Photo credit: UN Photo/UN792337
Information sharing on national military expenditure
Governments can report their annual military spending to the United Nations. This may increase confidence among States within regions and beyond.
Limiting military spending?
Over the past century, governments have sought ways to reach a global agreement on reductions in military expenditures. Various proposals were discussed in the League of Nations, and later in the UN. Early proposals in the UN focused on reducing the expenditures of States with large militaries, and on freeing up funds for development aid.
Focus on transparency
Proposals for cutting military spending did not materialize. However, they led to the development of the UN Standardized Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures in 1981—later renamed United Nations Report on Military Expenditures (MilEx)—under which countries are encouraged to report on their military expenditures.
The original goal of MilEx—to facilitate reduction of military expenditures—gradually gave way to another important goal: to increase transparency and build confidence among States. If States submit reports every year, MilEx will provide insight on military spending patterns and contribute to increased international trust and security.
Sharing information on military expenditures is important for increasing trust between governments in all parts of the world. But having this information available is only the first step in confidence-building. As a follow-up measure, authorities from different countries may meet and discuss their respective military expenditures, e.g. within their regional contexts. UNODA stands ready to assist regional organizations in making such confidence-building talks a reality.
Secretary-General’s reports and related resolutions on objective information on military matters, including transparency of military expenditures
Military confidence-building in post-conflict
Transparency in military matters is important in all parts of the world. States coming out of conflict and their neighbours and States in regions perceived to have high levels of military spending are among those that may benefit particularly from using the UN Report on Military Expenditures. For countries where defence sector reform is planned, reporting current military spending by category of expenditure may provide a baseline assessment of present priorities, which can constitute a sensible and transparent start of the reform process.
How to report
Reporting to the UN Report on Military Expenditures can only be done by governments.
States with no military expenditures may submit a “nil report”. Other states can use either a standardized reporting form, a simplified reporting form, or a “single-figure” form.
For a detailed explanation on how to report to the UNMilEx instrument, please view the recording of the training workshop conducted in March 2023 for Member States. The training workshop was organized by UNODA and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and was aimed at building capacity among States in order to increase the number of reports submitted to UNMilEx each year. During the workshop, SIPRI technical experts demonstrated how data that had already been made public by national governments in official budget documents could be used to prepare submissions to UNMilEx.
UNODA stands ready to assist States with their national reports. We also work with regional organizations – upon request – on organising military confidence-building activities.