17 April 2012
"The Human Cost of Military Spending"
Remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
Global Day of Action on Military Spending
“The Human Cost of Military Spending”
Council Chamber, Palais des Nations
Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 13:15
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Allow me, first of all, to express my appreciation to our co-organizers – UNIDIR, the Geneva Branch of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and the International Peace Bureau for the good collaboration in organizing today’s exchange. I would also like to thank the Permanent Mission of Finland for their indispensable support.
Today’s event represents an important opportunity to reflect on where we are in terms of how we use our financial resources, and where we are going. Unfortunately, I believe most of us would conclude that we are not where we want to be, nor are we going in the right direction.
For the last decade, the world has been witnessing a consistent growth of military expenditure. Analysis of data from national reports to the United Nations Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures for the past seven years shows that total military expenditures continue to grow. In the last reported fiscal year of 2010, spending totalled 1.22 trillion US dollars, almost three times the spending reported just six years earlier. This figure is based on 66 reports submitted by Member States to the United Nations.
These numbers are truly remarkable, particularly when contrasted with the fact that Official Development Assistance in the same period increased by only 30 percent. This 30 percent has had an important impact across the world, but it pales in comparison to the roughly 300 percent increase in military spending. The work of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the advocacy of committed civil society partners such as the International Peace Bureau have been instrumental in drawing attention to these trends and their impact on human security.
Discussing the Millennium Development Goals last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported that preliminary estimates indicate that the global target of cutting by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty was achieved in 2010. In addition, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined in all regions of the world. Today, nearly 12,000 fewer children are dying each day than in 1990 because of targeted interventions. The world has also met the MDG target of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water. Real progress that affects real people is being made.
Nonetheless, approximately 1.5 billion people still have no access to energy, and 2.5 billion people lack improved sanitation. Hundreds of millions of children are undernourished. The question therefore remains of how to expand the previously noted progress to also help these people. Are we making the right choices with our existing resources?
Discussion of a nexus between disarmament and development is not new. It is embodied in Article 26 of the Charter, which refers to the maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources. Security remains paramount for all of our concerns, and the increase in spending is partly explained by the perceived need to respond to emerging security risks. These threats should not be forgotten in the discussion. Terrorism has struck many of our countries. In the United Nations we feel this close at heart, having suffered many losses to terrorist attacks in the past decade, including the most recent tragedy in Abuja just last August.
At the same time, the growth in States’ military expenditures is a cause for well-grounded concern and requires debate and oversight.
Development challenges require innovative and dedicated work. The MDGs have clearly demonstrated that accurate information, good governance, and broad partnerships are critical to progress. Spending alone does not necessarily ensure success, but there can be no doubt that increased, targeted financing is an enabler of development. And so particularly in this age of austerity, we must think critically about how best to make use of our resources.
But more than this, we must be realistic. And we need to be careful not to draw simplistic conclusions that disarmament will inevitably lead to development. Disarmament should be properly placed in the context of broader efforts aimed at creating conditions conducive to conflict prevention and to long-term development. Humankind is increasingly faced with non-military threats which have far-reaching consequences. These threats include natural disasters, economic and financial crises, illicit trafficking of arms and drugs, persistent poverty, malnutrition and disease.
We cannot wait for disarmament to free up resources, just as a lack of disarmament cannot become an excuse for not accelerating development. Development can help to establish a foundation of mutual trust and stability that can serve to advance disarmament. We have to work on the two areas in a comprehensive manner.
Disarmament, particularly when we consider the opportunity cost of military expenditure, is central to much of the United Nations’ core work. Disarmament is critical to conflict prevention and building a safer and more secure world. And it is critical to helping countries in transition to stabilize their hard-earned gains. These three areas are all pillars of the Secretary-General’s Action Agenda.
We therefore need to redouble our efforts to move ahead in multilateral disarmament generally. As Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and the Personal Representative of the United Nations to the Conference, I am deeply concerned about the stalemate in the CD.
The Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, has stressed that this year, the Conference will be under the spotlight as never before. He has expressed serious concern about the deadlock in the Conference, which may lead to other options of resolving the stalemate. Our topic today, the human cost of military spending, is a reminder of the need for genuine progress. I hope that today’s discussions can also serve as another reminder of the urgent need to overcome the current impasse.
In 2008, the Security Council observed “that the regulation and reduction of armaments and armed forces … constitutes one of the most important measures to promote international peace and security with the least diversion of the world’s human and economic resources”. Unfortunately, the continued increase in military spending indicates that this potential goes unused. Article 26 of the Charter might therefore be considered largely an unfulfilled promise.
I believe that the desired direction is clear: a broad perspective on security, and cooperative approaches in addressing risks to security as the only way towards peaceful co-existence and sustainable development. If we are not addressing development challenges, I believe that we are not addressing many of our underlying security challenges.