Time to Increase Security Spending

Tasneem Jamal

Ernie Regehr

The Ploughshares Monitor March 1999 Volume 20 Issue 1

The pursuit of “human security” requires increased public investment aimed at producing the political, social, and economic conditions conducive to sustainable peace and security.

In the weeks before Finance Minister Paul Martin tabled his latest budget, US Ambassador Gordon Giffin offered him a bit of friendly advice. “Investment in national security does not always pay immediate dividends,” he said, “…but history shows us that, much like the stock market, it pays off over the long run.” It was wise counsel–if he meant that public investment to advance the security, safety, and prosperity of people, at home and abroad, is foundational to enduring security and a sustainable international peace.

Mr. Giffin’s apparently inadvertent insight came, however, at the close of a speech preoccupied with advising Canada to follow the model of US President Bill Clinton and increase military spending. Invoking the familiar Cold War equation of “national security” equals “big military,” Mr. Giffin defined military preparedness as the foundation of security, and security, in turn, as “the bedrock on which we preserve our freedoms and build economic prosperity.”

Few will deny that freedom and prosperity are inextricably linked to security, but the relationship is actually the reverse of the connection drawn by Mr. Giffin–with crucial implications for how we allocate public spending on security. In the world’s three-dozen-plus wars, it is not military might that will restore freedom. Instead, it is the absence of political freedom, economic equity, and attention to the basic needs and welfare of people that has produced those wars. And it is not victory on the battlefield, but the restoration of freedom–freedom from human rights violations, freedom from hunger, and freedom to participate in public life–that will bring stability and security to societies now torn by war.

The pursuit of what Foreign Affairs Minister Axworthy and others are now calling “human security”–the recognition that security rests on social, economic and political conditions that serve the needs of people rather than the needs of particular regimes–requires increased public investment in security that is aimed at producing political, social and economic conditions that are conducive to sustainable peace and stability. Unfortunately, it is precisely here where post-Cold War public investment has been most sharply curtailed. The investments most likely to yield the peace dividends the post-Cold War world has been looking for, are the ones most severely cut.

From Fiscal Year 1989-90 to Fiscal Year 1999-00, Canada’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) declined by 37 per cent in real terms, compared with cuts of about 25 per cent to Department of National Defence spending. Globally, by 1997 the developed countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) had reduced their post-Cold War aid and military spending both by 17 per cent. Millions of lives have been made less and less secure by the cutoff of resources desperately needed to meet minimal shelter, health, and nutritional needs, yet Mr. Giffin now argues that security requires increases specifically in military spending.

In particular, it is the industrialized states of the West that are now said to need boosts to their military capabilities. The West has in the post-Cold War era assumed added global responsibilities for peace diplomacy, and the advocates of increased military spending like to argue, as did Mr. Giffin at the Canadian Club, that “diplomacy, to be effective, must be backed up with a credible ability to deter aggressors, to enforce agreements, and to ensure that the will of the international community is carried out.”

So what if we assume for a moment that they are right–that peace diplomacy needs to be backed up with a persuasive stick. Is this a capacity that has suffered of late?

In fact, the relative military capacity of Canada and its OECD partners has grown sharply since the end of the Cold War, moving from 51 per cent of global military spending to 63 per cent by the mid-1990s. It is not readily apparent that this relative increase in military strength has delivered major dividends in the form of greater global security. More than three dozen wars continue, repeated attacks fail to bring Iraq to heel, and interest in the acquisition of nuclear weapons in South Asia, for example, far from being kept in check by the nuclear deterrent forces of the major nuclear powers, is intensified by the continuing presence of those arsenals.

The lack of capacity for constructive military intervention in zones of conflict to protect the vulnerable and to enforce agreements is not due to a lack of military technology and resources, it is due to a combination of misplaced military preparedness (nuclear weapons and inordinate emphasis stand-off forces like cruise missiles and on high-intensity combat systems, rather than a capacity to intervene in low-intensity combat environments to protect vulnerable populations), a lack of political will, and a lack of international agreement on how and when external military forces should be mandated to intervene. But most especially, continuing high levels of armed conflict stem from the absence of social and economic conditions that are able to sustain stability and allow for the building of peace. There is no magic formula for peace available, but, clearly, the priority must be for security spending that facilitates social reconstruction rather than military enlargement.

The late Mahbub ul Haq, creator of the UN Development Program’s Human Development Report, had the priorities right: “Human security… is a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, an ethnic violence that did not explode, a dissident who was not silenced… Human security is not a concern with weapons. It is a concern with human dignity.” Canadian diplomacy and development assistance, supported by Canadian armed force in certain instances, have vital roles to play in advancing human security–a pity then that Finance Minister Paul Martin did not make renewed public investment in international security a priority in his last budget.

During the first half of the 1990s Canadian aid to the 48 least-developed countries declined by a third. Put another way, Canadian human security assistance to the least secure countries dropped by one-third. Least developed means least secure. During the period 1988-1997, only 15 per cent of states ranked in the top half of the Human Development Index experienced armed conflicts, while 43 per cent of those in the bottom half of the list were at war at some time during the same period.

Investment in security does pay dividends. And the failure to invest imposes heavy costs–most of them incalculable, but readily visible in the form of growing poverty and disease, and in spreading armed conflict that beefed up military forces are incapable of preventing or controlling.

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