Tackling the big beast

Global Day of Action on Military Spending: an overview

By Colin Archer

The big monster of militarism can be challenged in many different ways. Substantial campaigning communities have grown up over the years around specific weapons systems: for example, nuclear, landmines/clusters, small arms, and more recently drones. Others are working on issues like conscription, military bases, war taxes or the arms trade. The Global Day of Action on Military Spending, GDAMS, was brought into being to focus attention on the economic aspects of the problem, notably public spending. For the International Peace Bureau (coordinating organisation) it is a part of our wider programme on Disarmament for Sustainable Development.

How much are we spending? (from www.sipri.org)

Or rather, how much are governments spending in our name and with our taxes? Military spending was already beginning to rise again (after the post-Cold War dip) when 9-11 offered the Pentagon a new enemy. Another Long War was launched, and the public purse was once again opened wide to pay for it. We are now spending more globally than even at the height of the Cold War. Thus, while the work on weapons and related themes needs to be strengthened, military spending (and the consequent lack of spending on development, social justice and peacemaking) is too important to be left to the politicians. The GDAMS project is an attempt to bring these issues before the public and to insert a peace-and–development perspective into national budget debates.

In 2011 world military spending reached an all-time record of $1,738 billion. The US still leads the list of top spenders with $711 billion. It is followed by China ($143bn), Russia ($71.9bn), the UK ($62.7bn), France ($62.5bn), Japan ($59.3bn), India ($48.9bn), Saudi Arabia ($48.5bn), Germany ($46.7bn) and Brazil ($35.4bn). The ten big spenders are responsible for 74.3% of global military spending, with the US alone accounting for 41%. In contrast, the total overseas aid of the rich countries comes to just $130bn.

Global military expenditure increased every year from 1998-2011, and between 2001 and 2009 by about 5% per annum. 2011 is the first year without any significant increase, many countries having reduced their military budgets because of budgetary crises. However, it is too early to say if this trend will be maintained.

Between 2002 and 2010, the arms sales of the top 100 companies increased by 60%, reaching around $411.1 billion in 2011 Bear in mind that these arms sales are mostly paid for from the budgets cited above, though arms dealers tend to sell both to their own governments and to those of other countries, not to mention private actors of all types -- often in unstable or conflict-ridden regions.

2011

The first-ever GDAMS was held on April 12, 2011, as a result of a collaboration between IPB and the Institute for Policy Studies, USA. GDAMS events generated considerable media coverage, and we achieved our goal of creating a global network. We also forged an important partnership with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute that has continued ever since. Activists produced videos, constructed powerful public displays and performances, held press conferences and seminars, and mobilized public opinion in favour of reducing military spending.

At the international level, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs issued a supporting statement that concluded that GDAMS “should serve as a catalyst for shifting global and national priorities from massive military spending to creating human security and safety for all.” At the national level, in South Korea Australia, UK, Greece, India, Uganda, Thailand, Malaysia and several other countries activists targeted their governments and the media to influence the debate. At the local level, activists highlighted the impact of misplaced budget priorities with rallies, peace walks, petitions, and street events. In all, around 100 events took place in 35 countries.

2012

The second annual GDAMS took place on April 17, 2012 with around 140 events in more than 40 countries. Once again the day was endorsed by the UN. Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias issued a special video message to encourage participation. Two key themes were (1) the Rio + 20 UN conference on sustainable development, due to take place just a few weeks later; and at which IPB and others organised a ‘bread tank’ to illustrate the importance of reallocating military budgets for human need; and (2) the Occupy movement which had recently raised many similar issues regarding poverty and the misuse of public money.

GDAMS 2.0 coincided once again with the release of global military expenditure data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It also took place on Tax Day in the USA where dozens of actions brought together peace and economic justice activists around a common message: cut the military budget and tackle human needs.

The preparatory work included convening an International Steering Committee; distributing background materials and facilitating access to SIPRI’s advance documentation; maintaining the website; compiling a special video and a set of posters for campaigners to use in their localities; distributing newsletters; and an keeping contact with new and previous partners in all continents.

2013

The GDAMS committee is now making plans for the 2013 edition. Discussion is also under way on how to ensure that the GDAMS campaign becomes an all-year affair. The economic crisis is forcing greater scrutiny of public spending; some military reductions are already visible; and there is scope to draw in other civil society sectors who would benefit from different budget priorities.

One special focus this year is the attempt to get military spending included in the UN’s Post 2015 Development Agenda. IPB has published a 50pp paper which explores this issue. Write to us if you wish to receive copies. We have also just launched a new GDAMS video that is available on the IPB and GDAMS websites.

What impact have we had?

Hard to answer! While military spending is dropping in a number of countries, we could not claim this is due to our own actions. In IPB’s view this is long-term work, just like ridding the world of nuclear weapons. But organising events in the framework of GDAMS helps to build a global community and gives extra media visibility. Moreover, the GDAMS framework allows each group to link the spending question to related topics, such as arms deals, war on Terror, development debates, nuclear disarmament, space weapons, corruption etc. In this way we are able to work on one piece of a bigger whole, linked together by the economic thread.

Ways forward

Open any serious newspaper these days and you will read alarming calls for action on climate, biodiversity and habitat loss, global pandemics, mass poverty. Our beautiful blue planet is seriously ill, and there is no time to lose. Taking action through GDAMS – to get the message to politicians that they need to rethink their priorities – is one way to get a handle on this complex challenge. So let’s reach out, draw in new allies, and develop some really creative political projects.

For more information: http://demilitarize.org/