Worldwatch Paper #122: Budgeting for Disarmament: The Costs of War and Peace

November 1994
Michael Renner
ISBN: 1-878071-23-8
70 pages

The first systematic study of global peace and disarmament budgets shows a rapid rise from $2.5 billion in 1989 to nearly $16 billion in 1994, while military budgets dropped 23 percent. Yet peace spending still equals only 2 percent of military spending, according to a new Worldwatch study, "Budgeting for Disarmament: The Costs of War and Peace."

"Since the end of the Cold War, the world has spent $140 on the military for every $1 spent on peace," says author Michael Renner, senior researcher at Worldwatch. "Governments do not spend nearly enough on peacebuilding and demilitarization to prevent major armed conflicts -- 34 of which were in progress in 1993."

The study also finds that most peace-related funding is ad hoc rather than permanent, focusing on immediate needs like disarming mines, repairing damage from past wars, and dismantling weapons systems. Only $4 billion of the estimated $16 billion in global peace and disarmament expenditures in 1994 -- one dollar out of four -- goes for conflict resolution and peacekeeping.

Much of the recent bloodshed in Rwanda might have been averted if world leaders had deployed a proposed peacekeeping force at a six-month cost of just $115 million. But by delaying such action, they had to spend $552 million in emergency humanitarian relief over the same period.

The study demonstrates that the cost of not pursuing far- reaching demilitarization and peacebuilding is escalating. For example, annual expenditures of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have soared from $12 million in the early 1970s to almost $1.1 billion in 1993.

"Budgeting for Disarmament" examines the spending devoted to coping with the after-effects of war, including landmine clearance, refugee repatriation, and demobilization of soldiers; surveys expenditures to implement conventional, chemical, and nuclear arms treaties; and explores the funding made available for military base closures, defense conversion, and peacekeeping.

Demilitarization and peacebuilding expenditures have been rising, but are still often insufficient. Moreover, they tend to be dwarfed by continuing military programs. For instance:

Some 80,000 landmines are removed each year, but perhaps as many as 2 million new ones are laid each year -- clearly a losing proposition. The United Nations spent $67 million in 1994 for mine clearance (and mine awareness), but removing all mines laid in an average year would cost an estimated $600 million.

UNHCR spending to help refugees return to their homes has risen from $43 million in 1988 to a projected $382 million in 1994.

Increasing numbers of refugees -- an expected 3 million in 1994 -- are able to return home, but every year they are being outnumbered by legions of new refugees.

Post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding often suffers from a lack of follow-through after initial enthusiasm. In 1993, Western governments pledged $2.4 billion over 5 years for Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho. But by late 1994, only $80 million had been forthcoming. The paucity of funds undermines the creation of economic opportunities and social services that serve as a foundation for peace.

Demobilization of Sandinista Army soldiers in Nicaragua was estimated to cost $40.8 million, but the government received only $5.8 million in aid to carry out this vital task, delaying the soldiers' successful reintegration into civilian society.

The U.S. Army is spending some $300 million on surplus ammunition disposal in 1990-95 even as $6.6 billion was budgeted to purchase new ammunition.

Russia has requested aid up to $1 billion for its struggling chemical weapons destruction program, which sharply contrasts with $60 million in Western aid pledged to date for that task -- roughly 6 percent of the money requested.

The Italian government budgeted some $320 million for defense conversion, but $2.4 billion to recapitalize the state-owned military industry.

Coping with the continuing damage of war and of war preparation will cost hundreds of billions of dollars in the next few decades.

But conversely, the cost of building a robust peace system in that same time is likely to cost much less. Perhaps as little as $20-$30 billion a year -- 5 times current spending but still a fraction of total military spending -- could make a real difference.

Governments may balk at even these modest costs as simply one more unwelcome expense. While expensive military programs continue, peace and disarmament-related expenditures are subjected to nickel-and-dime scrutiny.

But if peace is considered unaffordable by world leaders, it will remain elusive for the citizens of their countries. Such expenditures are in fact a long overdue investment in the crucial transition from a de facto war system to a purposeful peace system. Although there are obvious upfront costs, the payoff in saved human lives and money is immense.

To put financing for peace on a reliable footing, Budgeting for Disarmament recommends that governments establish a demilitarization fund, along with permanent, not ad hoc, institutions and mechanisms for peacebuilding.

Establishing such a demilitarization fund would require the same sense of mission and destiny that motivated the founders of the United Nations. At a time when politicians' strategic thinking rarely extends beyond the next election, it will take courageous leadership to launch practical initiatives now that will ultimately yield a true "peace dividend" for generations to come.

Global Peace and Demilitarization Expenditures, 1989-94

Category           1989    1990   1991   1992   1993   1994
-----------------------------------------------------------
                          (million dollars)

De-mining             10      10    197    200    238    241
Demobilization        46      28     38     54     56     52
Refugee 
 Repatriation        77     101    160    172    252    463
Disarmament
 Nuclear          1,174   1,214  1,706  1,775   2,007 1,998
 Conventional        25      26    144    351    321    529
 Chemical           180     270    317    421    591    586
 Aid to 
   Former USSR        0       0  1,275  1,708  2,370  1,984
 Other              126     124    199    218    206    246
Base Closures         na     538    998  1,148  2,120  2,864
Conversion            93     114    511  1,302  1,609  2,707
Peacekeeping/
 -building          749     677    760  2,149  3,450  4,080
World Court/
 War Crimes
 Tribunal             6       9      9      9      9     20

Total              2,486   3,111  6,314  9,507  13,229 15,770

This table represents the first systematic attempt to compile global peace and demilitarization expenditures. The data come from a wide variety of sources with differing degrees of reliability. Thus they are a composite of precise expenditure figures, annual averages of multi-year figures, and estimates. In some cases, data were inconsistent; in other cases, none were available. Occasionally, the distinctions among the expenditure categories are blurred: peacekeeping operations, for example, now frequently encompass such activities as de-mining, demobilization, and refugee repatriation, but it is difficult or impossible to determine what part of an operation's budget covers these. Similarly, some conversion spending might be attributed to the base closures category.