Economics of War
One of the most disturbing outcomes of our obsession with the
monetary economy, is the notion that war - the destruction of
human life - is good for the economy. Many governments have
been convinced that war is the spark that can boost a faltering
economy, and the industry of killing is an integral part of
the economic activity of most countries. Because women are among
those most affected by war, it is we who often bear the brunt
of this mistaken thinking.
As Marilyn Waring sums up, "War is marketable. War pays,
Indeed, war is big business.
Global military expenditures currently exceed $1.3 trillion dollars per year or 2.7% of the world gross domestic product. Military spending has increased by 49% since the year 2000. The United States spends more than any other country on war, their makes up 46.5% of the global total.2
The appetite for instruments of death is huge. Companies producing
armaments are quite literally making a killing from the sale
of small arms, landmines, weapons of mass destruction, and
the vast array of other instruments of death available around
the world. Even in our 'peacekeeping' country of Canada, sales
of the top 10 largest military contractors in the country
exceed $3 billion. 3
A large part of the economies of all of the world's wealthiest
countries derives from the sale of weapons. The United States
is the world's biggest weapons exporter, and provided 54 billion
US dollars worth of exports between 1996 and 2000 - 45% of
the world's total weapons exports. Russia follows at 21 billion
dollars worth (17% of the world total). Next is France with
11 billion dollars (9%), the United Kingdom with 8 billion
(7%), and Germany with 6 billion dollars (5%) of weapons exports.4
These five countries - all members of the elitist G8 and among
the richest in the world - dominate 83% of the world's weapons
exports. There is no doubt that governments, corporations,
and investors in these countries are making a lot of money
off the business of death.5
Perhaps this is the reason the United States refuses to sign
Convention on the Prohibition of Mines.
The UN Development Program reports that, "Worldwide,
the uncontrolled proliferation of an estimated 550 million
small arms - including 100 million assault rifles - contributes
to some 500,000 firearm-related deaths each year."6
Between 2003 and 2005 another 7,000 children and adults were killed by land mines each year.7 Deaths as a result of weapons of mass
destruction bring still higher numbers. Within the first few
months of the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima, 240,000
people had died as a result. And according to the UN, there
was a 700% increase in cancer rates in Iraq between 1991 and
1994. Since the end of the Second World War, 86 million people
have died in wars.
The costs of the business of death are not equally shared
across the globe and among all peoples of the world. While
most of the profit from global weapons trade stays in rich,
industrialized countries, the majority of the devastation
is born by people living in the poorest regions of the world.
According the 2002 UN Development Report, sub-Saharan Africa
lost over 1.5 million people between 1990 and 1999 as a result
of armed conflict. And the numbers are not going down. Since
1998 the African Great War in the Democratic Republic of Congo
and involving seven neighbouring nations has cost 2.5 million
lives.8 Within these
regions, it is often women - the most vulnerable of already
vulnerable peoples - who pay the biggest price.
The UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) notes some of the
reasons why women and girls are most at risk in times of armed
- Around the world, some 40 million people are displaced
by conflict or human rights violations. More than 75 percent
of them are women and their dependant children.
- Rape and sexual assault of women and girls are common
weapons of war. Nearly every girl over the age of 12 who
survived the 1994 genocide in Rwanda had been raped. Mass
rapes were reported during conflicts in Bosnia in the early
1990s and in East Timor in 1999. In some places, girls are
recruited into rebel forces to serve as sex slaves for male
fighters. Rape is also used as a tool for ethnic cleansing.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, sexual violence continues to be used by armed actors in the civil war to destabilize communities. For example, in a span of just one week during the summer of 2010, it was reported that almost 200 women were gang raped in the eastern part of the country by two militia groups. 9
- Women's health is severely compromised during times of
war. Because of needs related to child-bearing, women are
much more likely to suffer when health services break down.
Their caregiving responsibilities (for children, the elderly,
the disabled) during wartime puts them at great risk of
illness, in a context where help may not be available.
- Women and girls are more likely to be killed or injured
than male civilians in conflicts where small arms or landmines
are used. They are the ones usually responsible for gathering
fuel or water, and are thus at high risk of injury or death.
- War breaks up family units. For people living in poverty,
the death or disability of an income-earning family member
can have devastating consequences leading to long-term poverty.
On a personal level, families that are headed by women or
girls become increasingly economically vulnerable to exploitation
through labour or sex. On a societal level, countries with
vulnerable economic and social histories suffer tremendously
through the loss of a workforce.
