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Military Spending: How Much Do We Know?

7 May 2014

WILPF recently submitted a completed questionnaire to the Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order about military expenditures. The Independent Expert will present the findings from NGOs at the 27th Session of the Human Rights Council in September.

The completed questionnaire is the product of the joint effort of WILPF sections, mainly Australia, Finland, France, Italy, Lebanon, Nepal, Norway, Spain and the UK. In the replies we can see how military expenditure negatively affects the democratic order and increases inequalities. Thanks to the input of our sections we can now draw out some main features.

Lack of Information Known to the Public

Cover page of WILPF's Questionnaire on Military Expenditures showing title and a picture of a hand holding used bullets.
WILPF’s Questionnaire on Military Expenditures

The level of information on military spending varies from country to country, but according to most of our sections it is quite low due to various issues.

First, although the budget is generally available on Ministry of Defence websites, it is usually not detailed as to where exactly the money is destined.

Second, government webpages are notoriously, and presumably intentionally, not reader-friendly and difficult to navigate. This does not necessarily mean that the lack of information is due to classified files and data; rather, even unrestricted information is often difficult to find or not available online. If information on budget is dependent on these websites and the government does not proactively seek to inform the public, then the degree of knowledge is consequently low.

Third, as highlighted by WILPF sections in France, Italy and Spain, these budgets are not complete and military expenditures are scattered in different ministry budgets, which is misleading for citizens and experts trying to learn about how funds are spent.

Where information provided by government is quite detailed (Australia, Finland and to a lesser degree UK), it was thanks to dedicated government bodies in charge of informing the public on state spending.

Countries Are Still Rearming Themselves

For the second year running, global military spending in 2013 (roughly estimated in $1.75 trillion) shows a decrease in real terms. This trend is driven by the enormous cuts in the US defence budget and in a smaller measure in some European countries. As exemplified by Spain and Italy, this decreased investment in military does not come from policy decisions, but it is rather a result of the austerity measures adopted by states to cope with the economic crisis. In fact, in these countries, cuts in social security programmes have been disproportionately higher compared to cuts in military spending.

In all the other regions of the world, 2013 confirmed the trend from previous years: states are continuing to re-arm themselves. The biggest budget increases have been recorded in Asia/Oceania and Middle East, and unsurprisingly the top spenders in each region are countries involved either in regional disputes or struggling with internal tensions or conflicts.

Participation of Civil Society and Citizens Is Not Facilitated

There is a lack of communication channels between the government and civil society, meaning that the latter is poorly involved in the definition of the public budget.

Media and public attention is usually stronger in states undergoing a financial recession, notably around the acquisition of new military equipment. Public opinion polls have also proven to be useful in cases such as the UK, when the public was essential in the decision to not participate in the Syrian conflict.

We Need a Shift from the Traditional Paradigm on Security

As highlighted by WILPF national Sections, investment in military capabilities often comes at the expense of investments in human needs, especially gender equality.

Given the context of human insecurity generated by weapons, the lack of transparency surrounding the international arms trade at the base of most countries’ military spending, WILPF urges states to stop investing in weapons and start to invest in people’s real needs, such as health care, social welfare, education and gender equality programmes. It is imperative to move the money from the military sector in order to invest in human development.

Investment in the military sector is also a reflection of patriarchal budgeting, for it represents the allocation of funds to an extremely masculine and indeed masculinised sector.

We will definitely raise these issues at the HRC session in September, so sign up to our newsletter to be in the loop!

Have a look at the completed questionnaire.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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