According to SIPRI, global defence spending in 2015 amounted to $1,676 billion. These funds are sufficient to yield the full implementation of the programme to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Let's say programmes to eradicate poverty and hunger would account for 15% of this defence spending. The modernisation of power grids would take 11%, and education 12%. Health care and transport would cost 5% each. Even less would be needed to meet UN goals related to water and sanitation (3%), the ecosystem and biodiversity (2%), and agriculture and food security (4%).
These figures show how achievable the sustainable development goals would be if humanity, in its activities, was guided by the thesis that a major war in the 21st century is unthinkable. This is what the practice of world politics speaks to - in recent decades, the world has repeatedly passed stress tests of major conflicts between the leading powers. The United States and Iran, India and Pakistan, Russia and Turkey, the United States and China, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the United States and the DPRK - these conflict dyads reveal the stability of rivalry, that does not cross dangerous red lines and does not result in a military crisis that would call into question humanity’s survival.
Elites, and indeed society, are accustomed to the current prolonged period of peace. After the Second World War, with the advent of nuclear weapons and modern means of delivering them, mankind came to understand that large-scale military conflicts posed an existential threat to life on Earth. Mutual nuclear deterrence is forcing military and political elites around the world to be more mature in deciding whether to use force.
It can be argued that humanity has become accustomed to peace and no longer believes in the possibility of a major war. The confrontation has shifted towards the economy and the information sphere. How, then, can the current rise in defence spending be explained, given that it fell so sharply following the end of the Cold War?
We observed the greatest reduction in military spending precisely during the period when there was a decline in the perceived military threat, in the first 10 years following 1990. By 2001, however, the United States had practically returned its defence budget to what it had been during the peak of the Cold War. Despite defence spending rising, the international peace movement never returned to its 1970s zenith. Probably, the reason for this is that during the Cold War, the danger of an unprovoked clash that threatened humanity with destruction was extremely high, whereas now it is relatively low. At least the experience of the last 30 years – is that massive protests against the wars in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, shows that the anti-war movements have not become global.