“Even a small share of the military expenditure of the rich would, if appropriately attribute, make a substantial difference to the struggle against poverty …”
This report is the latest in an International Peace Bureau (IPB) series (see their website for information & ordering) that examines specific aspects of the obstacles and strategies on the road to peace making. It expands on the contents of War or Welfare? which IPB produced in 2005. All these publications provide useful information for activists who seek factual information to make our work more effective.Whose Priorities? makes it clear that military spending, the economic metastasis of the cancer of militarism, robs most of our world of a dignified and security life, and steals resources from our finite planet. The subtext is: if you love this earth, work for peace.
The main text is well presented in easy to read articles and graphics that respond to the title question. The cover page features large photo of armed soldiers overwhelming a smaller photo of a woman carrying water: a good image to launch our enquiry.
It is truly mind boggling to try to grasp $USA 1200 billion — the annual world military spending (as the USA $ goes down, the spending continues to increase.) Social spending on human security internationally within a sustainable environment is neglected by most of the rich minority world. The USA spends half the global total of military expenses, followed by UK, France, Japan and China. Efforts have been made by well meaning governments and agencies to increase development aid, but loans tied to neoliberal aims and restrictions on trade diminish the value of aid.
Author Colin Archer, director of the IPB also points out that development aid is not usually (except by peace groups) linked to decreases in military spending; even when military budgets did decrease for a few years in the early 1990s, economic restructuring directed funds to debt relief and other projects, not social spending. Archer recommends an alliance of development groups with social movements including peace and disarmament groups is needed to realize policies. This will be difficult as many development organizations are dependent on government and ´charitable status´ making them vulnerable to criticism and funding cuts if they become political and lobby for change. Environmentalists need to be convinced of the links between resource waste, global warming, wars for resources and the justification for bloated military budgets. Peace, social justice, solidarity and democracy groups are more independent and could take the lead in alliances building.
Archer uses several examples, including perennially poor (but rich in potential) Ethiopia to show the appalling neglect of social priorities while militarism soars. He explains, “From a human security point of view, good basic education and healthcare, as well as adequate food and clean water are the crucial forms of security that a government should provide.” Few governments see those priorities and whose priorities matter are clear in the chart of the 10 leading corporations who benefit from military spending. Halliburton is #6, the company that most profits from the war in Iraq.
The discussion on strategy reflects on the power of institutions, governments and the media to influence citizens to think that war making is their priority as well. We need to think more about our imagery, our strategies and our means of communication in our campaigns for peace if we are to be more successful. Those who do not live in electoral democracies have the added risk of personal danger and even less access to public opinion. At the base of it all lies humanity´s inability to recognize new and creative ways of conflict resolution while developing a decent livelihood for all as we try to overcome powerful forces that profit from war and war preparation. It may well be that the fear of massive resource scarcity and global warming will unite many now separate interest groups.
The main part of this document is devoted to identifying groups worldwide which are active in creative campaigns which can inspire and inform actions by other groups. We need these examples because we rarely reflect on success; the need for coordinated resource sharing, networks like the IPB and better communication will help the cause of peace directed at social security and human dignity. IPB´s publications like this are valuable contributions to strengthening our movements.
While it is both a useful reference and guide for experienced activists and groups; Whose Priorities? could well be used in classrooms, workshops, and seminars. It could also be and to reach new activists and the yet to be active; it presents an attractive format for bookstores and literature tables of groups at meetings and conferences. It could actually be the basis of a workshop or course given in peace campaigns. The very existence of this and other IPB reports is an example of outreach and action in itself.
Women carry the heaviest load of military spending and suffer most from the loss of sustainable development.