(This text is a summary of the reportThe Human Security Case for Rebalancing Military Expenditure, SIPRI, Stockholm, 2022. Published with permission).
Hundreds of millions of people face non-traditional ‘vital’ risks and threats to their security—threats to their lives, livelihoods and dignity. Accelerating climate change and growing loss of biodiversity are increasing such vital risks and threats and adding unprecedented urgency to investing in people’s security.
While the international community has committed itself in principle to improving the lot of the most afflicted people, a large funding gap for tackling non-traditional security risks exists. The Covid-19 crisis has increased the stakes in substantial ways, by worsening both the situation for millions of people and the state of government budgets.
At the same time, global military expenditure has reached record levels, having exceeded the heights of the Cold War. Contrasting these two realities adds urgency to calls for reductions in military expenditure and reallocation of money to promote human security. The failure of past international initiatives for military expenditure reductions indicates that the juxtaposition of non-military funding needs with spending on the military is not sufficient to motivate governments into action. A prime reason for the lack of progress has been governments’ fear, justified or not, that reducing military expenditure will reduce their security.
This paper argues for an expanded conception of security beyond the security of states and state order, with an emphasis on human security—defined as the security of individuals and communities from threats to lives, livelihoods and dignity, such as extreme poverty, persistent hunger, natural disasters, armed conflict, and political and criminal violence, as well as future fatal consequences from climate change and other environmental changes.
The concept of human security has been accepted as a guide for action by the governments of the world in the United Nations. Yet, there are large gaps in the funding available to tackle the vital threats to human security. This paper argues that to take human security seriously must logically lead to a reassessment of spending on the military in the light of the needs for human security since all vital risks and threats are security threats, regardless of their cause. However, this reassessment—and any reallocation of funds from military to human security—need not lead to a reduction in overall security.
It will not be easy to build the political will to adapt global military spending to the reality that the scope of non-traditional vital threats is growing. Russia’s armed attack on Ukraine that started in February 2022 has added to the rationales for military spending.
To facilitate moves towards rebalancing military expenditure and spending on human security, a step-by-step process may be useful. Among the priority fields of activity to free resources through reductions in military expenditure are (a) arms control and disarmament negotiations and agreements; (b) sector-wide security sector reform for conflict prevention; and (c) financial responsibility in military expenditure and arms procurement.
Steps in these areas can be taken without impairing the security of states and state order. If these are successful, they should lead to discussion about additional ways to link military expenditure reductions with improvements of the human condition in an increasingly dangerous Anthropocene.
Threats and risks to human security cannot be met by reallocating funds from military spending alone. Nevertheless, savings from military expenditure reductions could make an important contribution to the rising need to meet challenges such as extreme poverty and climate change. Suggestions to agree on joint reductions of military expenditure have been made before.
The novelty of this paper is to directly link the objective of reducing military expenditure to broader security assessments. The proposed standard of security is that of human security, for two reasons. The first is the interrelationship between military security and human security. Earlier initiatives to reduce military expenditure failed because of concerns about reductions in traditional state security. While these concerns must be taken seriously, they are based on a traditional understanding of security that focuses exclusively on the protection of territory and the state order. Such an understanding is proving overly narrow at a time of growing risks and threats to people and their environment. The standard of human security implies a reconsideration of spending on the military in view of the demands of non-military risks and threats.
Second, by adopting the United Nations resolutions on human security as well as on non-military threats to life and livelihoods, human security has been accepted in principle as an objective by the international community. The obligation to improve human security falls primarily on individual states, but the international community has made collective commitments to support states in their efforts to promote human security needs. However, it has not lived up to these commitments in the past. Worse still, with the rising need to address vital risks and threats, there is a danger of even greater shortfalls to come. This must be considered in national decision-making on military expenditure in all countries.
This paper does not include detailed suggestions on where to spend resources saved through military expenditure reductions. This is deliberate, as deficits in human security are large and widespread, and optimal options for the improvements of human security depend on circumstances.
Furthermore, the available data on which to base concrete proposals remains weak. Data on spending on human security is sparse and is not easy to develop. But because of the importance of data in directing policy and activities to improve human security, increased efforts to improve the data are necessary in order to support the rebalancing of budgets within the single security space. The data on human security therefore needs to be improved.
Improvement is also necessary with respect to official data on military expenditure. The UN’s military expenditure reporting instrument needs to be upgraded. Additional instruments, for instance with respect to the verification of national data, will be important for increasing the trust in internationally negotiated military expenditure reductions.
Three proposed priority fields of activity to pave the way for military expenditure reductions and reallocation of financial means to human security needs are (a) arms control and disarmament negotiations and agreements; (b) sector-wide security sector reform for conflict prevention; and (c) financial responsibility in military expenditure and arms procurement. On the one hand, they are designed to preserve the security of states and state order. On the other hand, they may become more attractive, at least among some political forces, through their links with improvements in human security.
The New Agenda for Peace, suggested by the UN secretary-general in his 2021 report Our Common Agenda, would be a good forum to begin discussions on linking arms-limitation and conflict-prevention measures to military expenditure reductions. Similarly, efforts to promote SDG 16 on conflict and governance, particularly SDG targets 16.1 (reducing of all forms of violence) and 16.5 (reducing corruption and bribery) could be a link to military expenditure reductions. Finally, savings on military expenditure should become an explicit goal of SSR initiatives.
The priority fields of activity proposed in this paper to start rebalancing security spending are not meant to be exclusive, but rather to stimulate further debate. They are also unlikely to quickly make major contributions to meeting the growing need to provide human security worldwide. But continuing on the current course of further increases and record-high global military expenditure is not an option. The proposals aim to break the trend by showing that reductions in military expenditure can help improve all dimensions of security, hopefully initiating discussions on opportunities for further, wide-reaching reductions of global military expenditure in the future.
Dr Michael Brzoska (Germany) is an Associate Senior Fellow at SIPRI. He worked with the SIPRI Military Expenditure, Arms Trade and Production projects during the period 1983–86 and has written several chapters for SIPRI Yearbooks since. Until 2016 he directed the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, where he continues to be a Senior Research Fellow.
Wuyi Omitoogun (Nigeria) is an Associate Senior Fellow at SIPRI. He worked with the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Project during the period 1999– 2006. He co-edited the book Budgeting for the Military Sector in Africa: The Processes and Mechanisms of Control (Oxford University Press, 2006). Since 2006, he has worked with the African Union Commission, currently as a Senior Political Advisor at the AU Liaison Office in Sudan.
Dr Elisabeth Sköns (Sweden) is an Associate Senior Fellow at SIPRI. Until mid-2012 she was the Director of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme and has published extensively on these topics. During the period 2009–12, she led a project on security and governance in Africa. Until 2016 she was the Head of SIPRI’s Mali Civil Society and Peacebuilding Project.