Disarmament for Development:

Interlinking the 3D’s – Disarmament, Development and Democracy

A discussion paper for
2006 World Disarmament Campaign Annual Conference
Warfare or Welfare?
Disarmament for development & global security in the 21st century

Wesley’s Chapel, London
18 November 2006


International security and development

Security is a fundamental prerequisite for development, which without peace, sustainable and broad-based development is not possible. In areas of conflict, it depends on the facilitation of sustainable reconstruction and development, including disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and rehabilitation alongside the promotion of democracy, good governance and respect for human rights.

Disarmament, development and democracy are three of the international community’s most important tools for building a world free from want and fear. By controlling or reducing the availability or use of the implements of armed violence and armed conflict, disarmament policies and programmes can facilitate a decrease in military expenditure, defuse tensions and encourage trust in inter-state and intra-state relations. The development of and spending on new weapons, incidence and severity of armed conflict and armed violence will have to stop for improving stability and freeing resources for other activities, such as economic and social development.

At the same time, by promoting economic and social progress and by generating opportunities for people, development policies and programmes can contribute to eradicating poverty, promoting economic growth and stabilising economies and states, thereby creating conditions of increased security and well being. Security and stability serve as the foundation for disarmament, development and democracy.

Although it was a decade of relative prosperity, the 1990s witnessed a widening global poverty gap, with enormous wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. Worldwide, the number of people living on less than $1 a day barely changed in the 1990s, and in some countries the situation has worsened. Globalisation has presented both opportunities and challenges for development; however, its costs and benefits have been unevenly distributed. The legacy of the cold war also had a damaging impact on the social and economic development of some States, in particular those highly indebted countries where a significant portion of national debt was incurred fighting the proxy wars of the bipolar conflict.

Underdevelopment and poverty continue to haunt a large number of nations. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report 2003, over 50 countries are poorer today than they were in 1990, human development indicators such as hunger, child mortality and primary school enrolment have worsened in some countries, and extreme poverty affects one fifth of humankind. In many countries, economic and social development has been thwarted by violent internal and regional conflicts, massive flows of refugees and internally displaced persons, problems of governance, illegal exploitation of conflict goods and natural resources, illicit trafficking of narcotics and weapons, and diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Global arms trade, conflict and poverty

With the end of the cold war, global military expenditure started to decrease. Many expected that this would result in a peace dividend as declining military spending and a less confrontational international environment would release financial, technological and human resources for development purposes. After the Cold War, in theory the peace dividend could have been obtained in a variety of forms, including trade expansion, efficient resource use, reduction of debt and technology transfer. This appears to have occurred in some countries, as the released resources fostered development through mechanisms such as research, investment, lower interest rates and economic growth. However, in practice, the peace dividend was not systematically and directly applied to development assistance for the world’s poorest nations, nor did each country realise it in the same way.

The world's richest nations stand accused of double standards - exporting billions of pounds worth of arms to poor countries while discussing measures to lift them out of poverty. The pressure groups Oxfam and Amnesty International say the G8 countries are compounding the problems in developing nations, including much of Africa, by allowing them to import costly arms and weapons.

Britain is the world's second biggest arms supplier with exports estimated at $4.3bn (£2.2bn) between 1996 and 2003, less than America's $15.18bn but more than other G8 nations such as France ($3.02bn), Russia ($2.62bn) and Germany ($1.08bn). The 5 countries are the world's biggest arms exporters, accounting for 84 per cent of the global trade. Ironically, these are also the very countries that were at the G8 summit 2005, seeking to relieve global poverty in Africa, yet failing to understand the debilitating effect of the purchase of arms as it diverts resources in poor countries.

Many of the G8 countries are large donors to aid programmes in Africa and Asia. However, continuing arms transfers to developing countries undermine their pledges to relieve debt, combat Aids, alleviate poverty, tackle corruption and promote good governance. The arms can be used to suppress human rights and democracy.

