Global military spending reaches all-time high

On 22 April the global military spending figures for the 2023 were released, and perhaps unsurprisingly, spending has increased across the world, with total global military expenditure reaching $2443 billion in 2023.[1] For the first time, all five continents saw an increase in military expenditure, with a 6.8% increase from 2022.[2]

Spending in each of the five geographical areas increased:

  • 2.2% in the Americas,
  • 4.4% in Asia and Oceania,
  • 16% in Europe,
  • 9% in the Middle East,
  • 22% in Africa

These figures clearly suggest that military expenditure is being prioritised, particularly in most of the wealthiest nations (including the UK), as a response to greater insecurity. It is often claimed that the main responsibility of a Government to keep its people safe and secure, yet this tends to be seen only in terms of ‘national security’, rather than an alternative framing of ‘human security’ or even a ‘sustainable security’ that often accords better with people’s felt needs.[3]

So, many governments are choosing to prioritise spending on military and defence in an attempt to bring about security, rather than tackling major systemic issues that also cause huge insecurity nationally and globally, such as poverty, the climate crisis, and inequality. If these issues were tackled, people across the world would experience hugely increased security, and the causes of many conflicts and wars would disappear, and in turn, there would be far less perceived need for military spending.

Why is military spending increasing?

To put it simply, there is increasing insecurity and conflict across all of these geographical areas, resulting in countries increasing their military spending. According to the UN, a quarter of humanity lives in conflict-affected areas.[4]

For many NATO states, the war between Russia and Ukraine is the main reason for increased spending, as well as increasing tensions and violence in the Middle East. In Asia, China, which has the second largest military budget, keeps increasing military spending and neighbouring countries are, in turn, increasing their spending in response. Unsurprisingly, increased tensions and war in the Middle East have increased spending in that region, but also globally. In 2023, Israel’s military spending increased by 24%, and it is the second largest spender in the region, after Saudi Arabia. In Central America and the Caribbean, military spending has increased in response to organised crime and greater violence, such as in Haiti and Mexico. Africa saw the biggest increase, and particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where military spending increased by 105% due to the ongoing conflict between the government and non-state armed groups. South Sudan’s miliary spending also increased significantly, by 78%, because of internal violence and the recent civil war. Interestingly, Algeria saw a 76% increase after experiencing increased profits from gas exports , as European countries stopped buying gas from Russia.[5]

UK military spending announcement, 23 April

In a speech on 23 April, Rishi Sunak announced that UK defence spending would increase to 2.5% of GDP by 2030, to reach £87 billion a year. For context, this is 4.8 times more than the budget for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which is responsible for most of the UK’s international development budget. It is 7.2 times more than the budget of the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero, which is responsible for the Government’s spending on climate action.[6]

Sunak announced that this increased military spending would be directed to three areas in particular:

  1. Strengthening UK defence, to the rapid production of ‘next generation’ munitions
  2. Modernising the Armed Forces
  3. Backing Ukraine’s defence, including an additional £500 million this year, and a commitment to continue to support Ukraine.

Alternative approaches to defence

“In a world that is the most dangerous it has been since the end of the Cold War, we cannot be complacent. As our adversaries align, we must do more to defend our country, our interests, and our values” – Rishi Sunak’s speech, 23 April 2024[7]

Rethinking Security

The Ammerdown Group (a partnership of NGOs and think tanks) produced the Rethinking Security report, emphasising the need for focusing on the longer term, and tackling the root causes of insecurity. It recognises that the security of each nation is intrinsically connected to the security of other nations, as we can see with the climate crisis, natural disasters and diseases. It emphasises the need for a global approach to security, because it is impossible for individual countries to achieve long-term security if the rest of the world does not.

It is crucial to recognise that all people need safety and security in a much wider sense, that of ‘human security’. For a government to truly uphold its responsibility of keeping people safe, it needs to actively protect and act against threats to human security such as poverty, disease, inequality, the climate crisis, financial issues, natural disasters, unstable living conditions, insecure housing or jobs, as well as violence and conflict, not by simply increasing military spending. ‘Sustainable security’ builds on this human security model, and goes further, recognising the need for long term plans and thinking about the future.

