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EWL Economics – Military Spending

Read Taniel Yusef’s, UK WILPF Executive Committee and WILPF International Board member, blog on military spending. 

The drive towards militarism further entrenches patriarchal structures, binary gendered divisions and violent ideals around masculinity in contrast with a vulnerable and victimised woman.  It is internationally recognised, as coded within UN Security Resolution 1325, that women and girls are both more threatened by armed conflict in its wider impact but also are of fundamental importance to sustainable peace in post conflict situations.  Legal instruments such as the ATT, UNPoA, the TPNW and many provisions within resolution 1325 make direct links between the effects of certain instruments of war and women and girls and the necessity of their genuine inclusion for sustainable and meaningful peace. This is similarly true for the disproportionate effects which conflict or peace time economic exclusion and the crises that it creates can have on women, as this majority of the population are treated as a minority in need of security / protection and yet face all the burdens of austerity crisis measures. Similarly, military spending diverts spending which further effects, harms and burdens women who are expected to adjust or are marginalised.


An excellent recent Green MEP report admirably calls for a “need to reform the current EU structures so that they are able to prioritise gender conflict prevention.”[1] However, in its list calling for female participation in various sectors it does not include economic policy.   We must regard economics the same way we do peace building; a many layered, intersectional, cross-cultural, grass roots level as well as national concern. The economy has regular cycles of crisis (between 4-8[2] years by neo-liberal standard) and therefore it is not uncommon to see states in situations of post crisis recovery in some areas with growth in others simultaneously.  Women and women’s concerns must be both represented and part of policy creation in the same way and with the same consideration as for post conflict peace and stability, as the economy is inherently key to it. However, over half the population is currently largely excluded, (a poor business model) while funding is prioritised under the guise of “security” to the very sector (military) which is proven to cause them disproportionate harm. We must redress these priorities and recognise that security begins with domestic socio-stability, (the Green’s report calls this“sustainable livelihoods” [p.17]) equitable representation and genuine, good-faith diplomacy. Being part of economic policy is a part of global stability, security and sustainable peace. The call for an EU Special Representative on Women, Peace and Security must include economic audit, not mere token addition of women in high positions or replications of current systems by inserting women into military industries which further facilitate fundamental harm and socio-economic vulnerabilities.


We must also recall the increase in domestic violence that accompanies the arms trade as well as conflict (in addition to well documented sexual and gender based violence), post conflict and returning combatants situations.  The funding and trading of arms and escalated military spending contributes to women’s harm and diverts funds from women’s social progress and stability doubly damaging their ability to live freely and safely or participate equally in society, which must be fundament to true democratic function.  The UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 saw the adoption of The Beijing Platform for Action.  It’s section on women in armed conflict looked to seek out new funding streams, both public and private, for an “appropriate reduction of excessive military expenditures, including global military expenditures, trade in arms and investment for arms production and acquisition” so as “to permit the possible allocation of additional funds for social and economic development, in particular for the advancement of women.”[3] We must reaffirm commitment to this as a minimum.  Further direct spending is anathema to these goals.


Finance and Security; Financial Action Task Force (FATF)

The Duke Law study assessed this US-led, Post Sept ’11 force to be one under the guise of security / anti “terror” but actually as a way of using domestic financial institutions “in many ways deputized to police these new standards”[4] and reorganise national financial infrastructures. These standards were found to be pervasive and particularly harmful to women’s groups having no effect on terrorism.  Women’s groups have been hit particularly hard, many losing funding all together (often in at risk areas, the most vulnerable organisations or actually countering terror group activity themselves), since the formation of the FATF.    Funding and the independence of women’s groups is vital as they are often under the radar, politically marginal (or targeted) and financially precarious.   Many were cut-off, experienced harassment and ceased to apply for newly centralised funding.  The programs made peace work worse not better in many instances.  Preventing such violating ventures (and sovereign economic intrusion) must be a part of security measures and an antidote to military excess.



