Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser on Global Day of Action on Military Spending, 5 April 2016

5 April 2016 marks the Global Day of Action Against 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).

According to the figures released by SIPRI today, world military expenditure last year was more than $1,676 billion (USD), an increase of 1 per cent in real terms from 2014. The increase reflects continuing growth in Asia and Oceania, Central and Eastern Europe, and some Middle Eastern states; and a decline in spending in Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The United States remained by far the world’s biggest spender in 2015, despite its expenditure falling by 2.4 per cent to $596 billion. Among the other top spenders, China’s expenditure rose by 7.4 per cent to $215 billion, Saudi Arabia’s grew by 5.7 per cent to $87.2 billion – making it the world’s third largest spender – and Russia’s increased by 7.5 per cent to $66.4 billion.

Military spending in Asia

According to SIPRI, military spending in Asia and Oceania rose by 5.4 per cent in 2015 reaching $436 billion in 2015 at current prices and exchange rates. China’s military expenditure was more than four times that of India, which was the region’s second largest spender.

Total military spending in Southeast Asia was US$40 billion: Singapore increased by around 9 per cent compared with Indonesia which grew at 150 per cent while Malaysia’s grew at 5.9 per cent or 1.5% of GDP.

South China Sea dispute and international terrorism

In Malaysia, we have seen the entrenchment of the authoritarian state and its attempts to secure access to dwindling natural resources to fight international terrorism. The dispute over the islands in the South China Sea between the ASEAN countries and China are also held up as justification for arms spending. This trend will only swell the national military coffers. The Malaysian defence ministry has always argued that military budgets are already declining and that the military are stuck with outdated equipment, and are not properly protected.

Military action in the South China Sea will not solve the islands dispute. First and foremost, we call on the US government to keep their warships away from the disputed area and let the countries settle the dispute among themselves. The best solution is joint economic development of the islands by all the countries involved. We certainly do not need US intervention and provocation which will be disastrous for the region.

The next reason given by the Malaysian defence ministry for increased military spending is the need to combat international terrorism. If that is the case, appropriate weaponry by the police and improved information technology would be the appropriate response. Malaysian taxpayers need to be persuaded by the need for multi-billion ringgit submarines and multi-role combat aircraft in this fight against international terrorists, pirates, hijackers or rag tag armies in Sabah.

The Year of the Refugee

2015 has been dubbed the Year of the Refugee. The world spends today around US$ 25 billion to provide life-saving assistance to 125 million people devastated by wars and natural disasters. Despite the generosity of many donors, the gap between the resources needed for humanitarian action and the available resources is increasing. In Malaysia, both ruling and opposition coalitions have averted the plight of the Rohingya refugees by “shooing” them on sight or saying they are not welcome.

Re-allocation of public funds to social needs

Over the last few years the International Peace Bureau (IPB) has repeatedly called for a re-allocation of public funds from the military to social need: to development; to public services, notably education and health; to the environment; and of course to peace and disarmament initiatives. What IPB advocates – in addition to meeting humanitarian needs via a switch in priorities – is extending the concept of human security to planetary security in an age threatened by climate change; investing in massive programmes of education and job creation to undermine the temptation posed by jihadi extremism; and more generally building societies based on tolerance, rule of law, nonviolent resolution of conflict at all levels, gender equality and sustainable economies and lifestyles.

In tandem with this global campaign against military spending, SUARAM calls for a reduction in military spending in Malaysia to below one per cent of GDP and for the savings to be diverted to social services and humanitarian aid for refugees, the homeless, the elderly and disabled.