The Price of Peace- Bread or Bombs

Reducing weapons for giving peace a chance

A talk given at Kings College Social Forum,

Strand, London

5th of May, 2006

Vijay Mehta

The argument of Bread or Bombs is a perversion of resources and logic. Governments spend billions on war instead of spending on desperately needed housing, health, education, and jobs for the poorest people of the world. In economics, the bombs versus bread model is the classic example of the production possibility frontier. It models the relationship between a nation's investment in defence and civilian goods. A nation has to choose between two options when spending its finite resources. It can buy either bombs or bread, or a combination of both. This can be seen as an analogy for choices between military and civilian spending in more complex economies.

The nation will have to decide which level of bombs and bread best fulfill its needs, with its choice being partly influenced by the military spending and military stance of potential opponents.

The peace dividend is the amount of civilian goods produced in excess of military spending.

The international community needs the will and mobilisation to provide much needed human security for basic human rights such as food, health care, education and housing, for the betterment of the world.

What is the price for peace and who is paying for it?

The end of the Cold War had given rise to the hope that it would at last be possible to make a significant reduction in military budgets and invest more in human development, particularly, education and poverty reduction. However, we must admit that the famous peace dividends have still not appeared. Some countries, no doubt, have succeeded in taking advantage of an opportunity to reduce their military expenditure but budgets for human development are far from having increased by the same proportions. On the contrary, the debt burden and the degradation of the terms of trade reflect the poorer nations increasing contribution to funding the well-being of the richer ones.

The militarisation and military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places has resulted in the loss of lives and resources in the tunes of trillions of dollars. In this talk we will examine how we can reduce the dependency of military culture of Guns and Bombs and change it to a culture of Bread and Butter.

In the 20th century, the century of "mega deaths," at least 110 million people were killed in 250 wars, six times as many deaths as in the 19th. In 2000, 40 armed conflicts were fought on the territories of 35 countries. There are 500 million small arms in circulation around the world, which kill 500,000 people each year. Over the past 40 years, the number of civil wars has increased dramatically. Civil wars remain the most common form of war.  Today, about 95% of all wars are civil wars.  While a typical international war lasts for a few weeks, a typical civil war lasts for a few years. Governments plead that they have little money for social programs, yet they are currently spending $1000 billion a year on military expenditures, which is 80 times more than the $10 billion they spend on the entire United Nations system.

This emphasis on militarism stands in sharp contrast to the social deficit of humanity. Almost half the world’s people live in abject poverty. Of the 4.6 billion people in developing countries, one billion lack access to clean water and 2.4 billion do not have basic sanitation. The richest 1 percent of the world’s people receive as much income as the poorest 57 percent. Sixty-six countries are now poorer than they were a decade ago.

The militarists would protect us against tomorrow’s terrorists, who we fear will have nuclear weapons, by building a missile defence shield. It is evident that a missile defence system would not have stopped the attacks on Washington and New York. Reliance on "technological fixes" against international terrorists has never worked in the past, nor will it in the future.

This is the reality of life for countless people whose anger against the West--of which the high standard of living is flaunted daily on televisions all around the world - is rising in a palpable way, while 3 billion people living on $2 a day are devoid of food, safe drinking water and medicine. Such a climate is bound to foster the seeds of terrorism. Stamp out today’s terrorists without stamping out the problem that spawned them and we will have accomplished little to ensure our safety. For tomorrow’s terrorists are the children in today’s refugee camps.

The weapons industry- companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman- are immune to any corporate social responsibility (CSR) and live in a moral vacuum. With the country on a permanent war footing, the sky is literally the limit for America's second most heavily subsidized industry.

So, we know who is benefiting from war- but who is on the losing side? We are. We are more insecure and more threatened than ever before.

There is plenty of cash to pay for war and empire building in Iraq, but when it comes to meeting the public's need for housing, health care, food, education and other necessities, the cash drawer is empty.

To put it in relationship to what other countries spend, the U.S. military budget is almost seven times larger than what the second largest spender- Russia budgets for military. It is more than 26 times the combined spending of the seven countries the Pentagon identifies as enemies. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that military spending will continue to increase at an average of 8% a year through the end of the decade. Meaning that by 2010, the military budget will top out at almost $700 billion, nearly 2 billion dollars a day.

