New CAAT report on Military Expenditure and Climate Change

The UK government spends about £46.6 billion a year on the military, according to figures provided by the UK to NATO, or 2.1% of GDP.

* Government investment for a greener and fairer economy, Cafod, FoE, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, Islamic Relief, the WI, RSPB, and WWF, Sepember 2019.

After several years of relative austerity, this military budget is now firmly on the rise, with a 10% real-terms increase since 2015, and more increases promised.

How much, in comparison, does the UK spend on preventing climate change? There are no official figures, but a recent report by an NGO coalition* estimated annual spending on “climate change and nature” to be £17 billion, which they called to increase to £42 billion.

“The first duty of government is the security of the nation and its people” – such clichés are frequently trotted out in Government military and security policy documents; but the “security” in question is almost always seen in terms of state security, centring on the military and other “hard” security tools (such as border control).

This militaristic outlook is not simply about defending the UK from military attack – a remote prospect as even the government admits – but about using armed force to attempt to solve a wide range of problems, be it terrorism or regional tensions and conflicts.

This approach has led to a series of disastrous military interventions that have made the problems they sought to address far worse. It also reflects the idea that military power is the key to the UK’s status in the world, with ministers seeing a global military presence at the core of “Global Britain” post-Brexit.

But “security” does not have to be seen in these terms. A focus on sustainable, human security would reinterpret the “first duty” of government in terms of ensuring the security of people in the UK – and, inseparably, of people around the world – from the threats they actually face, which are overwhelmingly not susceptible to military “solutions”.

Most importantly, by far the biggest and most urgent threat to people’s security, including in the UK, is climate change, which is already causing catastrophic damage and loss of life worldwide. Yet, while the government has accepted a target of reducing the UK’s net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 (which many see as too slow), it has not backed this up with the policies and resources needed to achieve it. The government’s own Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned this year that the UK is missing almost all its targets for carbon reduction.

The CCC estimates that achieving net zero by 2050 would require investment of between 1–2% of GDP per year. Yet this is seen as unrealistic by a government that sees 2% of GDP as the absolute minimum to be spent on the military, to meet NATO’s 2% target for its members – with ministers (backed by the arms industry and its supporters) calling for far higher spending. This represents a distorted set of priorities, fuelled by a distorted, militaristic view of security, which urgently needs to change. Right now, the first duty of every government should be tackling the climate crisis.

‘Fighting The Wrong Battles – How Obsession With Military Power Diverts Resources From The Climate Crisis’ is a new report by Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman. Read the full report

Arms race redux – SIPRI’s latest military expenditure data

World military spending is going up, according to data released this week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the most authoritative and comprehensive international source on military expenditure.1 According to SIPRI, the world total increased by 2.6% in real, inflation-adjusted terms, reaching an estimated $1,822 billion. The figure is almost certainly an underestimate, given that some countries are completely excluded due to a lack of data (notably Qatar, Syria, and North Korea). A number of other countries, typically those with large natural resource revenues such as the Gulf states, often exclude spending on arms imports from the limited information they publish, funding such purchases directly from oil revenues without including them in the official budget.

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Shifting priorities, then and now

“Social reforms which involve expenditure are at a standstill; we are making drastic cuts in the supplies for education and for housing; our hospitals are seriously embarrassed; our industries are crippled; our unemployed number more than 1,500,000, and yet in the last financial year we spent more than 23 million upon armaments. No wonder the taxpayer grumbles and the financiers shakes their heads.”

– Major General Sir Frederick (Barton) Maurice in 1921 (1)

Today, Monday 14 April, we are taking action with people across the world to challenge military spending and to say it’s time to shift priorities and fund human needs, not war. Meanwhile, researchers for Selling to Both Sides: the arms trade and the First World War have been exploring debates about military spending before and after the First World War, and the parallels with today.
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