Home Correction letter Letter: A Peace Dividend, But Not As McNamara Envisioned

Letter: A Peace Dividend, But Not As McNamara Envisioned


John Paul Rathbone’s assessment in “The West’s Peace Dividend Falls Victim to Russian Hostility” (Report, June 8) is misleading and overly pessimistic.

Misleading, because although in the 1990s military spending fell in absolute and relative terms, for much of the next two decades there was never a peace dividend.

The phrase refers to the economic and social benefits of reduced military spending. But using the same SIPRI data as Rathbone, we see that Western military spending has “doubled” since 2000 in constant US dollars (ie after adjusting for inflation). Global military spending increased by 2.6% in 2020 despite the Covid-19 recession. Western defense spending was already at historically high levels before the war in Ukraine ($753 billion was spent in the United States alone in 2021).

The peace dividend envisioned by former US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and others in 1989 ended with US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not Russia’s in Ukraine.

With the war in Ukraine, it has become very clear that military spending does not guarantee peace or stability – in 2021 NATO was already spending 15 times more than Russia.

With climate, food and health crises threatening the future of humanity, the pressure to redirect military spending to more productive uses will only increase. Many personalities (including 54 Nobel laureates and the presidents of five major academies of sciences) and more than 60,000 citizens of the world have endorsed a concrete proposal to negotiate a reduction in global military spending by 2% each year. The peace dividend has not yet started, but I am convinced that it will.

Matteo Smerlak
President, The Global Peace Dividend Initiative, Geneva, Switzerland