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“Military Expenditure and its Relationship to the Purposes of the United Nations”

14 April 2014
“Military Expenditure and its Relationship to the Purposes of the United Nations”

Remarks by Mr. Michael Møller
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Acting Director-General, United Nations Office at Geneva

Seminar organized by the International Peace Bureau on the occasion of Global Day of Action on Military Spending

“Military Expenditure and its Relationship to the Purposes of the United Nations”
Monday, 14 April 2014 at 4.30 p.m.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the outset, let me thank the International Peace Bureau for organizing the fourth Global Day of Action on Military Spending, and for inviting me to make these opening remarks. As before, this year’s day of action coincides with the release by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute of their annual statistics on global military spending.

The UN Charter recognizes that States have a sovereign right to self-defense. This necessarily includes the right to decide the adequate size of their military and military spending. At the same time, the founders of the United Nations included in the UN Charter – in Article 26 – a provision for “the establishment of international peace and security through the least diversion of the world’s human and economic resources to armaments”.
Almost seventy years after, military spending continues to be at a historical high. A decade ago, global military expenditures reached a trillion dollars. It now amounts to a colossal 1.75 trillion dollars – around 2.5% of world GDP. While Western countries continue to spend a massive majority of the world total, budgets have been shrinking in the developed world while there have been increases in a number of developing countries and regions. This amounts to lost opportunities.

As pointed out by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson just last week, it is shocking that global military spending in just one day is almost double the regular annual budget of the United Nations. At the same time, we face difficulties achieving Millennium Development Goals because of lack of resources. As the Secretary-General has often reminded us, “the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded”. Just seven percent of the amount that the world currently spends on military matters every year would be enough to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, lifting all people out of poverty.

Excessive military spending has vast hidden human costs. It saps away the resources required to better address global challenges such as climate change, food security, and global epidemics. It obstructs resources to flow towards eradicating poverty, providing basic health care, sanitation, education and infrastructure.

Just to give an example, the cost of just one battle tank equals two million mosquito nets. One combat aircraft equals 4,600 classrooms. With the cost of one destroyer ship, one could provide 38,000 safe water points. And to give an example from the non-conventional field, maintaining the world’s nuclear arsenal just for one minute would buy 427 metric tons of food. As Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias Sanchez has said, “nuclear weapons are an affront to our common humanity, and the tens of billions of dollars that are dedicated to their development and maintenance should be used instead to alleviate human need and suffering."

The General Assembly has repeatedly urged the international community to devote resources made available by disarmament and arms limitation to economic and social development. With the deadline for MDGs approaching and the discussions for the post-2015 development agenda gathering pace, the necessity to heed this call is even greater than before.
The presence of arms continues to fuel conflict in several parts of the world. In the case of Africa, research by Oxfam published earlier this month shows that between 1990 and 2007 the cost of armed violence and conflict to Africa was $300 billion – approximately the same as the aid money that flowed into the continent during that time. Oxfam estimated that conflict shrinks the economies of affected African countries by at least 15% a year. Armed violence also erodes the institutions of civil society. Family, community, and inter-community links are severed, and a culture of violence spreads.

It is against this background that the signing of the historic Arms Trade Treaty just over a year ago was so important. It marked a turning point in the international community’s efforts to regulate the global trade in conventional arms and to promote peace and security, and it showed that with persistence and mobilization of political will, success stories in multilateral disarmament and arms control are possible.

For the United Nations, the Arms Trade Treaty holds powerful promises in reducing conflict and armed violence, which impact millions of civilians every year. It can help create a more conducive environment for the UN to carry out its mandates in peacekeeping, peacemaking and post-conflict peacebuilding and in the promotion of the Millennium Development Goals.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The work of the United Nations here in Geneva touches humanity in countless ways, advancing peace, rights and well-being for all. Reduction of military spending would help take forward all three objectives, and help us overcome the obstacles and challenges we currently face for a better a world.

Thank you.