Wars, Arms Reduction and Tackling Poverty 

How can we reduce violence and build a just and peaceful world 

A joint Arms Reduction Coalition (ARC) & Oxfam workshop at the

conference on Global campaigning in 2006: How do we follow ‘Make Poverty History’ ?

Saturday, 21st January 2006

Birmingham Midland Institute
Margaret Street, B3 3BS ,UK


Vijay Mehta info@vmpeace.org www.vmpeace.org


We will examine what drives conflicts and what are the major threats and challenges to wars.  How the relationship of military spending and wars to poverty is interlinked. We will also find ways for reduction of military spending and minimising the risk of war leading to peaceful use of resources for eliminating poverty. Global security and environmental crises are both pressing problems of our age, yet poverty is the most defining challenge of this century.

The recent increased military spending once again for the sixth successive year rose to the trillion dollar mark since the height of the Cold War, an average of $162 per person, with the United States accounting for nearly half - 47 per cent - of the total at $455 billion and the UK at $47 billion.

In contrast, the amount spent on aid over the same period was a modest $78.6 billion while 850 million people suffer from hunger. Yet the subject remains a taboo, even within anti-poverty campaign. We can see how the priorities of our world have been turned upside down. At present, 23 million soldiers serve in armies around the world. Why is the number so high when there is no visible enemy? The cost of armed conflict in Latin America is estimated to be 15% of GDP. In El Salvador, the cost is more then twice the combined budget for health and education. Universal indifference, apathy and lack of political will are the sign of our time rendering everything meaningless.

A holistic approach towards peace and human security depend on a reallocation of the world's resources so that billions of people who never see more than $1 or $2 a day are not held hostage to unconscionable poverty. 20% of the world’s population uses 80% of its resources. They have to be held accountable for their actions and made responsible for finding ways for sharing resources equitably. Peace and Human security depend on universal adherence to and respect for human rights, including economic, social, and cultural rights as well as civil and political.

Poverty is a political problem because, unless it is addressed, we will face a new division of the world, the consequences of which will be even more dangerous than those of the divisions we overcame by ending the East-West confrontation. Dividing the world into islands of prosperity and vast areas of poverty and despair is more dangerous than the Cold War because the two regions cannot be fenced off from each other. Despair creates fertile ground for extremism and terrorism, to say nothing of migration flows, epidemics and new hotbeds of instability. Poverty is a political problem because it cannot be separated from the problems of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Let me quote from Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica, Noble Peace Laureate "The global arms trade, and its accompanying glut of military spending, continues to represent the single most significant perversion of worldwide priorities known today. It buttresses wars, criminal activity and ethnic violence; destabilises emerging democracies; inflates military budgets to the detriment of health care, education and basic infrastructure; and exaggerates global relationships of inequality and underdevelopment. Without massive and coordinated action, militarism will continue to be a scourge on our hopes for a more peaceful and just 21st century "

The questions is why are we addicted to violence and military culture which is responsible for arms production, sales and its use. These are some of the possible reasons:

a) Using violence and war as a route to economic, political and military superiority.

b) For profits made out of manufacture and sale of arms.

c) For use of fear by political elite to control populations, exert authority, extract

wealth and fulfilling dreams of expansionism by violating other nations territorial


d) For fundamentalists to purport violence to justify the ideologies of their groups.

e) Capturing of resources by military for maintaining economic privileges for the rich and committing injustices which can not be secured through diplomacy and treaties.

f) Maintaining large stocks of arms and weapons as an excuse for war on terror and keeping the nations’ security.

g) Creating and planting hostilities, hatred and conflicts in different parts of the world, leading to wars and violence which goes on uninterrupted for decades.

The global threats to conflict and waste of resources

These can be categorised into five areas as identified by the recent UN high level panel report:

a) Dangers to Human Security by wars and military spending.

b) Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction – nuclear, biological and chemical.

c) Armed conflict – both within and among states.

d) Poverty, infectious diseases, and environmental degradation.

(Including climate change, resource depletion and population imbalances)

e) Organised crime, corruption and poor governance.

Wars and civil unrest continue unabated in Africa, South Asia, (Kashmir and Nepal), Latin America (Colombia), and the Middle East as increasingly violence, mayhem and fear are used to extract wealth and power. At least 40,000 deaths world-wide have been caused directly by armed conflict over the past year, with 50% of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. The vast majority of those killed in war are civilians, indeed woman and children.

More than 650 million small arms and light weapons are in circulation around the world — one for about every 10 people. This has led to millions of deaths and injuries, the displacement of populations, and suffering and insecurity around the world.

Poor governance, corruption and trans-national crime allows the diversion of resources from social development to the security sector and increase in military spending. It is evident that higher incidence of armed conflict is found in countries with low level of economic development and poorly run democratic institutions.

Extreme poverty remains a daily reality for more than one billion people who subsist on less than one dollar a day. In 25 years since it was first reported, AIDS have become the leading cause of premature deaths in sub-Sahara Africa and the fourth largest killer worldwide.

