A fairer world - The Tasmanian Center for Global Learning
Did you know?
  • Pakistan spends more on its military than on health and education combined. *
  • Rich countries spend ten times as much on their military forces as they do on international aid. *
  • Of the 32 countries classed as having low human development, 22 have experienced conflict since 1990. *
  • Current spending on HIV/AIDS, which claims 3 million lives a year, represents three day’s worth of military spending. *

The economic cost of war

‘I suggested humorously the other day that if we spent $900bn [a year] on development, we probably wouldn't need to spend more than $50bn on defence.’
James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank in 2004, commenting on the fact that in reality these figures are reversed*

The world currently spends just under a trillion dollars each year for military purposes.* That’s five times the estimated cost of achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals by 2015.*

One-fifth of global military spending could halve extreme poverty throughout the world, ensure that all children complete primary education, reduce maternal and infant mortality by at least two-thirds, halt the spread of HIV/AIDS, and deliver clean drinking water and sanitation to 500 million people.*

A further one-fifth of global military spending would help speed the world’s transition to a sustainable energy base, avoiding the worst effects of global warming. The same amount again would go a long way towards solving the world’s major environmental problems.

In other words, an investment of $600 billion a year over the next 10 years could dramatically improve the lives of billions of people and lay the foundations for a sustainable global future. That would still leave $400 billion a year for military expenditure. But if we invested that much in peace, we might find we had little to fight about.

See also our sections on The arms trade and Conflict resolution.

Economic cost of the Iraq War

  • According to the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, the total cost of the Iraq War to the United States could be between $1 trillion and $2 trillion. See the Guardian.
  • The war could also cause $1 trillion of economic damage in Iraq and its neighbours, crippling Middle Eastern economies, according to UN Under-Secretary-General Mervat Tallawy. See the Global Policy Forum.

Economic cost of other wars

  • According to the World Bank, the two-decade long conflict in Afghanistan has cost US$240 billion in military supplies, humanitarian assistance and lost economic growth.

  • Estimates of the direct impact of Colombia's long-running civil war amount to 11.4% of the gross national product (GNP), or almost US$10 billion per year. The indirect costs to the Colombian economy (encompassing crime, lost investment, lost productivity, and lost employment opportunities) equal roughly the same amount. See the Colombia Journal.

Cost of weaponry

  • Modern high-tech weapon systems tend to be exorbitantly expensive - from $100,000 for a Hellfire missile to $1bn for a Stealth bomber. For a list of costings see the Campaign Against Arms Trade website. Each dollar spent on such weaponry is a dollar that won't be spent on improving human welfare or the health of the planet.

Environmental cost of war

  • All wars carry an environmental cost, which can range from air pollution and defoliation to habitat loss and the contamination of water supplies. For example, during the Vietnam War US forces sprayed 70 million litres of herbicides, destroying a fifth of South Vietnam's forests and leaving a legacy of environmental contamination that persists to this day. For more information see the Center for Defence Information, the UNESCO Courier and the International Institute of the Concern for Public Health.

  • Weapons production programs and related military activities can also cause massive environmental damage. For example, since the 1920s the British Ministry of Defence has dumped more than a million tonnes of munitions in the Irish Sea, including 14,600 tonnes of rockets filled with nerve gas.*