According to Oxfam and Amnesty International, the G8 nations are not matching their rhetoric about arms sales and Africa with action. "G8 governments have left significant loopholes in their own arms export standards and control mechanisms. Their efforts to control arms exports are not in proportion to the G8's global responsibility," the report says. It is difficult to take G8 commitments to end poverty and injustice seriously if some of the very same governments are undermining peace and stability by deliberately approving arms transfers to repressive regimes.

Democracy and development

Advancing human development requires governance that is democratic in both form and substance – for the people and by the people.

Democratic governance is valuable in its own right. But it can also advance human development, for three reasons. First, enjoying political freedom and participating in the decisions that shape one’s life are fundamental human rights: they are part of human development in their own right. Democracy is the only political regime that guarantees political and civil freedoms and the right to participate – making democratic rule a good in itself.

Second, democracy helps protect people from economic and political catastrophes such as famines and descents into chaos. This is no small achievement. Indeed, it can mean the difference between life and death.

Democracies also contribute to political stability, providing open space for political opposition and handovers of power. Between 1950 and 1990 riots and demonstrations were more common in democracies but were much more destabilising in dictatorships. Moreover, wars were more frequent in non-democratic regimes and had much higher economic costs.

Third, democratic governance can trigger a virtuous cycle of development – as political freedom empowers people to press for policies that expand social and economic opportunities, and as open debates help communities shape their priorities.

Democracy that empowers people must be built – it cannot be imported. In many countries a central challenge for deepening democracy is building the key institutions of democratic governance:

• A system of representation, with well-functioning political parties and interest associations.

• An electoral system that guarantees free and fair elections as well as universal suffrage.

• A system of checks and balances based on the separation of powers, with independent judicial and legislative branches.

• A vibrant civil society, able to monitor government and private business - and provide alternative forms of political participation.

• A free, independent media.

• Effective civilian control over the military and other security forces.

These institutions come in many shapes and forms. Because the democracy a nation chooses to develop depends on its history and circumstances, countries will necessarily be "differently democratic". But in all countries democracy is about much more than a single decision or hastily organized election. It requires a deeper process of political development to embed democratic values and culture in all parts of society – a process never formally completed.

Building democratic institutions while achieving equitable social and economic development poses tensions. Granting all people formal political equality does not create an equal desire or capacity to participate in political processes – or an equal capacity to influence outcomes. Imbalances in resources and political power often subvert the principle of one person, one voice, and the purpose of democratic institutions. And judicial proceedings and regulatory institutions are undermined if elites dominate them at the expense of women, minorities and the powerless.



The big issues facing the world today are the interrelated themes of global poverty, environmental sustainability, worldwide diseases, and peace building. In our interconnected world, a future built on the foundations of mass poverty in the midst of plenty is economically inefficient, politically unsustainable and morally indefensible.

The consequences of global neglect are far reaching as victims of extreme global poverty – women and children – live in abject and dehumanising conditions; 1200 children die every hour from preventable diseases; an estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS; melting ice caps are contributing to higher global sea levels, hurricanes are more frequent, powerful and devastating; scarcity of water is being acutely felt around the world; and violent conflicts, whose victims are mainly civilians, blight the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

Poverty is a political problem because it cannot be separated from the problems of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms. 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.

The rule of law and adherence to multilateral treaties is a prerequisite for all nations. In its absence, wars and conflicts will be repeatedly waged at the cost of development.

Turning the situation around

The following actions are necessary:


The full version of this speech can be downloaded from:


Vijay Mehta is an author and global activist for peace, development and human rights. His latest book, The Fortune Forum Summit: For a Sustainable Future examines the threats and challenges of crippling poverty, global warming, worldwide diseases and interrelated issues of international security and development. His other books are Arms No More, and The United Nations and Its Future in the 21st Century. He is president of VM Centre for Peace and Chair of Arms Reduction Coalition. He is also co-chair of World Disarmament Campaign and trustee of Fortune Forum. He is also a member of the national CND Council.