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Military Spending: How Much Do We Know?

May 7, 2014

WILPF recently submitted a completed questionnaire to the Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order about military expenditures. The Independent Expert will present the findings from NGOs at the 27th Session of the Human Rights Council in September.

The completed questionnaire is the product of the joint effort of WILPF sections, mainly Australia, Finland, France, Italy, Lebanon, Nepal, Norway, Spain and the UK. In the replies we can see how military expenditure negatively affects the democratic order and increases inequalities. Thanks to the input of our sections we can now draw out some main features.

Lack of information known to the public
Cover page of WILPF's Questionnaire on Military Expenditures showing title and a picture of a hand holding used bullets.

WILPF’s Questionnaire on Military Expenditures

The level of information on military spending varies from country to country, but according to most of our sections it is quite low due to various issues.

First, although the budget is generally available on Ministry of Defence websites, it is usually not detailed as to where exactly the money is destined.

Second, government webpages are notoriously, and presumably intentionally, not reader-friendly and difficult to navigate. This does not necessarily mean that the lack of information is due to classified files and data; rather, even unrestricted information is often difficult to find or not available online. If information on budget is dependent on these websites and the government does not proactively seek to inform the public, then the degree of knowledge is consequently low.

Third, as highlighted by WILPF sections in France, Italy and Spain, these budgets are not complete and military expenditures are scattered in different ministry budgets, which is misleading for citizens and experts trying to learn about how funds are spent.

Where information provided by government is quite detailed (Australia, Finland and to a lesser degree UK), it was thanks to dedicated government bodies in charge of informing the public on state spending.

Countries are still rearming themselves

For the second year running, global military spending in 2013 (roughly estimated in $1.75 trillion) shows a decrease in real terms. This trend is driven by the enormous cuts in the US defence budget and in a smaller measure in some European countries. As exemplified by Spain and Italy, this decreased investment in military does not come from policy decisions, but it is rather a result of the austerity measures adopted by states to cope with the economic crisis. In fact, in these countries, cuts in social security programmes have been disproportionately higher compared to cuts in military spending.

In all the other regions of the world, 2013 confirmed the trend from previous years: states are continuing to re-arm themselves. The biggest budget increases have been recorded in Asia/Oceania and Middle East, and unsurprisingly the top spenders in each region are countries involved either in regional disputes or struggling with internal tensions or conflicts.

Participation of civil society and citizens is not facilitated

There is a lack of communication channels between the government and civil society, meaning that the latter is poorly involved in the definition of the public budget.

Media and public attention is usually stronger in states undergoing a financial recession, notably around the acquisition of new military equipment. Public opinion polls have also proven to be useful in cases such as the UK, when the public was essential in the decision to not participate in the Syrian conflict.

We need a shift from the traditional paradigm on Security

As highlighted by WILPF national Sections, investment in military capabilities often comes at the expense of investments in human needs, especially gender equality.

Given the context of human insecurity generated by weapons, the lack of transparency surrounding the international arms trade at the base of most countries’ military spending, WILPF urges states to stop investing in weapons and start to invest in people’s real needs, such as health care, social welfare, education and gender equality programmes. It is imperative to move the money from the military sector in order to invest in human development.

Investment in the military sector is also a reflection of patriarchal budgeting, for it represents the allocation of funds to an extremely masculine and indeed masculinised sector.

We will definitely raise these issues at the HRC session in September, so sign up to our newsletter to be in the loop!

Have a look at the completed questionnaire.

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