With multiple crises affecting our world – global economy, climate change, resource depletion – we must urgently redirect the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on preparing for war. The United States, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, and North Korea spent about $970 billion in 2008 on the military. That figure, alarmingly, is on the rise. For about one-tenth of this near-trillion dollar amount – about $90 billion a year – we can achieve more genuine security by eliminating global starvation and malnutrition, educating every child on earth, making clean water and sanitation accessible for all, and reversing the global spread of AIDS and malaria.
With the Asia-Pacific Freeze campaign, we the people of this region call on our governments to freeze military spending and then reduce these budgets on an equitable basis. The savings must be put toward achieving genuine security and a sustainable economy for the future of our planet.
Why these six nations? In Northeast Asia, the largest militaries in the world confront each other. Yet, these countries have also begun to create a peace and security system through the Six Party Talks. In the Joint Statement of September 19, 2005, the countries agreed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the normalization of relations with North Korea, and joint efforts for regional peace and stability. But these efforts, which we endorse, cannot achieve genuine peace in a climate of ever-increasing military budgets. Engaged citizens and social movements must now put military spending on the global agenda and make real our common vision of a peaceful world.
The Asia-Pacific Freeze would not only play an essential role in defusing tensions on the Korean peninsula. It would also be the first step in drawing down mounting tensions between the United States and China. A deep divide is opening up between continental powers (Russia, China, Central Asia) and maritime powers (United States, Japan, Australia). By cooperating on freezing and then reducing military spending, the six countries can help bridge this divide and turn Northeast Asia into a model of peace and sustainable development.
The Freeze and reduction of military spending will also greatly improve the lives and welfare of millions of people in the larger Pacific region who have suffered so much from war, violence, and the social and environmental hazards caused by U.S. military bases.
A regional Freeze and reduction will have global impact, too. The six countries account for 65% of global military spending, with the United States responsible for nearly 50% of the total. In the last five years, every country but Japan has dramatically increased its military spending, and even Japan faces a powerful political movement to abandon its “peace constitution.” The United States and Russia are the top arms exporters in the world, while China is in the top 10. China and South Korea are also leading importers, and Japan’s military budget – though still less than 1% of its GNP – is still among the top five in the world. North Korea devotes a considerable share of its budget to the military. By redirecting the budgets of the leading arms-producing, exporting, and importing nations, an Asia-Pacific Freeze is essential to shrinking the global military-industrial complex.
A freeze on military spending is just the start. Reducing military budgets – as well as freezing arms exports and imports to the region, stopping the construction of new military bases, and halting the construction of new weapons systems – will also be critical components of a collective peace and security system for the region. As the leading military spender, the United States must lead the way with military reductions. We recommend that a portion of the savings go into an Asian Green Fund to help countries in the region address global warming.
As individual countries and as an international community, we have a choice. We can continue on a dangerous path seeking ever-elusive “security” through military might. Or we can choose to address the pressing problems facing us all – global economic crisis, climate change, nuclear proliferation – by no longer wasting our precious resources on preparations for war.