The military budget does NOT include the costs of war in Iraq. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has made the first bold attempt to quantify the financial side of hidden costs of the Iraq war, coming up with a whopping price tag of over $2 trillion dollars, ten times more than prewar estimates.

We have a lot of work to undo the damage, repair the hurt and rectify the imbalances of the "bombs over bread" policies of the Bush and Blair Governments.

It is both ironic and disingenuous to couple the bombing with dropping food and medicine which was done in during the war in Afghanistan. This was a chaotic and ineffectual way of meeting humanitarian needs. Rather, the international community should be mounting -- with the same vigour displayed in the bombing campaign -- a massive assault on poverty. It is the inhuman conditions that so many millions of people are subjected to that breed the conditions that terrorists exploit.

Building a Pro-Peace Movement

The time has come when we need to make some radical changes to turn the situation around. What we have long known we should do for our brothers and sisters on the planet we now know we must do if we are to survive without the most twisting disruptions in our lives. It is not news that moral teaching emphasizes the core values of respect for life, liberty, justice and equity, mutual respect and integrity. It is news that technology has brought us to the point where we all stand on one planet, breathe the same air, are affected by one another’s problems, and possess the power to decimate all life. The physical integrity of all human life today demands political policies that enhance and not diminish life in every region of the planet. The common good requires policies that promote sustainable and socially equitable development and peace in all regions of the globe.

There is hard struggle ahead to build the conditions for peace, development, equity and justice. Our real strength will be shown in our willingness to use the present wars and killings as a wake-up call to energize the political systems to provide social justice in a shrinking - and much more dangerous - world.

Militarism is not the answer to terrorism. War is without doubt, the worst way to create change as we are witnessing in Iraq. Welfare is possible for all people on this earth - if we share the affluence of the earth’s resources. We can afford to give all human beings food, water, a roof over their head and a meaningful life. But we cannot continue with the enormous distortion between the incredibly rich and the unbelievably poor. We can not afford the billionaires that need the protection of the military from the justified demands of the poor.

There is an urgent need to build a international system based on development, security, equity, justice, human rights and rule of law that promotes social justice.

The Pro-Peace Movement should target at arms manufacturers, buyers and users to raise the awareness of the danger of arms trade as vital resources are utilised by them which can otherwise be used to alleviate poverty, hunger and insecurity.

The existence of weapons is used to preserve the unjust distribution of the world's resources. Allowing poverty to exist, and even increase, is a crime that all of us in the rich part of the world are guilty of. We take part in the oppression of the poor when we accept that weapons are exported, when we support multinational companies, who are weapon producers. First of all we must remove those hindrances which the western world has placed before the poor which prevents them from living worthwhile lives; debt, tariff barriers, weapons which are exported to the local power-holding elite, the support for multinational companies, the threat from our military forces. This will not happen unless ordinary people like us make it happen. We cannot leave the responsibility to those in power in political and financial positions. We all have the power - we only have to take it.

We need a Pro-Peace Movement with a goal to end violence, war and conflicts, working towards a culture of peace. Bombs instead of Bread is the rule not the exception. The myth of security is that we can feel secure from attack if we are armed to the hilt. War mongers main purpose is to create fear, and carry on with the military spending for profits and keep the military industrial complex going. The belief that military strength brings security leads to violence. Violence feeds fear and fear feeds violence creating a endless spiral of killing.

It is my belief that a person or an organisation dedicated to peace has more strength than guns, arms and weapons. Governments worldwide believe that military might is totally necessary to feel secure in a dangerous world. However, the truth is that it is a recipe for disaster. No nation, how powerful it may be will still be vulnerable to threats from potential terrorists as we have recently witnessed in recent Bombing in London.

We have to create conditions and opportunities where peace is more profitable than war and world reaches a critical mass of peace makers instead of war makers. It is our ability to shift the paradigm from militarism and wars for profit to peace for profit.

We have to encourage and promote:

International cooperation in completion of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and providing conditions for economic regeneration for the poorest people in the world will result in a change from a culture of bombs and guns to a culture of bread and butter.

Bread or Bombs? The prophet Isaiah has an answer: "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy. Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare" (Isaiah 55:2, NIV)


The full version of this speech can be downloaded from:


Vijay Mehta is an author, peace and development 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, Chair of Arms Reduction Coalition (ARC), co-chair of World Disarmament Campaign (WDC), and vice-chair for Action for United Nations Renewal.