UN Finance for Development Conference in Addis: Still No Talk of Cutting Military Spending to Fund Development, but the Time Will Come

From 13 - 16 July 2015, six thousand representatives from politics, business and civil society attended the Third Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, to identify and mobilize resources for funding the Sustainable Development Goals and tackle poverty and climate change. As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are about to expire, many of them unfulfilled, a set of new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to be realized until 2030. The 17 SDGs are extremely ambitious, ranging from ending hunger and providing school education for all children worldwide to ensuring access to sustainable energy, clean water and sanitation for all. The UN World Investment Report 2014 estimates that over the next fifteen years, an additional 37,5 trillion US$ will be required to fund the implementation of these goals.

So what is the outcome from Addis? Despite many promises and commitments, most NGOs have branded the results as tragic since no binding commitments were made. The largest global network of civil society organizations, Civicus, highlighted that the meeting had brought no new money to the table.

A main topic of debate in Addis was the fight against tax evasion which causes an annual loss of about 100 billion US$ for developing countries. The G77 countries pledged to establish an intergovernmental tax body at the UN to regulate international tax flows and promote global tax justice. However, the proposal failed since the OECD countries want to keep control over the global tax system.

The idea of cutting military spending to finance development was not discussed despite the repeated calls to action by many organizations, including the World Future Council, the International Peace Bureau and Mayors for Peace. Across civil society there is a shared consensus that this would not only generate a large amount of money for sustainable development - with the global military budget amounting to more than 1,75 trillion dollars per year - but at the same time help to promote peace - the basis for development. A cruise missile "BGM-109 Tomahawk" costs about 729,000 US$. Building a simple hand dug well in a village in sub-Saharan Africa cost 5,000 US$. So, for the price of one cruise missile approximately 145 of such wells could be built.

The aircraft carrier "Bush" costs about 6.2 billion US$. School meals in sub-Saharan Africa cost approximately 50 cents per child/day. For the price of one aircraft carrier "Bush", 34 million African children could be provided with school meals for an entire year.

The drone MQ-9 Reaper costs 16.9 million US$, while one life-saving malaria treatment costs 150$. For the cost of 1 drone, the lives of 112,000 people with severe malaria could be saved.

The planned US B-3 bomber will cost approximately 550 million US$ each. A rural 1-classroom-school in sub-Saharan Africa can be built for about 12,500 US$. For the price of one B-3 bomber about 44,000 rural schools could be built.

The concept of reallocating military spending is not new. For example, resolution 59/78 of the UN General Assembly "... urges the international community to devote part of the resources made available by the implementation of disarmament and arms limitation agreements to economic and social development, with a view to reducing the ever-widening gap between developed and developing countries."


In July 2014, the UN Human Rights Council
emphasized that "downsizing military budgets will enable sustainable development, the eradication of extreme poverty, the tackling of global challenges including pandemics and climate change, educating and socializing youth towards peace, cooperation and international solidarity. A concerted effort at the conversion of military-first economies into human security economies will also generate employment and stability."

In June 2004, paragraph 41 in the Report of the Group of Government Experts stressed that "a higher level of security at lower levels of armament can create an environment conducive to economic and sustainable development, paving the way for trade and technological cooperation and freeing resources for more productive activities and for combating non-military threats to peace and security." It added that "reducing military expenditure in itself does not necessarily mean that additional resources will be available for development. There must be a decision at the national level to reallocate released resources to development, for either national socio-economic spending or ODA."

To make national decisions globally effective, organizations such as the World Future Council, the International Peace Bureau and many more are calling for a UN World Conference on "Disarmament for Development". It is not utopian. As Victor Hugo says: "Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come."