Global Spending

In 2018, worldwide defence spending will reach an estimated $1.67 trillion, slightly above its previous post–Cold War high of $1.63 trillion in 2010.[5] After 5 years of growth, this will see a 3.3% increase over 2017 levels, the highest year-on-year growth in over a decade.  Percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) spending had dropped over the last 10 years but is set to increase due to current political rhetoric and budget plans.  Military spending in 2017 represented 2.2% of global GDP ($230 per person).  The global GDP expenditure has ranged from 3.3% (1992 and a post cold-war peak) to a 2014 low of 2.1 percent.[6]


European Spending Trends

Europe was the fastest growing defence budget in 2017, but this was not equal across the major powers (in terms of military size) among member states.  20% of global military expenditure in 2017 was European at a cost of $342 billion.  This was  2.2% lower than in 2016 while only marginally higher (at 1.4%) than 2008.  Central European spending increased between 2016 and 2017 by 12% to $24.1 billion.  It also rose in Western Europe by 1.7% to $245 billion, while it fell significantly by 18 % in Eastern Europe, to $72.9 billion. Over the period 2008–17 military spending increased in Central Europe (by 20%) and Eastern Europe by 33 %, but it fell in Western Europe by 5.7%.   It is significant to note that four of the 15 largest military spenders in the world are in Western Europe: France, the UK, Germany and Italy  (ranked 6th, 7th, 9th and 12th respectively) . Together, they made up 10% of global military expenditure in 2017 (down slightly from 2008).  Central European spending rose by 12% in 2017 driven by a perceived Russian threat felt by many countries in the region. Military expenditure has now risen consecutively (2014–17) following six annual decreases from 2008 -2013.  Conversely, the drop in Eastern European military spending in 2017 was the first decrease since 2008. This was mostly due to the decline in Russian military expenditure, which in 2017 accounted for 91% of the subregional total.[7]


EU Plans

As of Dec 2017, 25 Member states agreed “to ambitious and binding common commitments” and 17 initial PESCO defence projects.[8] (Permanent Structure Cooperation Europarl).  The EU has decided to develop its own drone by 2020, with no legal framework or ethical debate supporting this. The Uk has provided Armstrong drones used in Gaza, Syria (2015), Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan with hardly any discussion regarding the legal, humanitarian, moral consequences, or economic justifications. EU member states have not had in depth discussion about the moral or political implications going forward as funding is approved while eroding other, previously immune development budgets, for Fully Automatic Weapons / killer robots research, development and production.  Juncker has proposed pooling resources and combining funds in an attempt to be more efficient.  We must also keenly observe the likely and controversial procurement of F-35 fighter planes with caution. It is the most expensive proposal to date, most costly to run and of questionable technological viability while putting women pilots at higher risk of death(23-80% dependent on variables) or serious neck injury (100% on ejection) in part due to their generally lighter weight.[9]

Expenditure Concerns

The civilian Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP runs the risk of merging military and civilian planning structures into one organisational body. Meanwhile, transparency, accountability and democratic control over military, municipal and intelligence agencies remains a concern of the EU’s Security Sector Reform.  Similarly, the pooling of resources has thus far been ad hoc and inefficient and often short term or only on paper.  80% of military research and development is funded by Member States on an individual basis rather than pooled as states jealously guard their military advancements.  Often similar projects run in parallel across most of the states. The defence market is excessively oversized and yet consistently pandered to at the cost of other far more immediate and vulnerable domestic needs. Money is mismanaged and projects are duplicated due to lack of coordination or the guarding of individual patents etc.  Meanwhile export to undemocratic regimes belies a moral contradiction. These can all be dramatically reduced to a fundamental minimum with more appropriate training for current global trends, and economic and knowledge pooling with democratic debate controlling policy on future weapon development especially in the field of killer robots, cyber security and the unnecessariness of nuclear arms.


There is a global trend for excessive military contracts and spending well beyond budget projection, even more than the military both requests and requires.  Government attempts to reduce military spending over the last century and in the League of Nations have not been successful as indicated by the UN Standardized Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures which was established to create transparency — recently renamed United Nations Report on Military Expenditures — an annual reporting tool on national military spending.[10]  It is utterly unsustainable and incompatible with espoused  existing and emergent economic, environmental and political sustainability goals. The Millennium Development goals, for example, are undermined by the 2006 military spending which was recorded to have amounting to $1,204 billion, while Official Development Assistance amounted to less than $80 billion.  Several billions of this went to reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.


There is also a known issue with efficiency in military spending and funding appropriation.  Even in this era of consolidated resources it is an acute problem; MEPs reminded, in a Dec 2017 Resolution that “compared to the US, the EU-28 spend 40% on defence but only manage to generate 15% of the capabilities that the US gets out of the process, which points to a very serious efficiency problems.” One has to be vigilant however, in the US too, there is excessive an unnecessary spending foisted on a military wary of extra facilities or instruments which more facilitate the industry of military contracts than security, for they take regular issue with unwanted and costly procurement.[11]  It seems that inefficiency may be a requisite of neo-liberal expenditure.


