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For two decades now, maybe even more, there have been a lot of arguments that if governments gave away just a small fraction of their defense spending, the problem of absolute poverty would be completely solved. Among the voices of this call for global transformation are the transnational NGOs and networks of activists who envision a different world with a changed moral paradigm and greater solidarity. Basically, they seek from the governments to stop perpetuating the security dilemma, by understanding that security today is much more than arms can ensure. Also, there are the academic works in Security Studies that have to be taken into account in this debate.
For example, professor Barry Buzan and other scholars contributed in the 1990s to broadening the concept of security, which is now understood (quite a mainstream approach in 2014) as encompassing economic, ecological, political and societal concerns, together with the military sector. To some, the sources of insecurity in the world are so great within societies, that wars and conflicts could be prevented if more resources were redistributed away from armament, to let's say, development. Here comes to mind the work of Johan Galtung and other peace studies scholars who see the emancipatory power of individuals within societies.
But how the current paradigm can be transformed, remains the question. Here are some arguments from policy world:
The Borgen Project, a US-based non-profit initiative argues that US should become a global development powerhouse by redirecting its huge military spending to, let's say, fighting against poverty. Out of the 640 billion US Dollars spent for defense every year, some 30 billion US Dollars would be enough to solve the problem of starvation in the world, they argue.
In a recent article for Guardian, Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace offers another perspective on the problem:
“Consider this: every day19,000 children under the age of five die around the world, mainly from preventable causes. The costs of reducing mortality rates by two-thirds, improving maternal health as well as combating Aids, malaria and other major diseases, are estimated to be $60bn (£39bn) a year. Meanwhile, $60bn is approximately the cost of buying and operating two nuclear ballistic missile submarines. The estimated total cost of achieving the six of the UN's millennium development goals related to poverty, education and health – eradicating hunger, universal primary education, child mortality reduction, disease prevention– is $120bn annually in additional resources, a fraction of what is spent every year on militaries.”
Naidoo brings out some striking facts which connect well to the post-2015 Development Agenda talks. It appears that the lack of political will and the general problem of collective action in the international society are insurmountable problems. The United Nations has contributed to a gradual shift of focus towards development and poverty eradication, but it is still the multilateral forum which greatly depends on the contributions of its member states (even though it has got some institutional logic of its own).
What could be the solution? A change in the way the governments perceive and constitute challenges, risks and threats in the world, with a more decisive turn for collective action. If anarchy is what states make of it (to quote Alexander Wendt), than the states could change the current reality and give more priorities to tackling other security threats (by giving them greater priority).
In the post-Cold War security agenda, we have seen a lot of examples how societal, economic and ecological threats can undermine national and international security - more than military concerns. Despite all the idealism of the defense-to-aid redistribution argument, I think it should not be discarded that easily.
Let us know your opinion on this idea in the comments section below.