Two bullets per person: the trillion dollar military spending club

Posted by Kumi Naidoo — 18 April 2012 at 8:57am - Comments
The dove of peace and the rainbow
All rights reserved. Credit: Eric Spiegel / Greenpeace
Stop spending on war. We need to invest in a green peace.

What would you do with $1,738 billion (US dollars)? If you were told you had to spend it this year on making people safer, what would you spend it on? 

$1, 738bn is how much was spent on the world’s military last year, according to estimates by the Stockholm International Peace Institute (SIPRI).

With expenditure on military being one of the few areas not facing massive government cut backs we should ask: is our world becoming a safer place? 

What consolation can be sought in the world’s awesome military might by the parents of the 7.6 million children under five who die each year, mostly in developing countries?  

What consolation is it in a world where 925m people do not have enough to eat, 98 per cent of whom live in developing countries? What peace does it bring them? 

In a world where millions are being displaced from their homes due to climate change related factors: droughts, shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and agricultural disruption, will the military provide them with new homes?

The hawks and their accountants would probably argue that this is an acceptable price to pay to maintain national and international security. 

But, what do they mean by security? What is true security? The UN Development Programme said in 1994: ‘Human security is a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, a job that was not cut, an ethnic tension that did not explode in violence, a dissident who was not silenced. Human security is not a concern with weapons - it is a concern with human life and dignity.’ That is good enough for me.

In Greenpeace we have always worked for true security; it is at the heart of what we stand for. We believe that instead of spending vast amounts of money – and, perhaps worse, human ingenuity -- on the machinery of war, we need to direct our financial and intellectual resources towards true security. We need to tackle the unprecedented threat posed by climate change in increasing pressures on basic resources: food, water, energy and land. Pressures which are already triggering conflicts, war and suffering. 

There is a lot of money being squandered in the name of security, few nations can be said to fully have their priorities right. But, lets look to those who spend the most. Lets look to those who are charged on behalf of the global community with keeping the peace. Lets look at the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Russia, the UK and the US. Looking at the data provided by SIPRI, there are no big surprises there. The top five big spenders are the same five countries. The US is topping the list with nearly half of the total global spending. The other four lag considerably behind but when added they make up the five national trillion dollar military spending club!

Putting it into a little perspective: it’s a bit like a macho cliché from many war movies that somewhere there is a bullet out there with your name on it. Well, according to Oxfam there are actually two, or more. This year two bullets are being produced for every person in the world.

A lot of money is being spent on preparing for war, how much is being spent on preventing it? How much is being spent on mitigating the risks of climate change? Very little by comparison and nowhere near enough. 

In 2009, at the Global Climate Conference in Copenhagen the heads of state of the developed countries pledged 30bn US dollars to the developing world for the period 2010-2012 for climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. They promised that would increase to an annual fund of US$100bn by 2020 which sounds like a lot until you make the comparison: 10bn a year is 1 per cent of the military budgets of the five permanent members of the Security Council, while 100bn is only 10 per cent. The US alone could meet the 100bn commitment and still be ahead of its nearest military spending competitor, China, by half a trillion dollars.

Changes wrought by climate change increase the threat of war and conflict and pose an unprecedented threat to true security. To secure true security we must tackle the climate threat and invest in green solutions. 

For example, how about investing in ocean protection? Scientists estimate that conserving 20-30 per cent of our oceans would cost between $5bn and $19bn a year. In return a million new jobs would be created, sustainable fish catch worth $70-80bn a year promoted and further ecosystem services worth a gross value of $4.5-6.7tn a year! 

How about saving our forests? The global economy is losing between $2tn and $5tn dollars each year due to deforestation. The cost of halving deforestation is estimated at $15bn a year. 

And last, but certainty not least, how about an energy revolution in the power sector? Moving away from climate-destroying fossil fuels and dangerous nuclear power, would require additional annual investments of some $280bn. These are investments that will more than pay back in the form of saved fuel costs and additional jobs created. And, it does not take a rocket scientist to know this would fundamentally reduce the threat of war by reducing our dependence of fossil fuels. 

An extraordinary amount of money, imagination and human ingenuity goes into preparing for and fighting wars. Just imagine what could be achieved if the same energy, imagination and ingenuity was invested in peace, a green peace.

Very well put Kumi. It seems obvious and possible that resources be directed in a manner to bring real and lasting change. Not spent on killing though fear but on living through love. The link between fossil fuels and war i.e. need for oil creating conflict in the middle east makes so much sense. 

We need to get to the bottom line and push forward with the change in consciousness through these surface level issues.

Good on you Kumi and GreenPEACE. Onwards.

I was today stopped by one of your campaigners in my high street and after 10 minutes of interesting and informative conversation I was asked to donate to Greenpeace. I commented that I already was part of a substantial giving programme through my Anglican Church which supported a wide range of charities by giving away 10% of its income to charities (including I might add "green" charities and I belong infact to an eco congregation). Your representative then went on to attack the church saying the Queen was the head of the church and she was to blame for all conflict deaths where the British Armed Forces were involved and therefore the church was equally to blame. At this point I ended the conversation and walked away but found this extreme and offensive and any thoughts I may have had in supporting this group stopped when my beliefs and the Anglican religion were attacked in this way. To say I am appalled at such a sweeping generalisation of the church and its members is an understatement!

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There are also so many video uploading blogs, and these also give facility for distribution their videos, but I think YouTube is the best.


  This was a great Article with a thousand Truths,but I then went on and read a Comment by jh123 which I am sorry to say I had to agree with them in, that our campaigner attacked his Church surely that is the very last thing we want as we want everyone on our side of all Religions and Politics.

  The Campaigner spoke against the Queen and the Wars that the U.K.have been involved in where they seem to be believe that she sanctions these Wars, where everyone knows that she has no say whatsoever in the Wars and murders of the British Military.  The British Electorate have three choices with each one a mirror of the other and liable to drag us into more Wars unless we can find the likes of Green Peace having a Political Wing where I am certain they would do well.  Please let us find more support and stay away from attacking Religion or Politic. or any more Personal beliefs.


 Another great and Eye opening account of the World we share today.

 We obviously have some great thinkers in Greenpeace whose brilliance would shine better in a Poilitical Wing and I have no doubt we could win some of these contests in some Countries of the World and move on to winning over them all.   The great Problem for us would be, to accept that the five permanent Members of the United Nations and more recently the other three with the addition of Israel should be allowed to keep up it's Defences in the light that they are the most hated Countries in the World.

We could then go on to banning Gun Running and foreign N.A.T.O. Attacks with a far larger attempt to get to the negotiating table with all the so called Rebel Leaders and Supporters, and failing on this we could then use Sanctions remembering that these Oil produceing Countries can't live on Oil alone. but no more N.A.T.O.attacks as this has been proven to be counter productive.   We learn today that the U'K. is selling Fighter Aircraft to Saudi Arabia which will save Jobs and add to International tension, the Brain Child of the Consevative Pary who like one of their last Leaders think that they are Winstone Churchill re-incarnated along with one of the last Labour Leaders.  They all tried to emmulate the old War Monger with the Result that none of us knows the Minute and if indeed our next Generation will survive. 


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About Kumi Naidoo

Kumi Naidoo is executive director of Greenpeace International.

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