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Poor People's Campaign and the Cost of Military Expenditures - How Much?!
Poor People's Campaign and the Cost of Military Expenditures - How Much?!
UUA President Rev Susan Frederick-Gray is arrested in Washington, DC during the first day of Poor People's Campaign 40 Days of Action, 5/14/2018

Unitarian Universalist Association President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray was arrested during a Poor People's Campaign protest in Washington, DC in May 2018.

This  blog is in tribute to the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival in commemoration of the Poor People’s March 50 years ago organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference under Martin Luther King’s leadership. Learning of the pillars supporting the Poor People’s Campaign made me realize how parallel and synchronized these pillars are with the work on the United Nations.

The Millennium Development Goals which ushered in this new century, and their successor, the Sustainable Development Goals, have in their very essence (and as their first Goals) the elimination of poverty on a global level, the first Poor People’s Campaign pillar.

The issue of racism, the second one, has been on the human rights agenda of the UN for seven decades. Not only was it included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 which states that “all people are entitled to freedom, dignity and equality of treatment without regard to their race, religion and colour”, in 1963 the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration of the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination followed by a Convention in 1965 which is a legally binding document for those countries which ratify it. (Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga, and the United States have not yet done so). After three Decades dedicated to the abolition of racism, the GA declared International Decade for People of African Descent in 2015, recognizing their realities and their struggles in today’s world.

The focus on militarism and the war economy, the third pillar, is implicit in the charter of the United Nations. The very first resolution passed by the General Assembly addressed the issue of national armaments, calling for the elimination of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction. As former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, we are living in a world that is over-armed and where peace is underfunded. While 2017 saw 2/3 of the countries of the world supporting the banning of nuclear weapons completely, (production, transport, storage, distribution, use,) nevertheless the world’s expenditures on the military was $1.739 trillion for 2017. That’s 1,739 billion dollars or 1,739,000 million dollars. An effort by a range of disarmament organizations to draw attention to just how enormous are expenditures on nuclear weapons alone (1 trillion dollars)  will be held in New York from October 24-30, 2018 when volunteers are invited to join in the counting out with fake million dollar bills at the rate of a hundred per minute. This effort is to go on for 24 hours a day over the course of 7 days.

And the United States remains the country with the highest annual military expenditure in the world. U.S. military spending grew by 1.7% between 2015 and 2016 to $611 billion.

In 2017 the U.S. spent more on its military than the next seven highest-spending countries combined. (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, France, United Kingdom and Germany)   At $610 billion, U.S. military spending was unchanged between 2016 and 2017. Dr. Aude Fleurant of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute noted that in 2018, military spending is “set to rise significantly to support increases in military personnel and the modernization of conventional and nuclear weapons.”

Military spending is  54% of our discretionary spending, i.e. what we spend on categories like food and agriculture (1%), transportation (2%),  science (3%), social security/unemployment (3%), energy and environment (3%), international affairs (4%), housing (6%), veterans (6%), Medicare and health (6%), government (6%), education (6%).

Military spending includes: all regular activities of the Department of Defense, war spendingnuclear weapons spendinginternational military assistance, and other Pentagon-related spending.

And because the U.S. has increased its expenditure on nuclear and other armaments, so have all the other nuclear powers.

Abolition 2000 International Nuclear Abolition Campaign have offered alternatives for how this money could be spent instead. Consider the following total list of options they propose in place of preparation for nuclear annihilation:

  • United Nations budget for 10 years
  • 3 million Home solar Panel Systems
  • One million wind turbines
  • Up to 100 million houses
  • Medication for all HIV infected Africans
  • 20 billion new trees in Africa
  • Salaries for 2-10 million teachers
  • Tuition for 200,000 students in top US universities
  • Eliminating malaria from Africa
  • 10 years of preventative health care for all Africans reducing infant and maternal mortality by 80%
  • 67 million clean biomass stoves
  • 1 million fresh water wells in Africa
  • Up to 400,000 hospitals
  • AND
  • FOOD for all 780 million malnourished people

Needless to say we all need to put disarmament back on the agenda. This is not the direction we want our world to take. Dr. Martin Luther King knew this and spoke out against it and we must do the same.

And as for the fourth pillar for the Poor People’s Campaign, it’s the right to health and a healthy planet with a focus on ecological devastation. The UN’s first conference on the environment occurred in 1972 in Stockholm, Sweden with subsequent conferences since then. This was followed by the Earth Summit in 1992 in Brazil at which the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted, creating a UNFCCC secretariat now based in Bonn, Germany. The UNFCCC secretariat hosts several organizing sessions each year, notably the annual Conference of Parties which in 2015 adopted the Paris Agreement that future COPs work to implement. The work of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi has institutionalized the range of ecological programs that have developed over the years.

All of these issues are connected and it is incumbent on us to be active through the work of the Poor People’s Campaign to support the United Nations, and vice versa. Our interdependent web of all existence demands it.

About the Author

  • Joanne Dufour is a Volunteer for the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office completing a circle of connection with the office since 1968. She was introduced to it in her second year of teaching back then, maintained connections over the course of her career in education,...

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