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Presentation on disarmament and development

The following are the remarks of Ray Acheson, Director of Reaching Critical Will, delivered at the launch of the publication "Applying a Disarmament Lens to Gender, Human Rights, Development, Security, Education and Communication: Six Essays," hosted by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and Global Action to Prevent War. For a summary of the event, please see the UNODA website.

New York, 9 April 2013

unoda-booklaunch-panelistsThank you to UNODA and Global Action to Prevent War for co-organizing this publication and this launch event. I was very happy to be asked to write and speak about the connections between disarmament and development. My organization, WILPF, has been analyzing the intersections between militarism and economic justice since we were founded in 1915.

Things have changed a lot since then, but some things haven’t changed very much at all.

The world is still in crisis and violent conflict. Economies are entwined in these conflicts and in the production of weapons used to perpetuate conflict

Today, the world is in financial crises, at the same time as the world’s common goals for development are being discussed and negotiated for the so-called post-2015 agenda. A more integrated approach is needed to examine the challenges we face and to devise and implement relevant solutions.

As things stand now, projections indicate that by 2015 about one billion people will be living on an income of less than US$1.25 per day, the World Bank’s measure of extreme poverty.[1] 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.[2] Nearly 870 million people suffered from chronic malnutrition in 2010–2012. The vast majority of these—852 million—live in developing countries.[3] The number of people living in slums has increased to an estimated 863 million people.[4]

Meanwhile, global military spending was more than US$1.7 trillion in 2011. This amount is equivalent to over 24 years of the foreign aid required to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. It is also equivalent to 700 years of the United Nation’s regular budget.

There are direct and indirect links between excessive military expenditure and the use and trade in arms, and failure to meet development goals and increase human security.

Weapons are tools of war, conflict, and violence. Conventional weapons, including small arms and light weapons, are used daily around the world to wreak havoc and take lives. Both inside and outside the domain of organized war, excess weapons available throughout the world continue to be instruments that enable the killing or maiming of civilians; the violation of human rights; and the obstruction of economic and social development.

Many emerging weapons technologies, such as drones, autonomous weapons, and space weapons, will further destabilize our planet and undermine human rights. Nuclear weapons are used as political tools to manipulate international relations. The use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic for development, resulting in extreme poverty, hunger, and mortality rates around the world. The effects would be especially severe on poor and vulnerable communities.

While disarmament itself will cost money, it will cost far less than the repercussions of war and armed conflict.

Meanwhile, the reduction of expenditure on military personnel, weapons, and other equipment helps free up resources for development.

Excessive investment in weapons and war drains resources, in particular from the world’s poor. Given the inequalities of economic globalization and some development strategies, many countries continue to struggle to meet their objectives related to poverty, education, health, and more. Yet many developing countries continue spending money on weapons and war, or clean-up from war.

That’s why an integrated approach to security is vital. The links between military expenditure and armed conflict on the one hand and failure to uphold human rights obligations, including socioeconomic rights, need to be fully recognized. These issues cannot be addressed in isolation from one another.

However, governments, UN bodies, and even civil society tend to address issues related to development, economic justice, and human rights separately from militarism and weapons and disarmament.

There is a need to situate military spending and arms production and stockpiling in a wider context of development and human rights, and to establish concrete mechanisms for evaluating and facilitating the implementation of relevant agreements. For example, multilateral disarmament bodies could start interacting and cooperating with the appropriate bodies for human rights law. This could contribute to more effective monitoring of how states are fulfilling their human rights and international humanitarian law obligations in light of their disarmament commitments. In addition, strategies for disarmament and the reduction of military spending should be integrated in the development of a post-2015 development agenda.

There are many ways to develop an integrated approach to the challenges we face and we look forward to hearing the views of others.



[1] The Millennium Development Goals Report 2012, United Nations, 2012, p. 7.

[2] The State of the World’s Children, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 2009.

[3] The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Programme, 2012.

[4] The Millennium Development Goals Report 2012, op. cit., p. 5.