13 October 2008 - First Edition

Editorial: Bread not bombs—de-weaponising security
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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First Committee’s opening week of general debate largely echoed the sentiments expressed by high-level officials during the general debate of the General Assembly in September. Concerned with the status quo, the overwhelming majority of delegates called for change—in attitude, posturing, political will, and, more than usual, in spending. Alarmed, perhaps, at the financial crisis ricocheting around the world, many delegations lamented excessive—and growing—global military expenditures.

In 2007, military spending reached approximately $1,339 billion, which represents a 45 percent increase over the last decade. Fifteen countries—including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—accounted for over 80 percent of the 2007 expenditures. The United States alone is responsible for 45 percent.

Meanwhile, the annual regular budget of the United Nations is $1.9 billion. For two decades, the UN has faced financial difficulties. As of 29 February 2008, member states’ arrears to the regular budget exceeded $1.6 billion. Incidentally, the $1,339 billion spent in 2007 on militaries could fund the UN regular budget for almost 600 years.

These figures demonstrate the priorities of the most economically and militarily powerful countries in the world. As military budgets increase, funding for the United Nations, which was created to carry out the goals of peace, global security, international cooperation, and sustainable development, decreases. Many delegations cited the “international security environment” as one of the major impediments to progress in disarmament and non-proliferation efforts. Of course, lack of progress in disarmament and non-proliferation is also one of the major causes of increased tensions in the international security environment. The role of disarmament machinery, as Sri Lanka’s permanent representative argued, is to reduce military expenditures through arms control and disarmament so that the international community can “progressively de-weaponise security.”

This is the same goal, incidentally, of Article 26 of the UN Charter, which calls upon the Security Council to formulate a plan for the regulation of armaments in order to establish and maintain “international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources.” However, instead of creating plans for arms control and the reduction of military spending, the permanent members of the Security Council have engaged in weapons profiteering and arms races.

According to the Cuban delegation, “The most recent statistics show that that the United States and the countries of the European Union control 92% of the world armament market.” The developing world in particular is a huge market for arms transfers as most developing countries import most of their military equipment. In 2006, the value of arms transfer agreements with developing states, which amounted to nearly $28.8 billion, comprised 71.5 percent of all such agreements worldwide. The United States, United Kingdom, and Russia accounted for 47 percent of these.

Meanwhile, most donor (high income) countries have not met their 0.7 per cent development assistance pledge and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) remain far from met. The permanent representative of Tanzania pointed out, the resources going to “research and development and investment in the armaments industries continue to outstrip the investments in economic and human development. The achievements of internationally agreed development goals including the MDGs are seriously undermine by expenditures on armaments as they are likewise affected by the negative impacts of climate change, the oil crisis, the food crisis, and now the financial crisis in the world.”

Reducing military expenditures and devoting some of these resources to development, as suggested by many delegations at First Committee and the General Assembly, seems to be an ideal way to solve many of the challenges facing the international community and to meet the goals of the United Nations: peace, security, justice, development, human rights. Yet disarmament and non-proliferation fora like First Committee, the Conference on Disarmament, or the Disarmament Commission, where these types of commitments should be discussed, have been recently reduced to repeating past promises and struggling to even function properly.

Ghana’s permanent representative called for “critical introspection to ascertain whether the goals that we set for ourselves ... have been attained, either partially or wholly. After all, the world outside will not assess our stewardship by eloquent rhetoric, but by concrete and progressive results.” In keeping with the UNGA President’s call for delegations “to adopt a results-based approach ... that measures progress by deeds—and not words or numbers of resolutions alone,” Canada’s ambassador for disarmament called on delegations to consider “which of the nearly 60 resolutions” on the First Committee agenda “best contribute to our common objectives.” He argued that the majority are “ancient” annual and biennial resolutions that could be “retired or incorporated with others ... [to] open up space for new deliberation and debate.”

Civil society groups anticipate a few new resolutions this year, including one from Ireland on cluster munitions and one on the illicit brokering of small arms from the Republic of Korea and Australia. However, we also anticipate that most of the resolutions we have seen for many years will be reintroduced. We ask, as Ghana’s representative did, for “critical introspection” of these documents, their purpose, and their contribution to disarmament, peace, and real security.

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