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How to kill militarism

By Tim Wright - posted Friday, 23 March 2007

World military expenditure is soaring skywards like a missile that has lost the control of its commander. And Australia must bear some of the blame. Like many countries, we’ve substantially increased the proportion of our Budget allocated to defence over the last few financial years.

“Defence” is, of course, a bit of a misnomer here, given that our armed forces routinely engage in activities that could hardly be described as defensive. It seems we’ve all decided that, in the scary world of today, militarism will be our saviour. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

With every additional weapon a nation procures, and every extra teenager it recruits into its military, the likelihood of armed conflict in a region increases. Successive studies have demonstrated this convincingly.


Take away the guns and the bombs, downsize the armed forces, and the problems of the world won’t disappear, of course. But without the threat that weapons and those wielding them present, the chances of negotiating lasting solutions are much greater.

The Australian Government, disappointingly, is no longer interested in doing much at all to promote disarmament or demilitarisation, even in the Asia-Pacific region. It certainly isn’t leading by example.

Our Defence Department recently announced that it’s in the process of acquiring cluster bombs - heinous weapons that kill and maim primarily children - despite international efforts to ban them.

We could do a lot more to promote peace and the death of militarism than we’re currently doing, but we won’t, chiefly because we’re afraid of getting the United States - our biggest, toughest ally - off side. And the US is responsible for 80 per cent of the increase in world military expenditure since 2005. And, astonishingly, it spends nearly as much on defence as every other country in the world combined (48 per cent of the total).

On this crazy planet we call home, governments now spend well in excess of $US1.2 trillion annually on their armed forces.

If that seems like a remarkably large sum, it’s because it is: $US1.2 trillion corresponds to a little over 2.5 per cent of world gross domestic product or an average spending of $US173 per person a year.


I wonder what any one of the one billion people living on less than $US1 a day would think of this.

The United Nations has said that if just 1 per cent of what we spend on militarism were redirected towards development, we would be substantially closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. But sadly, the trends in military expenditure over recent years don’t offer much hope of positive change.

There has been an increase, in real terms, of 34 per cent in global military expenditure over the last decade. Much of that increase has taken place since the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

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About the Author

Tim Wright is president of the Peace Organisation of Australia, which is based in Melbourne.

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All articles by Tim Wright

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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