- Because of women's family and community responsibilities,
it is women who must work even harder to keep families and
communities together during times of social upheaval created
by war. Women also bear much of the responsibility of rebuilding
communities when conflict ends. Despite this peacebuilding
work, women are rarely involved in official peace processes.10
It is clear that rich countries have economic interests in
the perpetuation of war and the trade in weapons that fuel
war. But the relative lack of progress in ending the arms
trade is about more than profit. The part of the story that
we don't often hear about is the fact that the arms industry
is massively subsidized. In the United States, only agricultural
production receives more subsidies than the arms industry
and arms are often given away in the form of 'aid.'11
Between 1989 and 1998 the United States supplied $227 million
worth of weapons and training to African military forces of
which $111 million went to governments involved in war.12
Brian Wood of Amnesty
International reports that the United States recently
increased its small arms exports by 1.3 billion dollars -
all to countries with records of human rights abuses.13
Greg Puley of the Arias
Foundation for Peace and Human Progress says, "It's
not a state secret that the G8
countries armed dictators including Hussein, Suharto, Mobutu,
Bin Laden, and others."14
The reasons why rich countries perpetuate war in volatile
areas of the world are complex and many. However, at least
one contributing factor is natural resources. While their
economies may be small, many of the countries with the highest
numbers of deaths from weapons are resource rich. In timber-rich
Liberia, whose citizens are struggling with a civil war that
has gone on for over a decade, arms are brought in on logging
trucks owned by foreign corporations.15
In Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
money from illegally sold diamonds is used to purchase guns.16
Ian Smillie of Partnership
Africa Canada reports: "Diamonds don't kill people.
Yet, the record indicates that diamonds have helped sustain
armed conflicts that, in Africa, have killed almost one million
people in just over a decade."17
Resources and weapons work together to create a deadly combination.
Weapons cause death, death creates instability, and instability
provides an opportunity for corporations to enter resource
rich zones and reap tremendous spoils with little to stop
them. From diamonds in Angola and Sierra Leone to timber in
Liberia to oil in the Sudan and Iraq, corporations (many of
them owned by the world's richest countries, including Canada)
are raking in millions of dollars of profits from resources
to which they have no rights. In their wake lies social and
environmental devastation. What little financial compensation
is provided often goes directly to dictatorial leaders rather
than poverty-stricken citizens.
Many global citizens have made comparisons between what the
world spends on death and what we spend on life.
Although the $18.6 billion dollars Canada spent on Defense in 2008/0918
pales in comparison to our American neighbours, it is more than the
amount necessary to provide safe and clean drinking water
to the entire world population.19
It's also nearly five times the $5.4 billion Canada spent
on international assistance in that year.20
Researchers at the World Game Institute estimate that just
30% of the world's military budget could solve 18 of the world's
biggest problems including eliminating starvation and malnutrition,
as well as provide clean safe and renewable energy, build
democracy, and provide health care and AIDS control. (See
Each of us can imagine a world where life is worth more than
death and where violence, conflict, and preparing for war
is worth absolutely nothing. What will it take for that to
Find out more about the extent of the relationship between
violence and economics both in Canada and around the world.
Consider issues such as the global arms trade, domestic
violence and gun control in Canada, the relationship between
natural resources and conflict, and others. Spend time learning
about war and violence as well as the thousands of peace-making
activities going on around the world. Here are a few websites
to start you off:
By and large the mainstream media have done a very poor
job of reporting on situations of armed conflict around
the globe. Because of this it becomes our own responsibility
to find out what's happening around the world including
how the governments of our own countries are involved in
perpetuating conflict. We also need to challenge the media
for not providing the whole story, letting them know that
we are interested and that they have a responsibility to
cover all aspects of news from all parts of the world.
As you learn more, talk to your friends, teachers, co-workers,
neighbours about what you're learning. Then talk to your
elected representatives and urge them to use their power
to end rather than perpetuate violence.
Join others who feel passionately about ending war and violence
to make your voice louder. Many organizations are already
working hard on specific campaigns and they need your help.
Join a local peace organization or one of the organizations
listed above. Volunteer your time, subscribe to their monthly
newsletter, and find other ways to get involved.
Despite the tremendous levels of violence in our world, there
are many stories of peace. In the African country of Mozambique,
the war may be officially over but there are still 10 million
illicit arms circulating around the country. The Arms into
Ploughshares project has discovered a creative use for these
arms, most of which originated in Europe: create art. Nyararai
Magudu of the project says, "The UN failed to disarm
ex-combatants despite their opulent resources. With our broken-down
trucks we have already collected over 200,000 weapons."
The arms are destroyed or used to produce art which is displayed
internationally. It's up to all of us to find our own ways
to turn the creation of death into the possibility of life.
Banking & Debt
Economics of War