15 April 2013 — The United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) North America with the sponsorship of the Permanent Mission of Japan to the UN presented a lunch-time panel discussion on “Military Expenditures: Trends and Challenges” at the United Nations on Monday 15 April 2013.
The panel discussion explored how regional political developments are reflected in countries’ military spending and budget priorities, and the implications of these trends, which was reiterated in the opening remarks of Virginia Gamba, Director and Deputy to the High Representative of UNODA. Touching on the timeliness of the topic, Ms. Gamba stressed that, “transparency in military expenditures is important not only because it will help in building confidence and trust among States, but also because it could facilitate discussion among States on ways and means to reduce military budgets and identify areas where such reduction could be sought.”
Moderated by Dr. Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, Executive Director, SIPRI North America, the panel consisted of a briefing on the latest SIPRI database by Ms. Carina Solmirano, Senior Researcher, SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme, followed by comments from Mr. Daniël Prins, Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch of UNODA and Dr. Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Senior Fellow, Center for International Cooperation, New York University.
In conjunction with the latest release of the SIPRI data, “World Military Expenditures and The Global Day of Action on Military Spending,” H.E. Mr. Tsuneo Nishida, Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, highlighted the importance of “good software” for tracking military expenditure. He also stressed the importance of encouraging the role of collaboration among governments, NGOs and business sectors in disarmament talks.
The first speaker, Ms. Solmirano, highlighted the significant trend in 2012 of decreases in military expenditures, representing the first global decrease since 1998. The data presented by SIPRI attributed this decrease to the recent economic crisis and the declining military budgets among western countries, particularly the United States.
Recalling the principle of the UN Charter assuring the legitimate right of Member States to self-defence, while also encouraging the “least diversion for armaments of the worlds human and economic resources”, Mr. Prins emphasized “excessive” military expenditures as a major but not well defined issue. Encouraging States’ participation in transparency initiatives, such as through the UN Report on military expenditures, he stated that “transparency in itself is not the goal, but it’s only the very first step.” The most important and main step is for concerned countries to discuss their submissions in order to create confidence and trust, he added.
Noting that current military expenditures are still higher than what they were during the Cold War, Dr. Sidhu pointed out additional contributing factors to the 5% global decline. He also broadened the discussion in respect of the linkages between military expenditures and military alliances, regional or sub-regional organizations, and the extent to which the recently adopted Arms Trade Treaty may play a role in developing future trends.
A lively dynamic question and answer session followed the panel discussion. Questions and comments from the audience sought the definition of military expenditures, reiterated the importance of transparency, and deepened the discussion on further diverse determinants, such as investments in new technology, military modernization, and the Arms Trade Treaty. The discussion highlighted the ultimate goal to foster dialogue by enhancing transparency and confidence building through military expenditure reporting, to which the governments and the civil society could contribute.
By Sayaka Shingu, Sophie Manoukian, and Nandor Gergely
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