trillion on their militaries according to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Spending has grown in the USA and Europe.   

This is an increase of 0.4% compared to 2015, but is also the beginning of a dangerous upward trend. Increases are expected to continue over the coming years. US President Trump already announced a 9% increase for the 2018 US military budget. China has also announced a 7% increase in 2017. European countries budgets are already increasing and are set to go even further in the coming years. 

Some politicians and those who are in the business of war (manufacturing and selling weapons) say this is necessary. After all, look at the world we live in! It’s a dangerous world out there, they say. And to be sure, global instability is on the rise, nuclear war has become thinkable again, and millions still suffer the burden of war and conflict on a daily basis.  

But to suggest increasing what we spend on weapons has anything to do with making us safe is wrong and misleading on many levels.

It is hardly the lack of military hardware that is making our world a dangerous place – quite the contrary. Military spending worldwide is already huge, especially when compared with other forms of government spending. The US spends more than three times as much on weapons than China, which is the second biggest spender. This  massive spending has not led to peace.

Peace Fleet protest in 1991 against the presence of the nuclear warship USS MIDWAY in Yokosuka, Japan.

Real security does not come from tanks and bombs. Real security is human security. Improving quality of life, lifting people out of poverty, investing in health and education and crucially, protecting the environment that sustains us – those are the policies that deliver security. It’s widely acknowledged, including by militaries around the world, that climate change already impacts millions around the world and poses an increased risk to global security –  even creating an environment where terrorism can thrive according to a new report

And yet the amounts spent on supporting human security is ridiculously low when compared with the amount spent on waging wars. The average taxpayer in the United States paid US$14,051 in federal income taxes in 2016. Of that US$3,290.02 went to the military.  An average taxpayer paid US$91 per year for nuclear weapons, US$170 to Lockheed Martin and only US$10 for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Surely, it’s time for new priorities.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children” –  President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Politicians worldwide have been ramping up military rhetoric. They think war, or the threat of one, can help them in the polls. This is one of the oldest tricks in the book which both dictators and democratically elected leaders use to sway public opinion.

It’s happening now. “We got to start winning wars again,” said President Trump about his drive to increase the US’s military budget. But there are no winners in war, only losers. And they come at a huge cost: financial, but more crucially, human lives, broken societies and economies, and wrecked environments. The only winners are those who are in the business of war. If you’re a military contractor, war means business, and right now, business is good.

It is time to #Movethemoney away from warplanes, guns and bombs. #Movethemoney to education, healthcare and the exponentially growing renewable energy sector which provides energy, jobs and peace. #Movethemoney to diplomacy and development, rather than the current action-reaction cycle approach to foreign policy.

Instead of ‘winning wars’, we must start building peace. It’s time we get our priorities right.

Check out and follow the Global Campaign on Military Spending for more.

Jen Maman is the Senior Peace Advisor with Greenpeace International


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