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SIPRI's 40th anniversary

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Armaments and Disarmament

By Elisabeth Sköns

The theme of this session, Armaments and Disarmament, is an old SIPRI theme, and indeed is part of the sub-title of our main publication, the SIPRI Yearbook. While the theme itself has persisted throughout the 40 years of SIPRI’s existence, the content of the theme has evolved and changed over the years, and in particular after the end of the cold war. This can also be seen in the sub-title of the SIPRI Yearbook. After one year of seemingly indecision—the 1994 Yearbook had no sub-title at all—the 1995 Yearbook emerged with a new sub-title: ‘Armaments, Disarmament and International Security’, which has been kept until the present day.

1994 is the year of the birth of the concept of human security, first surfacing in the Human Development Report 1994 of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Since then, the security concept has continued to be the subject of wide-ranging international debate and we now have a plethora of security concepts, including environment security, food security, energy security, functional security and so on.

Changes in research focus

In the research community, the security debate has involved a shift of focus away from the previous strong preoccupation with the weapons themselves and thus with armaments and disarmament, and has instead brought about an increased focus on the dynamics underlying the acquisition and use of armaments. During the post-cold war period research on peace and security has looked at the role of military force, technological aspects of security, security and civil society, the globalization of security itself, and so on. In particular, increased attention has been devoted to armed conflicts in the developing world; on how to prevent conflicts from turning violent; on how the international community can help through military and civilian crisis management once violent conflict has broken out; on how to rebuild societies after the cessation of violent conflict; and also on how to avoid future armed conflicts by addressing their root causes. At SIPRI this has been reflected in the birth of the project on armed conflicts and conflict management some 10 years ago, and on a number of projects on regional security over the years.

Changes in security policies

Similarly, security policies have undergone a transformation, at least in the developed countries. The main impetus behind this development is perhaps the awareness of the impact of globalization on security, whether in terms of global security, international security, national security or human security. There has been an increasing recognition that, with increased globalization, developments in distant parts of the world may have an impact on security everywhere. At the same time we have an emerging discussion about the relationship between security and development, and thus about the impact of different policy areas on security in developing countries.

In spite of this, reliance on armaments have continued to dominate thinking in defence and security policies. While world military expenditures fell by about one-quarter after the end of the cold war, the level is now almost the same as during the peak of the cold war. The trend in international arms transfers is similar. SIPRI data on international transfers of major conventional weapons show the 2005 level to be roughly the same as the 1992 level, and in reality possibly higher, because of the increasing difficulties of defining arms transfers in the context of collaborative armament programmes. While it is true that the overwhelming share of the increase in military expenditure is due to the massive increases in US spending for military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is also true that military expenditure is increasing also in other parts of the world, including in Eastern Europe and in many poor countries in Africa and South Asia.

Trends in Western Europe have been different. Awareness of the increased global interconnectedness is reflected in the development of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), the European Security Strategy and the decisions to devote European resources for crisis management in other parts of the world, as formulated in the respective Headline Goals for defence and civilian capabilities. This is a positive alternative to defence strategies focused on war-fighting and winning wars. However, at the same time concern are being raised, especially among NGOs, about whether current developments within the ESDP signal a return to a renewed build-up of military forces and armaments in Europe in a manner that will not be conducive to the declared security goals. This concern has been reinforced by the role of defence industry representatives in the EU process of policy development and their lobbying for stronger government support in order to be able to compete with the US arms industry. The question raised is whether peace missions within the ESDP and war-fighting tasks within the US national security doctrine require the same type of defence capabilities, military equipment and technology.

The use of costbenefit analysis for developing and assessing security policies

Still, Europe is well ahead of the rest of the world in adjusting their security policies to the current security environment. While this may partly be due to a general European preference for non-military solutions, I like to believe that it also has to do with knowledge about the relative merits of alternative security instruments to the use of force. This is particularly true when addressing security problems in other parts of the world, which require more coherent security policies, incorporating a number of civilian security instruments. A parallel can be made with the current trends within development cooperation policy, where it is increasingly realized that a comprehensive policy is needed which cannot be limited to development cooperation but must cover a broad range of policy areas, include trade policy, agricultural policy, and so on.

In this context, one way of getting a proper balance between military and non-military instruments, and possibly between armaments and disarmament, would be to use some form of cost–benefit analysis. While it is difficult to apply cost–benefit analysis to complex security problems, attempts in this direction are nevertheless being made, with the aim of assessing the relative cost and benefit of various military and civilian interventions to achieve peace and security.

For example, it would contribute significantly to the assessment of the implementation of the ESDP, and thus public debate on this policy, if it was possible to compare investment in military crisis management with investment in civilian crisis management, and—moving even one step further—between expenditure for military and civilian crisis management on the one hand and other types of measures to help promote security in conflict-prone countries in other parts of the world.

This may sound unrealistic and of course it would not be possible to make very detailed and accurate assessments, especially of the benefits. But I think this type of tool will prove to be increasingly useful. An interesting project along these lines is the effort undertaken by some US research institutes to recalculate items in the US federal budget to arrive at what is called a ‘comprehensive security budget’, including all the budget items of relevance for promoting security, within the USA as well as abroad. This exercise allows a discussion about the priorities between different security instruments. While their relative benefits are more difficult to assess, at least they can be discussed once the expenditure items have been identified. This type of tool would also put the focus on the need for broad and coherent security strategies for promoting peace and security in conflict-prone regions, and on the need for increased knowledge about the interrelationship between security and development.


In sum, what I have argued here is that, with the changed conceptualization of security, new methods and research are needed to bring about a more rapid transformation of security policies. One avenue is the use of cost–benefit analysis to assess the relative utility of different security instruments. This would both promote the development of cost-effective policies and help anchor security policy among the broader public. For this to happen, we need better data from governments and industry. But that is another story.