What could be achieved with four and a half day’s military spending?

It should surely be obvious!

It should surely be obvious!

Twenty two billion US dollars sounds like a vast sum of money to me; such figures are quite frankly beyond my understanding. But this apparently is the sum that it is estimated would need to be spent annually for the next few years in order to achieve the Education for All goals. This amount of money, so it is reported, would ensure global provision for universal primary education, would see more girls attending and completing school, and would increase educational opportunities for children living in some of the world’s poorest countries. Such a figure could help to achieve a goal to which governments all around the world subscribed in 2000, but one that continues to cause concern and which in some countries is nowhere near being accomplished.

If twenty two billion US dollars per annum is what is required, it is hardly surprising that it so difficult to make progress in this area. After all, such a huge sum of money needs to be provided by wealthier countries, many of whom declare that they are currently facing their own economic challenges. And for those of us who deal with sums of money seldom exceeding the equivalent a few hundred US dollars, twenty two billion is largely beyond our comprehension. I was therefore amazed yesterday when reading a report from the recently held Oslo Summit on Education for Development, which quoted a speech by the Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi in which he states that twenty two billion US dollars is the equivalent of just 4 ½ days of the level of current military spending around the globe.

This statistics seemed to me quite astounding. Surely Kailash Satyarthi, for all of his authority and despite being a man held in such international respect, must have made a mistake. Could this figure be a true representation of the gulf between spending to improve the lives of children, and the development and deployment of weaponry aimed at destruction? Well yes, it turns out, his figures are correct. A search of official international government spending sources reveals that around twenty two billion US dollars is spent on armaments and other military spending every four and a half days.

Kailash Satyarthi in a statement to the Oslo meeting stated that:-

“The best defence is investment in education. If we had invested in education, the world would be much safer today. Education is not only the key to sustainable development, but also the best shield to defend against terrorism, insurgencies and other obstacles that impede the progress of humankind.”

I find myself, not for the first time, largely in agreement with views expressed by this great children’s rights activist.

Of course, it would be naïve to believe that countries will give up their focus upon spending on military equipment and armaments, particularly at what is seen as a dangerous time in many parts of the world. But Kailash Satyarthi makes a valid point when he suggests that should more of this money be directed at education, it might address some of the issues of poverty, greed, envy and deprivation which are the source of many of the conflicts which currently form a blight on a number of societies.

It can be argued with a degree of confidence,  that significant progress has been made towards achieving the Education for All goals in some parts of the world. India, is an example of one country where the educational opportunities for many, though not all children, have certainly increased. However it might be worth asking questions about why international aid to basic education was cut by almost 10% between 2010 and 2012, yet there has been a steady increase in military spending over the same period. Whilst some countries have benefited significantly from support to improve schooling, others, such as Burkina Faso have lost more than 50% of the aid provided for basic education. Other regions of the world are currently being devastated , and schools destroyed in part through use of the many billions of US dollars being allocated for military purposes.

Satyarthi points out that at this time only 4 per cent of all Overseas Development Assistance is targeted at education. He makes a good case for this being increased to a minimum of 15 per cent. However, he is realistic enough to know that this is not going to happen overnight.

I was motivated to write this piece partly because of my own appalling levels of ignorance in respect of the figures above related to educational aid and military spending. I found myself asking the question, If I am so lacking in appreciation of this situation, how can I expect others who are not so directly involved in education to know what is going on in the world?

The scientists William Moerner, Brian Schmidt and Elizabeth Blackburn, who are also Nobel Prize winners, along with a number of other eminent individuals wrote an open letter to the Oslo Summit  in which they pleaded for a change in this situation. In this letter they say:-

“We urge the international community to loosen the purse strings for the future of our children, to protect them from exploitation and violence, and to invest in their education.”

Does it really demand the learning and intelligence of Nobel Prize winners to make us understand that spending so little on providing basic education  when compared to that spent on military development is a denial of the basic human needs of so many children and future generations? If this really is the case, then those of us who consider ourselves to be “educated” are destined to continue to demonstrate our ignorance.