Despite threats to human existence from climate change, biodiversity loss and a pandemic that’s devastating economies and paralysing societies, countries still spend recklessly on destructive weapons for wars they will never fight.
Cross-border invasions and civil wars are in decline, but political instability and unrest is rising across many regions, including North and South America, Africa and Asia. In the past decade, the number of riots and anti-government demonstrations has more than doubled globally. More than 96 of the world’s countries recorded a violent demonstration in 2019 as citizens protested against racial injustice, police brutality, corruption and economic decline. Weapons don’t get at the root causes of instability — poor governance, lack of food, few jobs, poor education provision and threats to safety. The might of the military does not make the world more peaceful.
Change is possible. UN secretary-general António Guterres sees “an enormous movement of solidarity” around the world in facing down the pandemic. Amid rising nationalism, alliances are building to distribute vaccines in low- and middle-income countries. For example, the European Commission, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom are among those contributing funding to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which works to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics. The alliance was set up in 2017 by the governments of Norway and India, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, the UK biomedical charity Wellcome and the World Economic Forum after the 2014–16 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak killed more than 11,000 people and had an economic and social cost of more than $53 billion. CEPI is part of an $18-billion programme with the World Health Organization and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, that aims to deliver 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of next year.
This year must represent a turning point for national security budgets.