Consider our development aid record. Last year, the nations of the world spent over 1 trillion on armaments. But we contributed less than 10% of that amount- a mere $80 billion as official development assistance to the developing parts of the world, where 850 million people suffer from hunger.

It should not be a surprise then, that poverty continues to breed conflict. Of the 13 million deaths due to arm conflict in the last ten years, 9 million occurred in sub-Sahara Africa, where the poorest of the poor live.

Various studies have shown how conflicts are funded by sale of natural resources like diamond, oil, timber, copper, and gold. Inter-tribal fighting, banditry, and clashes for securing these resources are frequent occurrences between government, paramilitary and rebel forces. Security council have recently voted for a ban on diamond export from Ivory Coast to stop rebels in the war divided nation from using gems to purchase arms. The war on Iraq is an example where the invasion was not undertaken to fight terrorism or eliminate weapon of mass destruction but to safeguard vital oil resources.

The wide spread environmental degradation that scars our planet as seen in melting ice caps, strong hurricanes is a global problem created by over use of land, oil, fossil fuels, and gases. We need to reverse the depletion of natural resources. Recent studies have shown that armed forces are the single largest polluter on earth and long-term disastrous environmental, health and social consequences of war and preparation of war are well documented. If the impact of global warming is not curbed, the future might hold an eruption of desperate all out wars for food, water and energy supplies (Oil & Gas).

Turning it around - The role of campaign groups and building Civil Society

The 21st century has shown that even the most prosperous and powerful countries are open to attack and cannot live on outdated security system based on nuclear deterrence and alliances. They have to move forward to agree multilateral treaties based on cooperation and allegiance to humankind.

We need to see how conflicts arise and because of that the world continues to become a more dangerous place. How can concerned citizens, campaign groups, and civil society can develop a culture of peace through education and other positive actions.

I am advocating seven proposals which are: Policies for a more secure world- Peaceful prevention of deadly conflict, Reducing the global incidence of civil war as a new millennium development goal, Changing the mindset, Creating a will for political action, Holistic solutions for all the interrelated issues, Recognising and encouraging the work of organisations who are devoted to change, and to follow the campaign of Arms Reduction Coalition.

1) Policies for a More Secure World- Peaceful prevention of deadly conflict

To effectively address current and future threats to peace and security, we need a new security strategy for the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict. Such a strategy would reduce reliance on 11th hour military responses to conflict and invest in the development and early application of peaceful alternatives to war. These alternatives include:

2) Make reducing the global incidence of civil war as a new millennium development goal

International interventions have recently had some important successes, such as the launch of the Kimberley process to regulate trade in diamonds and the international ban on antipersonnel mines. We consider three further sets of interventions: aid, the governance of natural resources, and peacekeeping.

At present, reducing the global incidence of civil war is not included as a Millennium Development Goal. Yet both because war is so powerfully development in reverse and because peace is a fundamental good in its own right, it is surely appropriate as a core development objective. It is also much more readily monitorable than any of the other goals and, indeed, is already monitored by the authoritative Swedish International Peace Research Institute. The case for treating the halving of the incidence of civil war as a Millennium Development Goal is the same as that for the current goals: explicit commitments help the international community to sustain collective action. Because the risk of war is so heavily concentrated in the minority of developing countries we have referred to as "marginalized," attaining the overarching goal of halving world poverty without having much impact on the incidence of conflict would unfortunately be entirely possible. The goal of halving the incidence of civil war would help to focus efforts on those countries and people who are at the bottom of the heap.

Most wars are now civil wars. Even though international wars attract enormous global attention, they have become infrequent and brief. Civil wars usually attract less attention, but they have become increasingly common and typically go on for years. Civil war is now an important issue for development. War retards development, but conversely, development retards war. This double causation gives rise to virtuous and vicious circles. Where development succeeds, countries become progressively safer from violent conflict, making subsequent development easier. Where development fails, countries are at high risk of becoming caught in a conflict trap in which war wrecks the economy and increases the risk of further war.

3) To change the mindset respect the profound sanctity and dignity of every human life of high moral and spiritual values regardless of race or religion. We need also to believe that we can change things around. To do that we will examine the root causes and culture of war, reasons to avoid war, delegitimisation of war and work towards peace education and culture of peace.

I am going to quote the last paragraph from the Speech of this year’s winner of Noble Prize for peace Mohamed ElBaradei, director of IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) which is a good example of what we wish to achieve: "Imagine what would happen if the nations of the world spent as much on development as on building the machines of war. Imagine a world where every human being would live in freedom and dignity. Imagine a world in which we would shed the same tears when a child dies in Darfur or Vancouver," he said, referring to the murderous conflict in Western Sudan, one of the world's poorest regions, and life in Western Canada, one of the most affluent. "Imagine a world where we would settle our differences through diplomacy and dialogue and not through bombs or bullets. Imagine if the only nuclear weapons remaining were the relics in our museums. Imagine the legacy we could leave to our children. Imagine that such a world is within our grasp."

