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O rulers of the earth! Be reconciled among yourselves, that ye may need no more armaments save in a measure to safeguard your territories and dominions. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 254.
In Part 8 of this series on building community, we reviewed the Baha’i goals for a world at peace.
In that essay, a seminal quote from the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith outlined one of the most important peace-related Baha’i goals—the demilitarization of the entire world. It foresees a time when:
The enormous energy dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be consecrated to such ends as will extend the range of human inventions and technical development, to the increase of the productivity of mankind, to the extermination of disease, to the extension of scientific research, to the raising of the standard of physical health, to the sharpening and refinement of the human brain, to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of the planet, to the prolongation of human life, and to the furtherance of any other agency that can stimulate the intellectual, the moral, and spiritual life of the entire human race. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 202.
Baha’u’llah, in his groundbreaking nineteenth-century letters to the kings and political and religious leaders of the world, repeatedly asked those rulers to reduce their spending on arms, and to stop laying the fiscal burden of such expenditures on their populations:
Compose your differences, and reduce your armaments, that the burden of your expenditures may be lightened, and that your minds and hearts may be tranquillized. Heal the dissensions that divide you, and ye will no longer be in need of any armaments except what the protection of your cities and territories demandeth. Fear ye God, and take heed not to outstrip the bounds of moderation, and be numbered among the extravagant.
We have learned that you are increasing your outlay every year, and are laying the burden thereof on your subjects. This, verily, is more than they can bear, and is a grievous injustice. Decide justly between men, and be ye the emblems of justice amongst them. This, if ye judge fairly, is the thing that behoveth you, and beseemeth your station. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 250-251.
No founder and prophet of a worldwide Faith has ever done this before. From exile and prison, Baha’u’llah wrote to the rulers of the world’s Great Powers and charged them all with the responsibility of disarming their nations, reducing their armies and navies, ceasing unjust taxation and forging peace. This radically unprecedented call from a prophet of God, so profound and so prescient, still applies today. Baha’is believe we must disarm and demilitarize, and the funds and the taxes that pay for war must be significantly reduced and channeled to the prosperity, the education, the health and the well-being of all humanity.
Many if not most of the well-informed people in the world have a general sense of how much we spend on armament and the military. But in a geopolitical situation like the one we have now—unbridled and potentially chaotic national sovereignty, with nations armed to the teeth and no reliably effective international peacekeeping mechanism—those high expenditures have predictably continued to rise.
Probably the best, most respected and most frequently cited compiler of world military expenditures—The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (www.sipri.org)–reports that the world’s nations spent $1.756 trillion on their militaries in 2012. Of course, hardly anyone can even begin to conceptualize a figure that huge. Instead, just to get a different perspective on our weaponized world, let’s look at per-capita spending, which gives a vastly different and more understandable view.
SIPRI says that their $1.756 trillion figure (generally seen as very conservative because it does not include things like veteran’s benefits and demobilization expenses) corresponds to “approximately $249 for each person in the world” each year.
Because three-fifths of the world’s population lives on less than $2 U.S. per day, that figure represents a huge burden on those whose incomes fall in the low- to middle-income ranges. In the United States, for example, which expends 39% of all world military expenditures, the per-capita military cost, according to the SIPRI database, is $1891 each year.
By contrast, the entire cost of the United Nations and its global peacekeeping, food security and refugee efforts–$30 billion per year—amounts to $4 per person in the world per year, less than 3% of the world’s current military spending. The United Nations, most would agree, is far from perfect—but it could certainly strengthen its global peacekeeping efforts, and its capacity for effective international negotiations, if it had more resources.
You can see, just by comparing those two per capita figures, how much the world could save by reducing its militaries and arms, and centralizing its security and defense needs. The United Nations has reported that the world’s nations could provide basic education for every child for $6 billion; clean water and sanitation for the planet for $9 billion; reproductive health for all the world’s women for $12 billion; and basic health and nutrition for everyone for $13 billion. When you add them up, these four human necessities represent $40 billion, only a small fraction of our military budgets.
The Baha’i teachings foresaw this global problem of military spending a hundred and fifty years ago, and asked the leaders of the world to solve it before the injustices it engendered created an armed conflagration civilization could not withstand. In today’s climate of terrorism, regional conflicts and massive military spending, we have seen those prophecies go generally unheeded by the world’s leaders, who have continued to increase their military budgets to record levels. Now, Baha’is believe, we must act to disarm and demilitarize, before it’s too late.
The fact that the world can spend so much on its militaries, and so little on its ultimate goals of global security, international cooperation and peace, reveals a great deal about our priorities and our future. Until we find ways to reverse those priorities, the Baha’i teachings say, we will continue to live in a world plagued by disunity, death, destruction and war.