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Pacifism Is So '80s! Why Military Budgets Are Exploding, Everywhere

Military spending has increased dramatically worldwide, driven by war in Ukraine and Chinese-Tawian tensions. With $2.24 trillion spent globally in 2022, the amount looks likely to continue to increase.

Image of Chinese girls taking selfies with China's second aircraft carrier, currently called the 001A, parked in a shipyard in the port city of Dalian in Liaoning Province, China.

Taking selfies with a Chinese aircraft carrier in the port city of Dalian in Liaoning Province, China.

Stephen Shaver/ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — Forty years ago, then French President, François Mitterrand uttered a phrase that caused a stir: "The pacifists are in the West, the missiles are in the East." It was the height of the Cold War, and pacifist demonstrations were taking place in German cities against the deployment of U.S. missiles intended to counter those of the USSR.

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The Socialist president highlighted a dangerous paradox in which pacifism risked leaving Western Europe defenseless.

Today, that era is long gone. Pacifists are now neither in the West nor in the East. One would search in vain for any significant pacifist demonstration, in Europe or elsewhere, while military spending is skyrocketing worldwide.

Figures published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a renowned source, unsurprisingly reveal that 2022 broke all records for global military expenditures. It does not come as a surprise, as this is the year of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, major Chinese maneuvers around Taiwan, and a general escalation of tensions. And yet, this trend had already been underway for some time.

Record-breaking military spending

A staggering total of $2.24 trillion was spent globally last year, and this figure is certain to increase even further in 2023, according to SIPRI.

In recent months, we have witnessed a series of spectacular announcements regarding defense budget increases: Germany, Poland (which is set to reach 4% of GDP), Japan (with a doubling of its budget), China (experiencing its 29th consecutive year of military spending growth), and, of course, France with the 2024-2030 Military Programming Law, which sees a 40% increase compared to the previous budget.

Nobody is contesting these military expenditures.

In Russia, Vladimir Putin has boldly stated that there was "no limit" to Russia’s military spending.

Image of a U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter taking off from Spangdahlem Air Base during the Air Defender 2023 air exercise in Germany.

4 June 2023: A U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter takes off from Spangdahlem Air Base during the Air Defender 2023 air exercise in Germany.

Boris Roessler/ZUMA

A new era

The 2023 SIPRI Yearbook published on Monday highlights another concerning phenomenon: the upward trend in the number of nuclear warheads worldwide, following a decline in the post-Cold War era.

The increase is primarily attributed to China, which added 86 nuclear warheads in just one year. According to SIPRI, "China has started a significant expansion of its nuclear arsenal," while Russia and the United States maintain stable and high levels of warheads.

The only surprising aspect is that nobody is contesting these military expenditures. The international climate, whether in Europe with Ukraine, in Asia with several hotspots of tension, or in the Middle East, is such that military spending is not truly being debated.

It can seem evident in authoritarian countries, but less so in democratic countries, where concerns over these conflicts hinder any pushback against military spending. Even raising the point that this is money not being invested in ecological transition, for example, faces obstacles. However, in Germany, the Green Party in government is one of the first to support military efforts.

Undoubtedly, Vladimir Putin may have expected more reactions. In the Russian disinformation operation, revealed yesterday by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there is a fake news story claiming the implementation of a special tax to arm Ukraine. In Moscow, it appears there is nostalgia for the time when pacifists were in the West and missiles were in the East. Yet that era is long gone.

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