Another important aspect to rethinking security is to approach it from the perspectives of often excluded and marginalised groups, for example those in poverty, communities of colour, displaced peoples, those experiencing the worst effects of the climate crisis. It is also important to note that often these groups overlap or are the same. It is interesting, and sad, that what many perceive as security, such as increased military spending, tighter borders, policing, more often than not have the opposite impact on these marginalised groups, decreasing their security and safety further.

Reducing the insecurity from all these other threats would in turn reduce the threats to national security, as so many conflicts and wars are caused by threats to human security. The report urges that the climate crisis must be at the centre of rethinking security, and move away from military security to sustainable security at the same time as moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Conflict prevention and transformation

Another way to improve security would be to encourage mediation to break the cycle of conflict or prevent conflict from happening in the first place – this would be the ideal. The UN has a strong history with conflict prevention, and UN peacekeepers work with local communities to ‘help prevent conflict to reduce human suffering, build stable and prosperous societies to help enable people to reach their full potential’.[8] UN peacekeepers work in volatile and unstable areas of conflict and help protect civilians and stabilise conflict zones by working with local communities and partners to facilitate interactions and conversations before conflict escalates. They also help local and national responses to the root causes of conflict, such as those threats to human security listed above.

Conflict transformation is constructively responding to conflict, learning from it and growing together. It helps end cycles of hostility and violence to build a safer, more equitable world. Conflict transformation is much stronger than conflict resolution, which tends to be ‘resolved’ in favour of whoever holds more power. For conflict to truly be resolved, it must be equitable, just and allow for the flourishing of all life.

“Conflict transformation is the art of turning animosity, hatred, and domination into a spirit of collaboration, creativity and community”

Melody Stanford Martin, Brave Talk Project [9]

Conflict transformation has been inspired by movements such as Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagrapha (non-violence resistance), the South African anti-apartheid movement and Nelson Mandela, the US Civil Rights movement and African American Christian theological traditions, indigenous peacemaking movements, and the work of reconcilers like John Paul Lederach.

Rather than increasing military spending, it would perhaps be much more effective and useful for governments to increase (or even initiate) funding for conflict prevention and transformation, which helps local communities and individuals become stronger together, and tackles threats to human security which if left un-tackled, lead to bigger threats to national security. There is a distinct lack of funding and prioritising of conflict prevention and conflict transformation from the UK government, particularly when the defence spending will increase hugely over the next decade. The Churches in JPIT have called on the government to change this, and invest in conflict prevention and transformation as a means of defence and security. One of the suggestions for manifestos in the next General Election is to ‘increase our focus on conflict prevention by at least quadrupling the contribution to the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, reversing the recent downward trend.’[10]

The Christian calling to ‘seek peace and pursue it’ (Psalm 34:14)

As Christians, we believe that God created us to live life in all its fullness, and for everyone to reach their full potential, we need to reach true peace with justice. This would mean that everybody lives in harmony, safety, equity and contentment. It is this more holistic sense of Shalom, which relates to completeness and a sense of welfare, health and good relationships, a much wider sense of peace, rather than simply the absence of conflict.11 This means that we need to adopt the human security and sustainable security approach, and invest in conflict prevention and transformation, in order to reach this sense of true peace, to enable all people to live to their potential, as God intended, free from poverty, inequality, danger, as well as conflict.

[1] Global military spending surges amid war, rising tensions and insecurity | SIPRI

[2] Global military spending surges amid war, rising tensions and insecurity | SIPRI

[3] An alternative framing of security can be seen in the Rethinking Security report, which is discussed further below

[4] UN – Goal 16 | Department of Economic and Social Affairs (

[5] Global military spending surges amid war, rising tensions and insecurity | SIPRI

[6] New figures show increase in global military spending – Global Campaign on Military Spending UK (

[7] PM announces ‘turning point’ in European security as UK set to increase defence spending to 2.5% by 2030 – GOV.UK (

[8] Preventing conflicts | United Nations Peacekeeping

[9] What Is Conflict Transformation? – Brave Talk Project

[10] Suggestions for General Election manifestos – Joint Public Issues Team (

[11] Helen Paynter, God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today?: Wrestling honestly with the Old Testament, page 156


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