War and Peace, Giants and Pygmies

Political correctness aside, Pearson’s point has not lost any of its trenchant relevance. He made the comment in his 1957 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, and it was followed by three decades of the kind of Goliathon war preparations that are, and we hope will remain, unmatched in human history.

Indeed, the legacy of those precocious giants continues to exact an annual toll of hundreds of thousands of lives as well as billions of dollars that might otherwise be spent on preparations for peace. The 600 million-plus small arms that flood the planet continue to kill at least 250,000 people annually, many in war and many more in homicides, suicides, and law enforcement killings in societies not at war.[i]

The worlds 27,000 nuclear weapons, a figure well down from Cold War highs, continue to threaten annihilation and continue to cost the world billions of dollars each year, either to maintain or dismantle them, to clean up the environmental contamination caused in their production, and to carry out the inspections needed to prevent their spread.

In 2005 global military spending reached $1.2 trillion.[ii]Some of that is spent to keep the peace, but keeping the peace, research and experience of the past decade in particular have been telling us, is rather more complex than suggested by the ancient Latin bromide: “if you want peace prepare for war.”

It should be both fundamental and obvious that preparations for peace, for the security and safety of people, should respond to the ways they experience insecurity. And the most immediate threats to human security derive from unmet basic needs, political exclusion, denied rights, social and political disintegration, and the criminal and political violence that invariably accompany these conditions of insecurity.

The primary threats to the safety and welfare of people, in most cases, are not external military forces bent on attacking the territorial integrity or sovereignty of their state It should follow, therefore, that the build-up of military prowess is not the primary means of pursuing the security of people. Clearly, it is favorable social, political, and economic conditions – that is, economic development, basic rights and political participation, control over the instruments of violence, and skill in the peaceful settlement of disputes – that are essential to advancing human security.

For the most part, these approaches to international peace and human security are funded out of aid budgets (official development assistance ODA). Governments also spend separately on diplomacy and disarmament, of course, but it is still instructive to compare the ODA to Military Expenditures of states[iii] to get a sense of how Lester Pearson’s giants and pygmies are doing.

Some states put a high premium on ODA. In Norway and the Netherlands the ratio is 1:1.7 and 1:1.9 respectively – that is, even though military forces are extremely expensive to maintain, in Norway and the Netherlands military spending is less than double that of their development assistance.

Other states have different priorities. In the United States the ratio is 1:25.1 – that is, Washington spends 25 times more on military preparations than on development assistance. The global average is much better than the US example, but a long way from the model of Norway and Netherlands. Among OECD countries, the ODA to Military Expenditures ratio is 1:7.5.

And Canada? Here the ratio is 1:3.5 – much, much better than the worst cases, but there is still some work to do to match the Norwegian model. Canada would reach the Norwegian and Netherlands achievements if we but implemented our declared policy. If Canadian development assistance was actually raised to the declared objective of .7% of our gross national income, and if defence spending continued as currently projected, the ODA to Military ratio in Canada would reach about 1:2.

On this International Day of Peace it is an objective worth rediscovering.


[i] The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs calls small arms “weapons of mass destruction” and offers background and figures (http://www.irinnews.org/IndepthMain.aspx?IndepthId=8&ReportId=58952), and the International Action Network on Small Arms provides additional evidence (http://www.iansa.org/media/wmd.htm).

[ii] The Military Balance 2007, The International Institute for Strategic Studies (Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2007)

[iii] All figures are drawn from the IISS (see note 2), the OECD, and Canadian public accounts and are for 2005.

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