NGOs Discuss Military Expenditure, March 9, 2011

The 1.5 Trillion Dollar Question: NGOs Discuss Military Expenditure

-Report from the Event-

By Maisha Lopa, NGOCDPS Intern

March 9th 2011 – The Committee of Religious NGOs and the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security held a joint meeting at Church Center to discuss excessive global military expenditures, explore ways to divert the money towards other global crises and prepare for the upcoming Global Day of Action on Military Spending. The Global Day of Action, which is being organized by the International Peace Bureau and the Institute for Policy Studies, aims to unite people from all over the world in joint actions to focus public, political, and media attention on the costs of military spending and the need for new priorities. The event will coincide with the release of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) new annual figures on world military expenditures.

The meeting featured a panel of distinguished experts including Ms. Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Mr. Ibrahim Ramey of the Muslim American Society, and Mr. Hiro Sakurai of Soka Gokkai International. The event was moderated by Ms. Allison Pytlak of Religions for Peace.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Pytlak stressed that the excessive and overall amount of spending was being put into defense at the expense of critical humanitarian issues such as education and development. She pointed out that the projections for military spending is expected to reach $1.6 trillion in 2010 and encouraged the NGOs present to participate in the Day of Action, which will take place on April 12th.

Ms. Acheson, Project Director of Reaching Critical Will, provided the audience with statistics and hard information about global military spending. She explained that military spending has increased by 50% since 2009 and that even during the global economic crisis, 2/3 of countries increased their military expenditure. Ms. Acheson spoke about how the global arms industry is becoming more concentrated, growing bigger and richer as instances of conflict, war, and terrorism become more prevalent. Moreover as “investment in conflict” increases by means of arms sales, investments in conflict resolution and peace initiatives are falling far behind. She concluded her speech by bringing attention to the fact that the amount of global military spending in 2009 – $1.5 trillion – is equal to 700 years of the regular UN budget.

Mr. Sakurai is the UN representative of Soka Gakkai International, a worldwide network of lay Buddhists dedicated to peace, culture and education, and also the current President of the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security. He related to the topic from a Buddhist perspective. He stated that spending $1.5 trillion for military is a weapon of mass destruction itself and that none of these funds contribute, in any way, to the Millennium Development Goals set forth by the United Nations. The eight goals were established in 2000 as the means to reduce poverty and encourage development, but are facing their 2015 deadline and it is not certain that they will all be achieved. He expounded upon the need to bridge the gap in communications between policy makers and disarmament advocates. As he said, “For a successful dialogue, we need to know why our opponents find it necessary to hang on to these budgets. They think weapons enhance security, but in fact they increase fear and threat and invite more tension and trouble, which then promotes the cycle of violence.” Finally, Mr. Sakurai highlighted the importance of human security over military security, and recalled an ancient Buddhist story that illustrates how it can be achieved. “Establish security not through military might but through the promotion of democracy, social development and human rights,” he concluded.

The final speaker of the panel was Mr. Ibrahim Ramey of the Muslim American Society. Mr. Ramey touched upon a range of issues regarding religion and disarmament and specifically highlighted the need for greater disarmament dialogues within the Muslim community. Ramey mentioned the use of treaties in Islamic history, beginning with the Treaty of Medina in 622 C.E.,that rejected the notion of armed conflict and required peaceful co-existence between Muslims and members of other faith communities. However, he noted that “What is missing is the internal conversation in Islam and the larger global conversations about what to do $1.5 trillion. Christian communities have led the way in serious discussions about peace and disarmament dialogues. In Islam you have a different challenge, because the platform for this kind of dialogue has not started to solidify.” Mr. Ramey also stressed the importance of raising the leadership of women to the forefront because the consequences of war and militarization have been more devastating to women and children. He said, “If the war systems of the world are crafted by men, we need to recognize that women will lead us out of it. Discourse of movement has to include women.” Lastly, he called upon the faith-based community to find ways to demilitarize the U.S. economy in particular, and push for the idea of creating a National Department of Peace which could work toward converting the militarized U.S. economy into a normalized one.

The event was well-attended and included representatives of both faith-based and secular organizations as well as from UN agencies such as the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs. The event concluded with a short video that featured a diverse group of people about what they would do with $1.5 trillion dollars. Their answers, almost unanimously, touched upon humanitarian causes. The success of this joint effort by RNGOs and Disarmament NGOs will hopefully propel further collaborative efforts between NGOs ahead of the April 12th Global Day of Action Against Military Spending.

-More information about the Day of Action can be found at www.demilitarize.org

-More information about the NGO Committee on Disarmament Peace and Security can be found at http://disarm.igc.org/

See VIDEO: “What Would You Do with $1.6 Trillion?” HERE

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