As fighting in Ukraine and Sudan rages, Prime Minister Hun Sen has suggested that the world cut 50 per cent of military spending and use it to increase public health budgets.
He recommended that all countries, especially the superpowers, increase funding for medical research as well.
Hun Sen shared his thoughts while presiding over a recent graduation ceremony for more than 1,000 University of Health Science students.
He noted that many of the world’s scientists spent a lot of time and funding to produce weapons, rather than medical breakthroughs and healthcare products that would save people.
“The world must think about this,” he said.
“If the world were to reduce military spending by only 50 per cent and return the funding to the healthcare sector, medicine and medical equipment prices would be low. Instead, they race to create weapons rather than manufacture affordable medicine,” he added.
He used the Russian war on Ukraine as an example, noting that the West had rushed to send arms to Ukraine to wage war on Russia, which he called the equivalent of “pouring fuel on the fire” when it came to finding a peaceful solution or establishing grounds for peace talks between the two sides.
“In Sudan, it is only the arms’ dealers who are profiting,” he added.
Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said global defence spending had increased markedly in recent years.
“Even before the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, many major countries including Japan, China and Australia have increased their military budgets, sometimes at the expense of health spending. In addition, during the height of Covid-19, several major countries had seen one another make mistakes, only to repeat them,” he added.
He supported the prime minister’s suggestion, especially in light of the global suffering caused by the pandemic and the impact of climate change.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen’s calls are correct, but in my opinion, it is unlikely that the superpowers will reduce their military spending, because they want to be able to project their geopolitical power. In addition, military-industrialised countries also want to expand the sale of arms,” he explained.
He said, however, that if the world implemented Hun Sen’s recommendations, global healthcare systems would be strengthened to the point that a challenge like Covid-19 would be far more easily addressed, without the same level of threat to the global economy.
Total global military expenditure increased by 3.7 per cent in real terms in 2022, a record level for defence spending, according to an April report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.