4) Creating the Political Will is absolutely essential for funding resources for development and ending subsidies, financial and political support for arms trade. We should challenge UK, EU (European Union) and policies of other states, on manufacturing, export licensing and illegal trafficking of arms by lobbying parliament and government ministers, MP and MEP's to bring legislation for the reduction of arms. Campaign for incentive-based arms collection centres for destroying or burning the hardware should be part of international development schemes. Make civil society, police, and the state part of a joint effort.

Today more than ever we need more efficient structures of international conduct, respect for article VI of the UN charter, a greater role of international court of justice and respect for the rule of law.

5) For Holistic solutions to all the interrelated issues we should take responsibility to deal collectively and have a multilateral holistic approach dealing with threats and challenges of today.

I suggest the concept of common security- peace, environment, social justice and environmental protection- reflects more accurately the purpose of the UN charter and its treaties and conventions.

The international community need to link the agenda of development, environment and disarmament together. We can not have security amidst starvation and we cannot build peace without alleviating poverty and we cannot have either without a better environment. Only a peaceful society can work its way up to creating the institutions ripe for development and free itself from injustices and human rights abuses. The problems we face today- violent conflicts, destruction of nature, diseases, poverty and hunger etc are human created problems which can be resolved through human effort, understanding and goodness.

6) We must also recognise and encourage the work of organisations who are committed to change –too many to mention, who are devoting their energies in campaigns to redirect resources. Because of public pressure, the Group of Eight industrialised nations (G8) were able to agree for doubling annual aid to Africa to $50 billion by 2010 and forgive about $40 billion more in debt owed by some of the poorest countries.

When talking of resources, we should consider what colossal unnecessary waste of resources happens on a daily basis when people die of AIDS, malaria and TB every minute of the day. These are all preventable diseases. Just consider how extraordinary the contribution they could have made to humanity if they had lived.

The struggle for disease and poverty is not lost. We must commend the work done everyday by the WHO, UNDP, MDG Project, major health agencies, foundations, charities, NGOs, human rights groups, churches and other faith groups, a whole lot of politicians and rock stars who have together brought the issue of poverty to the forefront of global debate and are making a difference. We need passion and not pity to change the world. Hundreds of thousands of people in Africa literally agonise in a continent rich in natural resources and culture. Poor people are capable to take their destiny in their hands if given a chance.

7) Arms Reduction Coalition (ARC) is campaigning for
the member states of the UN to agree and implement a legally binding treaty to reduce the amount of resources spent on arms by between 1 and 5 % for a period of between 10 and 25 years, and to spend the resources saved on national and international peace and development programmes. 1 % of the savings of 1 trillion dollars, the present rate of arms spending, will be 100 billion dollars, which could be spent on poverty reduction and conflict resolution.

This reasonable proposal is based on implementing Article 26 of the UN Charter, through which the states of the UN have committed ‘to promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least division for armaments of the worlds human and economic resources.’


World military spending is at Cold War levels and development aid for the poorest countries is unacceptably low. It is clear that without robust action from governments or unrelenting pressure from civil society, civil society’s taxes will continue to be squandered on fermenting conflict and underdevelopment.

The military budget of nations should never be bigger then the budget for health, education and development. At the moment the global military spending is $1 trillion against spending on education which stands at a mere 6 billion USD. It should be the other way around completing the urgently needed Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by lifting Africa and other poor countries out of absolute poverty. Only then we are to have any hope and chance for a safer world and better international relations.

If we can consign war and nuclear weapons to history, like slavery and apartheid, then we not only eliminate poverty, but also have enough funds for the continual progress of mankind and happiness. It is not a utopian dream. We require institutional and legal mechanism necessary to delegitimise war and to earnestly examine and provide non-violent governmental and civil options in order to move away from the devastating consequences of wars and violent military interventions. If we pursue it collectively it can be a dream changed to reality. There already exists in the world large regions for example, European Union, within which war is inconceivable.

In 2001, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the development of new capacities within national governments, multilateral regional organizations, civil society, and the UN to undertake genuinely preventive actions in all stages of conflict--from latent tensions to hot wars to post-conflict peacebuilding. Such actions include developing early warning systems and enhanced preventive diplomacy capacities, strengthening international law and good governance, reducing the proliferation of weapons and protecting human rights, supporting sustainable development and the fair distribution of resources, ending poverty, tackling HIV/AIDS and other public health crises, reducing ethnic tensions, building strong institutions of global civil society, and ensuring basic human security for all the world's people.

As we stand at the threshold of a new century, time has come to say loudly that we demand the delegitimisation of war and military spending. The logical conclusion to be drawn from above discussion is that humanity simply can not afford militarism and war. The global arms race has to stop for the sake of peaceful uses of resources and security for ourselves, for our children, and future generations.

The full version of this speech can be downloaded from:

Vijay Mehta is a writer and peace activist. His latest book, The United Nations and Its Future in the 21st Century, discuss ideas about the UN’s central role in contributing to international peace and security. He is president of VM Centre for Peace and Chair of Arms Reduction Coalition.