The Covid 19 pandemic has brought much discussion about how society has had its priorities wrong, and that the current appalling situation should lead to a new paradigm. One that is based around genuine respect for essential workers, more empathy for those struggling mentally and physically and a greater sense of collectivism in our communities. These are all things I support.
Yet there has been very little rhetoric about changing the mindset around one of the world’s age old dilemmas: peace versus war. The ideals of solidarity being expressed should not just apply to helping those who are in difficult situations, but stopping those situations from ever arising. This blog briefly shows how for too long we have looked at the world through the prism of war and worry, and how this needs to change to a genuine effort to create peace and stability.
The Focus of Countries on War over Peace
The USA has the largest military budget by far and has done for decades, yet the money spent on it continues to increase, with the number around 750 billion dollars, much of it spent in seemingly never ending conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
President Donald Trump has been doing this to “rebuild the military” as he often says, without once explaining when the military was broken during previous administrations that were also increasing military spending. China is the next largest spender at just under 250 billion dollars. This number is far larger than it was at the turn of the century, with China using its new economic power to support its efforts to become a military power. Saudi Arabia is the third highest spender with their budget continuing to increase in the last decade. The UK has steadily increased their military budget in addition and is the fifth highest spender. Finally, almost all European Union members have committed to Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) which contains a commitment to increase spending in EU security operations. All this evidence shows a clear commitment to militaristic policy for security instead of a clear commitment to lasting peace.
Sceptics may ask if there are other investments in peace being made, and if investing in militarism is only being done alongside investments in peace. But the evidence paints a bleak picture. Two years ago, the US withdrew from the UN human rights council, citing a biased attitude of the UN towards Israel. Along with their recent withdrawal from the World Health Organization during a pandemic, the US under Trump has shown a clear preference for investing in means for war instead of working globally to bring peace by investing in areas such as human rights. Furthermore, the most recent budget for UN peacekeeping operations stood at a paltry 6.5 billion dollars despite the UN having 193 members to contribute. The total spending of the UN on all its operations is around 50 billion dollars.
This world order is essentially taken for granted without many visible calls for change being heard in the media. The primary focus remains on national military spending for security reasons and to continue existing conflicts, whilst giving a few scraps of money to efforts of peace as nothing more than a token gesture. It is not considered that things could be radically different. A world where the primary focus and investment is on multilateral cooperation globally based on 1) peacebuilding 2) peacemaking 3) peacekeeping is an idea that needs more discussion. The impact of those areas being underfunded is a subject I may return to in a following blog.
But What are the Effects for Countries that Don’t Invest Strongly in a National Military?
Some may think that the status quo is just a reality of how the world works and any alternatives are simple idealism. Yet there are a relatively small number of countries who break the mould, and they come from varying regions of the world. Iceland is the prime European example. They have no standing army or navy, and have the lowest defence spending in Europe. Yet the security of Iceland from outside threats has not risen despite this policy. In fact, Iceland has the lowest homicide rate in Europe, suggesting a correlation exists between a more peaceful external policy creating more apt conditions for peace to thrive within a country.
Moving to Central America, Costa Rica is a country that has a history of civil war dating back to the 1940s, and may seem a country destined to have a strong militaristic character to retain law and order like many countries in similar situations have done. Instead, Costa Rican president Jose Figueres showed extraordinary courage by abolishing the military, and redirecting that money towards health, education, environmental protection among other areas, a policy that overwhelmingly succeeded. Non violent resolution to conflict has become a source of national pride in Costa Rica, which was shown when Costa Rica resisted strong pressure from the US to militarize in the 1980s to contain Nicaraguan militia groups. Instead, Costa Rican president Oscar Arias initiated peace talks between the Nicaraguan government and the armed groups, winning a Nobel peace prize for his efforts.
In Africa, Botswana did not have any military for the first eleven years of its independence. They chose instead to invest in social sectors to improve living standards in the country, believing that doing this first was more likely to create peaceful conditions in the country by improving living standards. Although Botswana eventually invested in a military once the country had become an upper middle class country with the lowest levels of corruption in Africa, their troop levels are still very low by international standards, and this investment was only done when peaceful conditions were created, unlike the general international trend of militarism being the main focus for investment.
Those are a few examples from different regions of the world, but there are more than a dozen countries in the world that do not have any military spending. It is a small number in comparative global terms, but it represents an alternative way of operating is possible.
The Story is a Much Longer one
This subject area is an incredibly broad one, and covering everything in one blog is impossible. There are issues such as aid being used to assist war instead of peace, analyses of the investment in war compared to peace in specific conflicts taking place in the world and evaluating how multilateral organizations pursuing peace like the UN are affected by the underinvestment they are a victim of. These are some issues I hope I can return too in future blog posts. This blog has been an introductory guide to how the world generally, particularly the largest countries have prioritized militarism and wilfully not invested in peace. It will be fascinating to see if this mindset changes at all in the coming years due to the current pandemic.