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Campaigners outside of the UN building in New York on the eve of the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in 2015. (Photo: Marisol Grandon/Department for International Development via flickr/cc)

Ending Poverty, Hunger Possible With Just a Fraction of Global Military Spending

World's military spending was $1.7 trillion in 2015, marking a 1 percent increase from 2014.

Andrea Germanos

Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger—two of the the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed by the United Nations in 2015—may seem far out of reach. But, according to a new study, it could done with about ten percent of the world's military spending.

The finding highlighting global priorities is from the the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), whose latest analysis (pdf) shows that global military spending is up for the first time since 2011.

Total such expenditures added up to $1.7 trillion in 2015, marking a 1 percent increase from 2014.

Spending $596 billion in 2015, the U.S. still ranks number one in terms of military expenditures, though that spending declined 2.4 percent, "its slowest annual rate since 2011," the report notes. It still greatly outspent China, which holds the number 2 spot, which SIPRI estimates to have spent $215 billion.

Along with the U.S. and China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the UK are the biggest spenders.

While North America and Western Europe saw declines in military expenditures, Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and Oceania saw increases, SIPRI's analysis finds.

"Military spending in 2015 presents contrasting trends," said Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of SIPRI’s military expenditure project, in a press statement. "On the one hand, spending trends reflect the escalating conflict and tension in many parts of the world; on the other hand, they show a clear break from the oil-fueled surge in military spending of the past decade. This volatile economic and political situation creates an uncertain picture for the years to come."

Perlo-Freeman also looked at what could be achieved with those funds—or the "opportunity cost" of the military allocation of the funds—at his organization's WritePeace blog. Take SDGs 1 and 2 on ending hunger and poverty, respectively:

A 2015 report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization suggests that eliminating extreme poverty and hunger sustainably by 2030 (SDGs 1 and 2) would require an estimated additional $265 billion a year on average (2013 prices). Of this, $89–$147 billion would need to come from public funding, putting total annual public spending requirements at $156–214 billion (2013 prices). This amounts to 9.5–13% of global military spending in 2015.

Take about 50 percent of global military spending, and the achievements are clearly more far-reaching. He wrote:

A 2015 report by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network found that achieving the SDGs in health, education, agriculture and food security, access to modern energy, water supply and sanitation, telecommunications and transport infrastructure, ecosystems, and emergency response and humanitarian work (SDGs 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14 and 15), including additional sums to allow for climate change mitigation and adaptation, would require further spending from public sources of $760–$885 billion a year between 2015–30 (2013 prices). This amounts to 46–54% of world military spending in 2015.

Reallocating only around 10% of world military spending would thus be enough to achieve major progress on some key SDGs, supposing that such funds could be effectively channeled towards these goals and that major obstacles, such as corruption and conflict, could be overcome.

Looking at such comparisons "gives some sort of perspective that can allow people to see what is the opportunity cost involved with global military spending," Perlo-Freeman told Reuters.

"This could stir up some debate although we are certainly not expecting a 10 percent cut in military spending at all," he said. "That is all about the politics of these countries."

As Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, stated following the SDGs' adoption, "The goals are achievable, but it cannot be business as usual. Governments—rich and poor—must defy vested interests that seek to maintain the status quo at the expense of people and the planet."

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