Institute of Development Studies, IDS

Disarmament is the kindest cut of all for development

Press Release   •   Nov 18, 2011 08:42 GMT

On Sunday, 13 November, Remembrance Sunday in the UK, the group Movement for the Abolition of War hosted a meeting at the Imperial War Museum in London to discuss the challenge of disarmament. The keynote speech was delivered by Sir Richard Jolly, IDS Research Associate.

In his speech, Jolly issued a positive challenge: pursue disarmament in order to contribute to human development. He argued that shifting government spending from the military to social programmes could increase employment, reduce inflation and enhance human security in the current climate of fiscal austerity.

Development benefits of disarmament in Latin America

Three notable examples show how disarmament can help produce greater prosperity and human development outcomes.

Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948. Today, the nation spends more on health and education than its neighbours, and has widespread success in conserving its forests. Inspired by Costa Rica, neighbouring Panama abolished its army after military dictator Manuel Noriega was deposed. It was hoped the move would prevent military rule from returning to the country.

Costa Rica and Panama have enjoyed high levels of human security following the abolition of their armies.

Disarmament strengthens national economic performance

In Northern nations, widespread disarmament following the Cold War yielded economic benefits. Between 1989 and 1996, global military spending fell from 1.37 trillion to 950 billion US dollars. After cutting back, the US experienced its longest period of economic growth, including its first national budget surpluses in decades.

Europe, too, has benefitted from disarmament. After the devastation of two World Wars, the founders of the European Union envisioned disarmament along with closer integration as a means for sustaining peace.  Robert Schuman, one of the European Union’s founding fathers, believed that an integrated and united Europe would “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.”

Disarmament in an era of fiscal austerity

Disarmament is particularly relevant in today’s climate of fiscal austerity in developing, emerging and developed countries alike. For the cause of disarmament, Richard Jolly stated, “the desperate priorities of austerity may be the opening to another window of hope.”

Yet hurdles remain to convincing national governments and international bodies to pursue disarmament for development. There are strong lobbies in the arms manufacturing industry.

Most important among the barriers, the public in many nations is unaware of the real costs of military spending, including foregone development benefits. In response, concerned citizens, NGOs and research institutions can lead in creating greater awareness about the benefits of disarmament for economic growth, equality and the prosperity.

By channelling freed-up resources from military spending into the services and consumption that benefit human development, disarmament can help drive economic recovery.