Governments must give priority to strengthening national and international security through the promotion of human rights.
April 14, 2014 marks the Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS), an initiative coordinated by the International Peace Bureau in Geneva.
On this day, more than a hundred organisations across the globe focus their attention on raising awareness about the waste of precious resources on military spending.
This date is chosen because it coincides with the release of the annual report for 2013 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
These latest statistics by SIPRI for 2013 show that military spending continues to fall in the West but rises everywhere else. World military expenditure totalled $1.75 trillion in 2013, a fall of 1.9 per cent in real terms since 2012.
The fall in the global total comes from decreases in Western countries; led by the United States, while military spending in the rest of the world excluding the USA increased by 1.8 per cent. Nevertheless, the US remains the biggest military spender in the world at US$640 billion last year.
The next three highest spenders—China, Russia and Saudi Arabia—all made substantial increases, with Saudi Arabia leapfrogging the United Kingdom, Japan and France to become the world’s fourth largest military spender. China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are among the 23 countries around the world that have more than doubled their military expenditure since 2004.
The fall in US spending in 2013, by 7.8 per cent, is the result of the end of the war in Iraq, the beginning of the drawdown from Afghanistan, and the effects of automatic budget cuts passed by the US Congress in 2011.
Meanwhile, austerity policies continued to determine trends in Western and Central Europe and in other Western countries.
However the increase in military spending in emerging and developing countries continues unabated.
According to SIPRI: “While in some cases it is the natural result of economic growth or a response to genuine security needs, in other cases it represents a squandering of natural resource revenues, the dominance of autocratic regimes, or emerging regional arms races.”
Military spending in Asia
Military expenditure in Asia and Oceania rose by 3.6 per cent in 2013, reaching $407 billion. The increase is mostly accounted for by a 7.4 per cent increase by China, whose spending reached an estimated $188 billion.
Territorial disputes with China are driving military spending increases in countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam.
Japan’s concerns over China’s growing military power, combined with the Japanese government’s own nationalist policies, have led to Japan ending its long, gradual decline in military spending.
Nevertheless, the largest increase in the region in 2013 was by Afghanistan, by 77 per cent, as it builds up its security forces in preparation from the withdrawal of most foreign troops at the end of 2014.
In particular, military expenditure in South East Asia rose by 5.0 per cent, led by increases in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, the latter two prompted to a signiﬁcant extent by tensions with China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Based on 2012 data, Singapore’s military spending was $9.7b (3.6% of GDP); Indonesia’s was $6.9b (0.7%); Malaysia’s was $4.7b (1.5%); Vietnam’s was $3.4b (2.4%); Philippine’s was $3.0b (1.2%)
Malaysia to enhance defence spending
In mid-2013, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak announced that Malaysia is looking to enhance its defence expenditure.
Najib said this will be done through deficit reduction and strengthening of the Malaysian economic and fiscal position. He said the country’s defence requirements in the future are of budgetary consideration.
“We will look at some of the requirements within the realm of our affordability, we will look at not only the multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) but also other hardware including attack helicopters and weapons,” he said at a joint media conference with visiting French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in Putrajaya on July 29, 2013.
He was referring to the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) MRCA programme which is estimated to cost between RM6 billion and RM8 billion in the long-term for the procurement of new fighter aircraft to replace the ageing MiG-29 fleet and other aircraft.
“The defence procurement will also depend on the nature of threat Malaysia is likely to face in the medium-term. As you know, we have an incursion in the state of Sabah and the nature of the threat has evolved into a somewhat low intensity threat and warfare,” Najib said.
RMAF is looking at replacing three squadrons with 36 to 40 new fighter aircraft and currently evaluating four fighters under a programme, one of which is the Rafale fighter aircraft from Dassault Aviation of France.
To recap on the orders from the French defence industry, apart from the two Scorpene submarines of the RMN, RMAF has four orders of Airbus Military A400M heavy lifters from Airbus which will take its first delivery in 2015 and has already received two out of 12 units of Eurocopter EC-725 Cougar helicopters.
In the light of the MH370 demise, the Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has announced that he will be asking the Prime Minister for budget allocation to enhance Malaysia’s radar system.
Suaram has cautioned that the slip-up by the RMAF over the MH370 disappearance should not be an excuse to procure yet more radar systems.
Malaysia already has adequate state-of-the-art radar (Malaysian Air Defence Ground Environment) systems controlling the entire Malaysia air space.
Involve civil society in military budget
On the occasion of the Global Day of Action on Military Spending, the United Nations Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, calls upon all governments to proactively inform the public about military expenditures and to justify them:
“Every democracy must involve civil society in the process of establishing budgets, and all sectors of society must be consulted to determine what the real priorities of the population are.
“Lobbies, including military contractors and other representatives of the military-industrial complex, must not be allowed to hijack these priorities to the detriment of the population’s real needs.”
The UN has also called on parliaments to implement the will of the people and significantly reduce military expenditures, whether in the field of arms production, military research, military bases abroad, surveillance of private citizens, ‘intelligence’-gathering, or overt and covert military operations.
Tax revenue must be reoriented toward the promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, for research into sustainable sources of energy and for the promotion of sustainable development.
The UN Post-2015 Development Agenda can only be achieved if governments change their spending habits and give priority to strengthening national and international security through the promotion of human rights.
Kua Kia Siong is Suaram advisor.