Move the money: The Global Campaign on Military Spending

By Colin Archer

The idea that the world spends too much on war and militarism is widely shared among peace activists. And when they care to think about it, millions of ordinary people around the world share this opinion. But it has yet to become a major political debating point. We aim to change all that!

The issue is especially crucial in a period in which tensions between major states (Japan v. China…) and between governments and violent fundamentalists (US v ISIS…), are becoming increasingly militarised. Pressure to spend more taxpayers’ money on warfare is growing. The current situation is also the result of decades of past investments in the military, and the insatiable appetites of war profiteers.

A new global campaign

In December 2014,the International Peace Bureau (IPB) announced the launch of a permanent, global, year-round campaign to tackle the worldwide issue of excessive military spending. In 2013 the world’s governments spent over USD 1700 billion on the military sector. This is money that could instead be spent on creating jobs for young people, feeding the hungry, protecting us all from the effects of climate change, tackling ebola...and much more. IPB has for several years called for annual reallocations of (minimum) 10% from the military budgets of all states; and for a process to be started to reduce arms production as well as the international weapons trade.

The campaign builds on over a decade of work done by IPB and others on the theme of ‘Disarmament for Sustainable Development’. It incorporates the Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS – now in its 5th year), whose goals it shares and which is also coordinated by the IPB.

What are our goals?

The overall goal is to achieve major re-allocations of military expenditures (especially in high-spending countries). But how should that money be spent, if it can be ‘liberated’? To keep things relatively simple, we propose a reallocation to 4 broad alternative areas:

  1. Peace: disarmament, conflict prevention and resolution, human security;
  2. Sustainable development and anti-poverty programmes;
  3. Climate change and biodiversity loss – for mitigation and adaptation;
  4. Social justice/welfare: public services, human rights, gender equality, green job-creation.

We view the above shifts as part of a wider global transformation towards a culture of peace.

In 2015 we intendto have an influence on key international debates in two of these areas:

  • Development: to ensure the inclusion of language relating to military spending and disarmament in the UN’s Post 2015 Development Agenda; to be adopted at the UNGA in the autumn.

  • Climate: to ensure that the target of $100 bn in annual governmental contributions to the Green Climate Fund is met by the date of the COP 21 climate conferencein December. These contributions should come from reductions in military budgets.

 

At the New York conference just before the People’s Climate March in September 2014, IPB presented a major new report on the links between military spending and climate change. This was accompanied by a workshop, networking, and email/social media distribution.

 

Given that the political situation varies from country to country, and that we lack any convention or treaty to limit military spending, we encourage work at the national level in particular, since that is where the primary political decisions are taken. Each campaigning centre should define its own targets and approach. IPB’s role is to provide a framework and give assistance.

 

How will change come about?

Critics could argue that the project is over-ambitious. But that doesn’t usually put off activists with a radical vision! IPB’s intention is to foster synergies both within each country and internationally so as to gradually strengthen the global movement challenging militarism. This can be done in many ways and each activist or group may have a different focus. The GCOMS campaign aims to help its participants move step by step, each time into a higher gear.

Example: What may start out as a small scale street action could lead to a series of well-attended public seminars or pieces of published research. This in turn could develop into a national coalition, once sufficient outreach is done to draw in different civil society sectors. This coalition could begin a programme of national media activity, combined with lobby work at the parliament which results, initially in a controversy or major policy debate, and ultimately in a switch of government priorities.

 How can we lift the issue up?

Right now the issue is not prominent in national discourses – it rises to the top of the media agenda only occasionally: for instance when a war is announced, a budget decision reaches a crunch, or geo-political tensions rise. Our aim is to make it a controversial debate in which every citizen’s voice can count. Over the coming years we will give the issue more visibility, through ongoing campaigning; ever-larger GDAMS actions; and a major conference-process (including preparatory workshops) in late September 2016 in Berlin. Ideas for this event are already being developed.Locations, timing, partners, media engagement and funding are all under consideration.

Who are the partners?

Such an ambitious shift in priorities will require help from many areas of society. Right now, IPB has 300 member organisations, and there are also around 100 other groups involved in putting on GDAMS events. In addition we aim to widen our base and engage with significant players in many civil society sectors. At the more official level, we are already engaging in dialogue with Parliamentarians, Governments/diplomats, International/UN agencies, and (ex-)Military.

 

 

 

What do partners gain from being part of the global campaign?

Military spending is a worldwide problem and cannot be tackled only at home – even if the main decisions are made in capitals. Security is a shared issue and campaigners are often inspired by actions and creative ideas from elsewhere. An ongoing, coordinated global effort can help shine a spotlight on what each group is doing and create a greater sense of momentum.

How is it organised?

The GCOMS is run by a steering group of activists from all over world, and is coordinated by the staff at the IPB Secretariat in Geneva. Funding support has been received over the past couple of years from foundations and bequests. Further contributions from individuals, organisations and foundations are urgently sought.

 

All are welcome to join! Just drop us a line at: mailbox@ipb.org.

Colin Archer is the Secretary-General of the International Peace Bureau.