SDG 16: To promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

The 12 targets within SDG 16 are wide-ranging and include those that relate to rule of law, corruption, accountability and transparency, access to justice and extended participation in democratic processes.  In relation to conflict there is one target that specifically references the arms trade. It reflects the work undertaken by civil society on the Arms Trade Treaty. The target to significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows by 2030.  This is a good starting point. But when 70% of arms sales are made by the P5 members of the security council and those same five nations charged with keeping the peace of the world while the majority of their arms sales go to the global south, SDG 16 is sorely lacking.

SDG 16: Not far-reaching enough

Many of the Sustainable Development Goals are impacted by conflict. SDG 16 on peaceful societies needs to go much further than presently constituted. Sustainable development requires that global runaway military spending be regarded as an international development issue. The UK is one of the world’s biggest arms traders; it has one of the world’s largest defence budgets; it has a seat on all the major global institutions and is also widely recognised for its progressive int’l development policy – often led by effective civil society campaigns.

UK civil society can lead the way in shaping this debate.  It needs to rise to the challenge to look at many of the key SDGs through the prism of global (and runaway) military spending: currently we have a global refugee crisis of a scale not seen since WW2, much of it driven by wars past and present (and in which UK foreign policy and military action has often played a pivotal role).

Moreover, approximately70% of global arms sales are made by the Permanent 5 members of the security council (USA, UK, Russia, China, France) – the same nations charged with keeping the peace of the world. All this while the majority of their arms sales go to the global south.

SDG 16 is sorely lacking.

Meantime, many of the world’s poorest countries and fastest growing economies (both measured in terms of GDP per capita) spend much more on their military than either on education or on health; excessive military spending impedes economic development (SDG 8) and significantly impacts on the efforts to reducing poverty (SDG 1) and hunger (SDG 2) and improving health (SDG 3) and education (SDG 4).

It is time to call out the unsustainable scandal that is getting us close to a $2trillion annual global spend (this figure is before the full costs of war are added in).  While poverty and hunger are widespread and we now face climate catastrophe, global military expenditure is greater now than at height of Cold War, with excessive billions of tax-payers pounds, dollars and euros flowing into defence and arms industries.

The impact of military spending on the development narrative is huge and it is as every bit as central to understanding power, poverty, economic crises and unjust distribution of resources as other structural issues (and civil society campaigns) such as debt, trade, tax, climate change and most recently the ‘war on drugs’.

Moreover, civilians in general and women and girls in particular, bear the burden of war.  This has been evidenced for decades.  Armed conflicts and militarism in one of the main drivers of gender inequality around the world and rape is a well-practised tool of conflict.  A feminist international development policy would recognise that until and unless we address war and conflict and the many drivers that lead to war – including the vast amounts of money spent on the tools of war – will we never, ever reach a truly pro-woman international development policy

The UK has a strong track record on ensuring ever more progressive international development policy-making and has often led the way globally.  With courage, it can do even more and help ‘paradigm shift’ the hitherto unquestioned de-coupling of international development and the consequences of foreign policy decisions and military spend/ action.