Immunity to Economic Recession: The Killing Business Fighting The Wrong Kind of War

So says the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in this newly published report:

“The far-reaching effects of the global financial crisis and economic recession appear to have had little impact on world military expenditure. The USA, with a real-terms increase of $47 billion, accounted for 54% of the world increase in military expenditure. Although the USA led the rise, it was not alone (see figure 1). Of those countries for which data was available, 65% increased their military spending in real terms in 2009. In an analysis by region, Asia and Oceania showed the fastest real-terms increase with 8.9%.

‘Many countries were increasing public spending generally in 2009, as a way of boosting demand to combat the recession. Although military spending wasn’t usually a major part of the economic stimulus packages, it wasn’t cut either’, explains Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman, Head of the Military Expenditure Project at SIPRI. ‘The figures also demonstrate that for major or intermediate powers such as the USA, China, Russia, India and Brazil military spending represents a long-term strategic choice which they are willing to make even in hard economic times.’”

Here are a few visuals from Stephanie Blencker’s report:

Milex Major

And my favorite:

Milex Changes

The report notes that a big chunk of this increase, especially for the US has to do with Afghanistan (the “right” war according to the US President, as opposed to the “wrong” war in Iraq). War expert Mary Kaldor argues that all this military stuff is still fighting the wrong kind of war with the wrong strategy leading basically nowhere. Instead of using a national security approach (prop us a national government – even if weak, unpopular and corrupt as is the Karzai government) geared towards the defeat of an enemy, she advocates a human security approach (she dismisses simple withdrawal as simplistic and accomplishing nothing) geared towards population protection from a range of risks (in Beck’s sense).

So, what would a human security approach mean for Aghanistan?

“First, the effort would focus on the security of Afghans as well as British or Americans, rather than the defeat of an enemy. In fact, the strategy adopted by Barack Obama last autumn is based on “population security”. But population security is seen as a means to an end, and the end is the defeat of US enemies. This matters in strategic terms since Afghans see themselves as pawns in a wider battle and cannot have confidence in the international presence; it is perhaps the biggest obstacle to human security.


Human security in the long term can only be guaranteed by trusted political and legal authorities. (…) Establishing trust is all about the relationship between government and governed. Even though the new strategy emphasises local governance, the fashionable tool is “government in a box” – a sort of technical imposition of state capacity from above. What is needed is the involvement of civil society in establishing a framework for a new, much more legitimate government.


Finally, a human security approach has to be civilian-led. McChrystal’s strategy was a big step forward, but the international effort is overly militarised. The UN special representative is squeezed between the government and the military effort, and the US special representative, Richard Holbrooke, is hardly visible.”

In the context of increasing and globalizing risk society, this is an approach that could be applied on many places, not just as response to already existing conflict, but to regions under tension.

2 thoughts on “Immunity to Economic Recession: The Killing Business Fighting The Wrong Kind of War

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