The Military and the Environment: An NGO Statement on Rio+5


By Fredrik S. Heffermehl
Vice President, International Peace Bureau, Geneva;
The Norwegian NGO Forum for Environment and Development,
and the NGO Peace Caucus

Don't forget: Military matters

Before UNCED in 1992, the UN Secretariat computed the annual cost of adequate measures to secure development and rescue the environment to be US $ 1000 billion, - exactly the same amount as the world then used per year for military defense. It is unthinkable that we shall be able to reach the goals of Agenda 21 without a fundamental redirection of the financial and material resources that, with enormous pollution and danger as inevitable results, are being wasted on the illusion of military security. An illusion because inherently modern weapons and war fighting technologies are a primary threat to all forms of life and life-supporting systems. And because we end up short of means to meet very real threats to human security, and short of health and life-sustaining resources.

Before Rio, the Norwegian NGO campaign, in cooperation with the International Peace Bureau in Geneva contacted over 1000 NGOs worldwide to have UNCED give due attention to the military as a main obstacle to proper care of the environment and development. Unfortunately, no such reference came out of Rio. If we truly wish to see progress this is a situation we have to change.

From a sustainable development point of view, the military is a counter-productive, sector. The dominating part of the costs of humanitarian aid, refugee assistance, goes to repair the disastrous consequences of wars. A humble guess is that aspects of the military affects absolutely almost every theme under Agenda 21, and in more ways than are commonly perceived or even known. Some examples:

  • Depletion of non-renewable resources
  • Land use made dangerous or impossible by land mines, or land used for military production or exercises (worldwide approximately the same area as the Nordic countries, 750.000-1500.000 sq. km).
  • Military planes consume 1/4 of all jet fuel used in the world. Pollution of all kinds whether in war or without war, ranging from widespread radioactive contamination from uranium-tipped tanks penetrators (Gulf war) to the dumping or burning of chemical weapons.

Both individual studies and the report of the UN Secretary-General, called "Critical Trends," makes it clear that environmental and resource problems will be a major source of conflict and risk to security in the future. Such factors also play a role in ethnic conflicts and are a type of problem that cannot be resolved with weapons.

I recommend every NGO, organization or single individual, to give due consideration to the above aspects. Whatever your special interest is, financial or water resources, forests, debt, agriculture, aid, climate, oceans, trade, energy, toxic chemicals, mining, desertification, indigenous populations, biodiversity, radioactive waste, atmosphere, rural development, you have every reason to check out the military-industrial complex and its role in the creation and the resolution of the problems. Last but not least - POVERTY.

Certain governments are likely to continue to resist any discussion of such issues in the present context - and almost any other context. They prefer to have the military topics isolated and removed from popular and democratic fora. One method is to say that these are specialized topics that are addressed in other fora. True as it may be that the details in some cases have to be hammered out elsewhere, the lack of political will is often blocking all progress. In order to succeed, the Earth Summit must look at security in a comprehensive perspective - and take the many consequences of principle 25 in Agenda 21, stating that "Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible."

What to do:

Check out military aspects with expertise within your own circles. Contact the Peace Caucus (212-750 5795), which had a solid article in Outreach on Wednesday April 16. The Norwegian NGO Forum has worked on these issues for a year and their Earth Summit position paper contains some detailed proposals. Consult peace organizations, such as the International Peace Bureau in Geneva. Get hold of Ruth Leger Sivard "World Military and Social Expenditure", a rich source of statistics, facts, graphs and analysis of these issues (World Priorities, Washington - (202) 965 1661).

The International Peace Bureau (41 Rue de Zurich, CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland - Phone +41-22-731 6429 (Fax: 738 9419), email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) is the world's oldest and most comprehensive peace organization. Founded in 1892, the IPB among its members (1997) counts 141 national organizations in 46 countries and 18 international organizations. The IPB invites you to get involved and take part in the process leading up to a major international event in the Hague, the Netherlands, May 11-18, 1999, to abolish wars as the century ends. Contact IPB for more information.