Sustainable development: disarmament must be priority number one on the world’s agenda

21.09.2015 - Cordoba, Argentina - Javier Tolcachier

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Sustainable development: disarmament must be priority number one on the world’s agenda

From the 25th to the 27th of September this year the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 will take place in New York. The event will cover the new agenda to replace the 8 Millennium Development Goals designed to be reached by 2015. The working document carries the title “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and consists of 17 Sustainable Development Goals with 169 targets.

The image of the future to look forward to in the preamble gives rise to hope: “We envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all life can thrive. We envisage a world free of fear and violence. A world with universal literacy. A world with equitable and universal access to quality education at all levels, to health care and social protection, where physical, mental and social well-being are assured.”

And the presentation of the goals certainly contains proposals that could be read as a revolutionary programme on a planetary level and human scale such as; To end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all; Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Our enthusiasm expands further on continued study of the projected direction: Reduce inequality within and among countries, Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, giving rise to sustainable ways of consumption and production; Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

As a corollary of these encouraging principles, the need to generate peaceful, inclusive societies, with efficient institutions and the possibility of justice for all is mentioned.

Nevertheless, on flicking through the more than forty pages of the document[1], and despite the fact that peace is indicated as the condition for development, one cannot but be astounded on realising that there is no specific mention of the need for immediate and decisive disarmament.

In none of the one hundred and sixty-nine targets is the imperious and essential meaning of achieving the prohibition of nuclear weapons enunciated. Neither is any statement to advance firmly in the direction of conventional disarmament and the progressive elimination of weapons spending – still stable in excessive and hefty figures – alluded to.

Even when it is generally indicated in the document that “spiralling conflict, violent extremism, terrorism and related humanitarian crises and forced displacement of people threaten to reverse much of the development progress made in recent decades” the unavoidable conclusion that there is an obligation to reduce or even eliminate all weapons around the world is not reached.

Almost imperceptibly, section 16.4 on page 26 barely postulates that, “by 2030, [the target is to] significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows.” In such a way that the “licit” trade of weapons, the gigantic and lethal weapons trade through legal channels is sidestepped and even justified.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration then to foresee the partial failure of this plan that is now being announced. Just as surely, and connected to this grotesque omission, an identical explanation for the partial non-fulfilment of the goals outlined in the project of fifteen years ago that are now being evaluated can also be found.

How is it possible that something so elementally opposed to human and social development such as the increase and proliferation of weapons doesn’t figure as public enemy number one in the attainment of the elevated goals of a multilateral agenda with these characteristics? Short-sightedness, blindness, false assumptions? Or simply censorship or self-censorship? Or all of the above?

He who sows weapons reaps death, destruction, refugees… and debt.

In the passing of the fifteen years in which the United Nations sustained and drove forward an agenda based on the Millennium Development Goals, on the planet US$ 28,559,702,000,000 (28.6 trillion) was squandered on military spending.[2]

The absurdity of such a statistic in relation to the efforts undertaken in the same fifteen years to improve the quality of life for the population is evident if we consider the total flow destined to overseas development aid between 2001 and 2013[3] : just US$1,402,369,000,000 (1.4 trillion), which represents barely 5% of the military budget.

It is naïve and even impudent to proclaim development targets without dealing with reductions in the arms trade. With the military spending for 2014 alone, calculated by SIPRI to be US$1,746,522,000,000, we can get an idea of the disproportion when we relate this data to a few annual public budgets of countries that have been left behind in the attainment of the previously mentioned development goals.

The amount spent on weapons in the world represents, for example, 296 times the annual budget of the Democratic Republic of Congo, 101 times that of Bangladesh, 181 times that of Jordan, 671 times that of Armenia and 1810 times that of Haiti.

These are just a few examples of places in which to speak of equity in the possibilities for human development is to mention a lacerating current reality or at best a meaningful future aspiration.

But the drama is even greater when we realise that an important part of the public budget in every country with big needs in the fields of food, infrastructure, healthcare and education, is dedicated to the payment of foreign debt contracted with multilateral or private financial institutions.

Moreover, it must be recorded that we are not talking here about the purchase of just any material. Weapons kill and have destruction as their final aim (and not a declared protection of assets), something which destroys families, displaces settlements, and eliminates all advances in infrastructure that a development effort could signify.

The vicious circle is closed by evaluating the proportion of military spending in the budgets of some countries euphemistically called “developing”, expenditure that usually inflates the fiscal deficit, which in turn will be covered in great measure with new debt.

Angola, for example, a country where there are still 167.4 children per thousand who die every year before reaching the age of 5[4], appears towards the top in weapons spending in Africa, investing no less than 12.5% of its national budget.

The aforementioned RD Congo, whipped by bloody power wars, not to be outdone, reached a spending level of 12.3% of public funds and 5.6% of its GDP. In the latter 33% of the population lives on less than 1.25 dollars a day.

And so on, we could point out other relationships between the (non-) fulfilment of development goals, public spending, military spending and external debt, which clearly puts into question every declaration of goodwill that doesn’t put a need for disarmament as global priority number one.

Nevertheless, until now we have spoken about secondary matters, the amounts, the statistics, for which we have to go back and restart by showing the human misfortune represented by the insanity of a global power that shows no desire to step back from its destructive aims.

In 2013, one hundred and eighty thousand people perished as a result of the more than forty armed conflicts in progress[5], 53,000 more than the year before. This cold statistic doesn’t show the faces and the misfortune that armed violence brings with it. However, the figures are necessary for an analysis of the situation and show that this number is three times greater (56,000 deaths) and a bigger number of conflicts (63) than in 2008. It seems that the lethalness of conflicts has increased, and far from having built peace on the basis of the MDGs, what has increased is tragedy.

Simultaneously – according to the statistics from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – around 60 million people have been displaced from their homes by war (8.3 million people more than the previous year). “During 2014, conflict and persecution forced an average of 42,500 individuals per day to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere, either within the borders of their own country or in other countries,” the report continues.

Where do we look for the explanation for such global setbacks? There is no doubt that we will need to describe in detail the map of the arms trade of the new world dis-order and the interests that depend on it, a subject that I will deal with in another article. Doubtless here we will also find the reasons for silence regarding wars and their direct relationship with the arms trade in the United Nations document that pretends to promote development objectives over the next fifteen years.

Nevertheless, I can’t finish this one without reaffirming what I wrote at the beginning: as long as we don’t consider nuclear and conventional disarmament as an essential world priority, there will be no possible advances or development, there will be no minimum level of wellbeing on which to base the possibility of a qualitative leap in the potential represented by human life. If governments or those in public office refuse to see it, then let the people take on this elementary decision.

[1] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld

[2] Table of military spending by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), from September 2015, http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex/milex_database

[3] Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development http://stats.oecd.org/

[4] Official page of the UN Millennium Development Goals, http://mdgs.un.org/unsd/mdg/Data.aspx

[5] Data from the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) http://acd.iiss.org/

Categories: International, International issues, Opinions, Peace and Disarmament
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