Nuclear Weapons

Even though the UK looks to leave the EU it is worth noting that the Ministry of Defence has sought to shift the cost of Trident, its ageing Nuclear program to the Treasury.  Aside form arguments as to its technological relevance, proficiency, etc. the spending went over-budget last year to the extent that it ate into other daily military resources spending including mobile phone provision. In the UK alone not renewing Trident (£205 billion) could allow the improvement of the NHS by building 120 brand new hospitals, employing 150,000 new nurses, paying 8 million students’ tuition fees, installing solar panels in every UK home or providing three million new affordable homes.[12] It also requires excessive contingency funds.  With the TPNW ratifications coming faster than any other arms treaty in history, it seems inevitable that it will come into force. Even before this time, the largest Sovereign Pension Fund (Norwegian) at $1trillion, more recently, Deutsch Bank, and increasingly others, are divesting from nuclear materials on their portfolios. This has direct economic and investment consequences on a practical and logistical level for the countries of the EU; for banks, funds and business.  Eventually it may be illegal for signatories to invest in related enterprises. Post ratification states may divest and cease to aid transfer and transport through air, sea and land. Nuclear disarmament is a direct moral, life and environmental threat plus a huge waste of financial resources for a WMD which is coming to extinction. Women and girls are more likely to contract cancer from exposure to Ionizing Radiation than men.[13] The available funds which could be freed have better uses. However, France for example recently announced upgrades, increasing spending up to 30 billion Euros by 2025, moving funds in entirely the wrong and most short sighted direction into a cul de sac of investment. Consider; global stockpiles may have decreased but today’s small bombs are Hiroshima and Nagasaki sized. What are we hoping to achieve?


Looking Ahead

Junker’s tone regarding the long-term budget proposed for the period 2021-2027 showed a marked tonal difference from -The 2007-2013 long-term budget which had given priority to sustainable growth and competitiveness, in order to create more jobs.  The 2014-2020 long-term budget aimed at getting people into work and the economy growing, tied in with the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.  The most recent had more of an emphasis on military cooperation and coordination;  “common military assets…. The business case is clear. The lack of cooperation in defence matters costs Europe between €25 billion and €100 billion per year, depending on the areas concerned. We could use that money for so much more.”  Yet the possibility of increasing the budget or diverting funds from other spending initiatives previously out of military bounds contradicts this; and the statement; “Being European also means being open and trading with our neighbours, instead of going to war with them.”   We must always remember that the Union was created as a source of strategic, economic, trading, social and political stability.  Increased military spending contradicts this.  In the context of increased nuclear and political tension it also sends a hostile message.


We must continue to stress the magnitude that could be provided by alternative spending strategies and realigning of priorities with genuine gender considerations and women’s involvement in assessment and policy creation.   Stop Wapenhandel calculates possible job creation with a $1billon investment alone; 8,555 in the military, 10,779 in personal consumption, 12,804 in construction, infrastructure, 12,883 in health care, 17,687 in education, 19,795 in public transportation.[14]  Global Priorities Campaign states that “one half percent of the world’s military spending would save 6 million children from death each year”.[15] Finally, the World Game assesses that one third of the global military spending would satisfy budgetary needs for addressing all manner of global problems, from clean water to illiteracy, deforestation to HIV & AIDS.[16]  Knowing that such outcomes as education and basic health affect women and girls disproportionately, this directly affects them on a global scale without taking into account more specific concerns.  Women’s involvement in the effects, viability and necessity of any and all military expenditure can reduce damage, root out pernicious side-effects on women and women’s aid groups at risk and keep a level of transparency and efficiency currently lacking under the preponderance for industrial spending without reflection or review in earnest.  Women are an essential part of economic strategy and appraisal in all areas, for efficient management and sustainability for all.

[1]EU Contribution to Peace and Security; Greens /EFA Recommendations on the EU’s Global Strategy p.16

[2]This is dependent on definition of decline / triggers, parameters, regions etc. EG. The US is regarded as 4-6 years, global trend varies around 7-8.6 years)


[4]Tightening the Purse Strings  Duke Law International Human Rights Clinic  March 2017


[6] p.1

[7]  p.6


[9]F-35 Useless, Costly and Sexist Too.




[13]Gendered Impacts




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