To meet the UN development goals, look to the security sector

UN secretary-general António Guterres has issued his first official report on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the world’s pre-eminent road map to fighting poverty, inequality and injustice by 2030.

It will come as no surprise to those tracking the plight of the more than 70,000 migrants who have turned up on Europe’s shores this year, that progress has been slow. Across the globe, over 795m people are chronically undernourished, nearly 2bn face water insecurity, and nearly 65m were forced out of their homes last year by war and violence.

And the world is not becoming any more hospitable: in over 68 countries, levels of peace declined while over 800m people are vulnerable to the extreme impacts of climate change, through droughts, heatwaves or rising sea levels.

The secretary-general’s report, issued July 17, argues for greater financing and political will. This may be needed but it is unlikely to get to the root of the problem. A lot of good people work in development, trying to make progress on those 17 goals that may change the world. But until policymakers and the development community set their sights on the defence sector, they are facing a Sisyphean task.

The report frequently mentions the impact of violence and insecurity, with conflict identified as “the most insurmountable barrier to poverty eradication and sustainable development”.

And yet the defence and security sector is not mentioned once. While the need for greater efforts to improve health and education are front and centre, no mention is made of the vast sums that many countries are directing towards their militaries.

If the international community is serious about sending more…

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