My message today is that to advance development and human flourishing, more deliberate and common effort must go to reducing military spending and the militarization of societies. We know that development cannot happen without peace, and that lasting peace today is impossible without development. That means focusing sharply on peace, yes, but also on some deep roots of conflict. The call to arms, including the celebration of war, is one of the deepest roots. This has many practical implications, including obscene levels of spending on military forces and weapons. This comes directly at the cost of the arduous work of development.
Looking to inspiration, I begin with two quotations from two earlier Presidents of the United States who both linked the problem of arms to social justice and prosperity.
First, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, speaking in 1933 on the eve of a gathering about disarmament. He stressed that arming societies increases rather than resolves economic chaos:
“A profound hope of the people of my country impels me, as the head of their Government, to address you and, through you, the people of your Nation. This hope is that peace may be assured through practical measures of disarmament and that all of us may carry to victory our common struggle against economic chaos. ... The happiness, the prosperity, and the very lives of the men, women and children who inhabit the whole world are bound up in the decisions which their Governments will make in the near future. The improvement of social conditions, the preservation of individual human rights, and the furtherance of social justice are dependent upon these decisions.”
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, years later, made a similar, forceful point as he pointed to the direct cost of spending on arms:
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."
The challenges of armed societies and military spending have many dimensions: fueling conflicts, perpetuating cultures of violence, and permeating relations among nations among them. I will focus on four aspects: arms and aspirations for peace, fragile states where control of territory is partial, post conflict transitions, and debates on military expenditures. For each the ethical and practical are tightly intertwined in what often seem vicious circles, where harm breeds harm and suffering and destruction stand in the way of peace and progress. Religious leaders and communities together have the responsibility and the potential to shed light on these links and on paths forward.
Aspirations for peace and arms
A classic lesson from economics is that there is a link and a tradeoff between guns and butter: that is, spending on arms or on peace and development. To put a price tag on one comparator, total world military spending in 2016 was estimated at US$1.69 trillion or 2.3 percent of world GDP. The total estimated annual cost of achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs), the United Nations framework of specific priorities and goals for development, is about US$1.4 trillion. Development is only partially about spending, but while military spending drains resources, energy, and spirits, there is less for the positive visions of lives and above all for moving to achieve them. And we know all too well that it is the poorest among us who are deprived when budgets are cut: education and health is short-changed, investment is stymied, and decent jobs are harder to find. Would that it were so simple as to shift budget lines from military to peace. However, seeing the guns butter tradeoff clearly and daily and questioning, constantly and forcefully state budgets is a place to start.
I would argue that the international community’s central challenge today is to find and apply better policies and programs for the countries we call fragile states. These countries number between 35 and 55 today. Some are obviously and painfully fragile: South Sudan, Burundi, and the Central African Republic. Others are on the boundaries of fragility and conflict. In each the conundrum of the vicious circle is stark. Development projects are severely challenged. What is built is then destroyed and hopeful departures see disappointment. Failures of governance – lousy administration and the cancers of corruption - sap hope and confidence. The temptations of autocratic rule drain the will to pursue the vital but complex path of development. Whole swaths of territory are ungovernable. The evils of weapons and militarization affect all societies, but nowhere is it more urgent to address them than in this group of countries.
In the case of each of the states we call fragile (or sometimes failed or conflict states) violence and arms are part of the problem and addressing the issue must be part of the solution. The power of the military and its interests permeate the state. Internal rebellions are one result of failed development and unequal policies and they in turn justify shifting resources to military spending and influence.
Mustering the will to address the fragile state challenge, one by one and as a collective problem demands sharper attention, a combined sense of urgency and patience, creative ideas. Each situation is distinct but they are linked in important ways. We look to the Community of Sant’Egidio for leadership for this is an area where the Community has extraordinary knowledge and ideas.
Post conflict transition.
A part of the formula after a peace accord is signed is DDR: Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration. Images of piles of guns on fire and images of ex-combattants in school are part of the solution. This is a critical moment of soudure, a moment of urgency and fragility, where reconciliation and restoration of order must come alongside rebuilding and restoration of projects, services, and hope. The example of the immediate link in Mozambique between the celebration of the signing of the peace accords and the launch of the DREAM program to address HIV and AIDS is a classic example. There is far too much bitter experience where disappointed development and a failure to address the governance failures that produced conflict lead to renewed conflict or a prolonged and bitter cycle of poverty and growing inequality. We can and must, as a collective of advocates and professionals concerned for peace and development, do better. This means addressing boldly the real need for security, without militarization and ignoring human rights. It is a priority both as peace discussions and dialogue proceed and in the specific planning of the critical development activities in the fragile period between conflict and renewed development.
The military expenditures debate
Discussions among development partners about military spending and the roles of the military are insidious and rarely productive. Data is poor and contested. Sovereignty is invoked as a reason to skirt and avoid the topic. Military and security mindsets can denigrate and dismiss the advocates of peace. But for decades it has been glaringly obvious that cutting military spending is vital both to shift resources to development and to address the militarization of society. The topic belongs front and center. Among topics that can be addressed are arms races within specific regions, where a collective approach can be helpful, and the patronage demands of politically powerful military establishments, which need to be identified, called by their name, and addressed.
Militarism is probably the world’s highest barrier to ending poverty. This barrier appears in many forms, among them the criminal arms trade, state support for sale and development of military hardware, social attitudes towards weapons as a protection against insecurity, and unresolved tensions in society that spur recourse to arms. Among these issues the very practical and essential links between military spending and development programs has special importance, given the tight links between peace and development. A first step is to define and name the problem more clearly and urgently, at international and country levels. Another is to advocate, including by presenting specific ideas and next steps. This is an area where, in many settings, religious leaders and communities can play special roles. They can appreciate the complexities of the arguments, the link between insecurity and fear, the grinding force of unhealed memories, the unsaid as well as the unsaid. And, allied with other partners, they can make the case again and again that development is peace, peace is development, and that means dealing with the problem of the call to arms.