Millennium Development Goals, Not Military Spending, Must Be at Heart of National Security, Speakers Tell DPI/NGO Conference Round Table

11 September 2009

Millennium Development Goals, Not Military Spending, Must Be at Heart of National Security, Speakers Tell DPI/NGO Conference Round Table

11 September 2009
Meetings Coverage
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Millennium Development Goals, Not Military Spending, Must Be at Heart

of National Security, Speakers Tell DPI/NGO Conference Round Table

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

MEXICO CITY, 10 September ‑‑ Stressing that human security could only be achieved through human development, civil society representatives called on Governments worldwide to cut defence budgets in favour of poverty reduction and sustainable development strategies, as the sixty-second annual DPI/NGO Conference in Mexico City continued Thursday afternoon.

Speaking during a round-table discussion entitled “Human Development is Human Security”, Frida Berrigan, Senior Programme Associate of the United States-based Arms and Security Initiative, said that in the last decade, global military spending had increased by 45 per cent.  While the world economy had collapsed, environmental devastation had spread and poverty had widened, Governments had chosen to invest in arms instead of people.  It took considerable political will to cut global military spending, and some would argue that building up the military actually delivered national security.  But military overspending came at the expense of other essential forms of security ‑‑ such as the need for adequate food, water and jobs.  A nation was in fact only secure when its people had clean water, food, health care and schools, not weapons.

In 2006, the total cost of meeting the millennium targets was $121 billion, Ms. Berrigan said.  The same year, the United States spent $600 billion on its military.  Military spending was seven times greater in the United States than in China, the second largest military spender in the world ‑‑ and 27 times the total combined gross domestic product (GDP) of sub-Saharan Africa.  Following the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York, the United States had spent almost $1 trillion to wage wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their economic impact could reach as much as $5 trillion.  But those wars had not made the country safer for its citizens, she said, stressing that it was not possible to meet the Millennium Development Goals and at the same time continue on a trajectory of multibillion-dollar military budgets.

Rosa Anaya, Generation Coordinator, of the El Salvador-based Herbert Anaya Collective of Human Rights (CDH-HAS), gave a compelling personal account of the danger of neglecting human security.  Her father, a prominent human rights activist in El Salvador, was murdered in 1987, and her mother, while pregnant with Ms. Anaya, was tortured, also for human rights activism.  As a result, Ms. Anaya was born with only one arm.  She lost her husband and the father of her two children to gang violence.  Human rights, she said, meant providing rights for everyone and giving people the necessary tools to defend themselves.  Communities were, however, failing to build up human security.  Human development was not just measured in terms of economic development.  Rather it should involve the rights and role of both victims and oppressors.

When discussing the issue of small arms and light weapons, gang violence was almost a taboo subject, she said.  But it was a major part of the problem and its root causes must be addressed.  In El Salvador, the tattooed face of a young gang member that had no real economic and social opportunities in life was very disturbing.  Gang members could be murdered or tortured without anyone noticing.  They were considered ungrateful assassins, left to languish in jails.  Many gang members incarcerated in El Salvador had decided to join forces in favour of peace and respect for their human rights, and a life of dignity.  They needed the support of society and Government, particularly when they were released from jail.  That was the only real way to achieve human security, and it would significantly help rid the streets of violence, and prevent former gang members from reverting back to a life of crime.

Juan Ramon de la Fuente, President of the International Association of Universities (IAU) and a Member of the Board of the United Nations University, said it was important to understand what was meant by human development.  The fact that United States President Barack Obama was fighting to bring health care to uninsured Americans was proof that inequality existed in all countries, not just developing ones.  Human development was needed everywhere.  The focus must be on people, rights, culture and autonomy, not weapons.  World security required democratic States, a more efficient and democratic United Nations and sustainable development.  But for many people, globalization had not satisfied their legitimate aspirations to a decent job and a better future for their children.

Many current conflicts were rooted in inequality, he said.  Greater consistency in international policies on poverty reduction, health, education, labour, human rights and environmental conservation was needed.  Contrary to what was recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), many Governments were actually cutting their education budgets.  They were investing too much in military spending and not enough on what was really needed to achieve human security.  That trend must change.

Echoing the speakers, Carmen Rosa de Leon-Escribano, Executive Director of the Guatemala-based Teaching Institute for Sustainable Development (IEPADES), who moderated the round table, said human security ‑‑ the freedom from fear and want ‑‑ was the true foundation for peace and human development.  Global security must be redefined in a way in which civil society, local communities and States promoted human needs and sustainable development over military spending.

During the ensuing question-and-answer period, one participant asked if the United States was ready to reduce military spending as a precondition for increased security, peace and development, as called for in Article 26 of the United Nations Charter.  Another expressed concern over militarism in Chile, which had experienced its own “9/11” in 1973, when a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet ousted the President.  Several non-governmental organization representatives said they were moved by Ms. Anaya’s statement, and supported her call for justice for impoverished, disadvantaged people who had fallen into a life of crime and violence.  One asked about the process of forgiveness, and its link to global security.  Several participants asked how quality education could be achieved in Mexico and elsewhere.

In response, Ms. Berrigan said it was in fact possible for the United States to reduce its military budget.  In April, there had been some rearranging at the United States Pentagon, which was looking at weapons systems that were no longer relevant to national security and military concerns.  A proposal to cut military expenditures by 25 per cent had been made, but there was disagreement over where to cut spending.  Cutting spending required political will and not bowing to pressure from the strong lobby in Washington, D.C., of weapons manufacturers.  The United States and other countries had much to learn from countries like Costa Rica that did not have a military budget, but had achieved national security.

Ms. Anaya, referring to the issue of forgiveness and development, said justice was necessary to build peaceful societies.  She said she wanted to personally forgive the person who had murdered her father, but she was not able to do so because of a law that gave amnesty to those who committed murder.   The planet could not survive if it was destroyed by weapons.  People had to respect Mother Earth and all its beings.  Individualism was not a good thing, and did not ensure collective human development and human dignity.  She called on everyone to work towards a common goal, and to do so by hugging the person sitting next to him or her in the room.  Conference participants wholeheartedly complied.

Mr. De la Fuente pointed to the need to integrate peoples’ experiences with formal education processes.  There must be a broader concept of education, as a continuous process that started at home.  Ethics were crucial to quality education and ultimately global human security.  Sustainable development, human rights, development and intercultural dialogue were all key for human security and must be integral to education processes everywhere.  At the United Nations University, educators were trying to promote those ideas.  The way forward on the issue of human development was quite clear.  Now was the time for communities and societies to act.

The DPI/NGO Conference will reconvene at 10 a.m., on Friday, 11 September.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.