Side Event on Rethinking Unconstrained Military Spending

December 2nd, 2019

Side Event on Rethinking Unconstrained Military Spending


On 23 October 2019, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) hosted a side event on rethinking unconstrained military spending, launching a two-part Occasional Papers series on the issue. The first volume, now available online, provides a historical overview of the efforts within the United Nations to reduce military expenditures.


Michael Spies of UNODA discusses the need to repurpose and redirect military financing to address significant global issues, including the SDGs.


The panel, comprised of authors of the Occasional Papers, was moderated by Ms. Katy Thompson from the UNDP Crisis Bureau. In his opening remarks, Mr. John Reyels from the German Federal Foreign Office welcomed the publication and spoke of his hope that it will support reinstating the reduction of military spending as a central objective of the disarmament and arms control agenda.

Mr. Michael Spies from UNODA offered a rich overview of the various work streams within the United Nations to reduce military spending in the past decades, reflecting on why the issue is of relevance and what can be done to revive discussions around reducing military budgets. He provided recommendations on the way forward, including an emphasis on the need to repurpose military expenditures, and in so doing, redirect greater financing to address major global challenges – chiefly, climate change and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Ms. Ray Acheson from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom applied a feminist lens towards the issue of excessive military spending, highlighting the significant link between gender, militarism and unconstrained military spending. She underlined the concerning reality in disarmament that those who have the most to lose from their voices being excluded from conversations around excessive military spending often being the very individuals who are absent from the table. Ms. Acheson described that this siloed discourse, with an absence of diverse voices, creates an endless cycle in which militarism is often perpetuated as the only solution for problems that militarism is responsible for creating.

Ms. Miriam Pemberton from the Institute for Policy Studies discussed the need to meaningfully explore ways in which to effectively transition militarized economies into industrialized economies. She emphasized that a reduction of military budgets is insufficient, and in the absence of creating transitional frameworks – such as large-scale industrial policies – one will be left with a “slack in the economy.” She stressed the importance of reinvesting defence savings, particularly in manufacturing, and the technical and financial support governments can provide to firms, workers and communities to support transition processes. She spoke of the need for robust industrial policies to support efforts to transition away from militarized economies, and emphasized the essential role of civil society as it pertains to research, education, advocacy, legislation and outreach on this issue.

The second volume of the Occasional Paper will comprise of papers from the expert community, addressing military spending from the angles of international peace and security, gender equality, sustainable development and economic conversion. The Paper will be  published in spring 2020.


Text and photos by Tanvir Deol