Arms Race Violates Religion, Culture of Peace, and Millennium Development Goals

Oct 31, 2010 | Statement

Statement by the Executive Committee of the European Council of Religious London, 31 October 2010

Weapons cannot provide the ultimate solution to any conflict. Nor is deterrence a way to achieve lasting peace. As religious leaders we observe with appreciation that world leaders over the last years more frequently have reflected this conviction. This is in line with widely shared and deeply held values of our religious traditions derived from our understanding of the divine origin of all life.

Annual global military spending is estimated at 1,5 trillion US dollars (2.7 per cent of global GDP), and international trade in weapons represents approximately USD 35 billion, which according to the United Nations is almost the amount needed to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In many regions of the world we have seen the close relationship between the massive use of resources for military purposes and the lack of human development. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without peace, and just and durable peace requires equitable human development.

Within and among our religious traditions we have historically and currently seen diverse ethical reflections on issues of war and peace. Many traditions accept the use of arms under certain conditions, often described as “just war”. We acknowledge with humility that religious leaders at times have actively advocated or supported aggressive warfare which is contrary to basic values within all major religious traditions.

While respecting the need for military spending to provide national security, we know that threats know no borders. In an age of international terrorism no walls are high enough to protect from current threats. We therefore call for an emphasis on human security with freedom: “My security is your security, since your vulnerability is my vulnerability.” Increases in military spending and trade in arms are not the answers to our vulnerabilities. We believe in broadening the notion of human security understood as Shared Security.

While we recognise that the concept of “just war” was developed to limit and diminish the impact of war, we believe time has come to move our ethical framework towards “just peace”. We believe the focus of religious and political leaders should be on creating just peace that implies not only absence of conflict, but justice, development, and respect for human rights. These are also key elements in a culture of peace, in the promotion of which religions can and must engage actively.

It follows that religious leaders should speak and act on numerous concerns related to arms, security and peace. On this occasion we want to draw attention to the imperative to reduce the total global volume of military spending and the need to control the international trade in arms:

We call upon governments to commit themselves to the process of launching a UN Arms Trade Treaty as a binding instrument, and on religious communities to stand fully behind this noble goal.

We support the principles and conditions that have been agreed upon by a large number of UN member states to be included in the treaty. Among these principles and aims is to avoid the transfer of weapons which will be used in serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, acts of genocide and crimes against humanity or which can facilitate terrorist attacks, a pattern of gender based violence, violent crime or organised crime, violate UN charter obligations including UN arms embargos, be diverted from its stated recipient or end-use, adversely affect regional security, or seriously impair poverty reduction or social economic development.

We call on world leaders to find concrete ways to reduce total military spending with at least 10 per cent over the coming 10 years and ensure that the funds which are freed up are used for the benefit of the world’s poor – for development and for the environment – and thus used to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Calls to stop the proliferation of arms as well as to reduce military spending were core concerns of the Religions for Peace Global Youth Network campaign Arms Down! which collected 20 million signatures world wide and was presented to the UN General Secretary in October 2010. We fully endorse the campaign and see commitment of young religious people from around the globe signs of hope for the world of tomorrow.