Arms & Militarisation


Militarisation: The action of making military in character or style; spec. transformation to military methods or status, esp. by the provision or expansion of military forces and other resources. (Oxford English Dictionary).

Medact believes that militarisationis an underlying and root cause of poor health worldwide. The ideology of militarism fuels growing global insecurity and provides both tacit and explicit support to the international arms trade. We therefore oppose efforts to militarise civil society and education in the UK, and urge the health community to call for a changing narrative on security. Rather than invest increasing amounts of money in militarisation, the government should be investing in our national health system, as well as in peace education, peacebuilding, and sustainable nonviolent responses to conflict.

The International Arms Trade

The international arms trade is in direct opposition to efforts to protect and pursue the health of our world and its inhabitants. Not only does military expenditure steal funds away from health systems, climate change solutions, social development and essential infrastructures, but the arms trade itself enables, fuels and escalates human rights violations, violent conflict and poverty, as well as causing astronomical environmental damage.

Despite widespread poverty and hunger, and the climate standing on the brink of disaster, global military expenditure has increased to Cold War levels.

While across the world populations are starving, health systems are collapsing and the climate stands on the brink of disaster, global military expenditure has increased to Cold War levels.Graph of world military expenditure

In modern violent conflicts, 90% of those killed are civilians, of whom 80-90% are killed with small arms. (Small Arms: Wrong Hands, Oxfam publications, p. 1, 1998.) The growing availability of small arms is a major factor in the increase of the number of conflicts, which has a knock-on impact on health.


Health Under Attack

Intentional and direct attacks on hospitals are war crimes, and denying people access to essential health care is a serious violation of international humanitarian law – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 3 May 20161

According to a study by the World Health Organisation, between January 2014 and December 2015, there were 594 attacks on health care in 19 countries with emergencies, and sixty-two per cent of the attacks were reported to have intentionally targeted health care. Half were against health care facilities, and a quarter were against health care workers.The same study found that most attacks on health care have been in Syria, with the West Bank and Gaza Strip coming second.3

Often health workers are targeted because of their professional duty to provide non-discriminatory care to all. In Syria, Assad’s security forces are incarcerating, torturing and killing doctors and other health workers for treating people who are are may be part of, or associated with, rebel groups.4 5

Since March 2011, at least 738 Syrian doctors, nurses, and medical aides have died in more than 360 attacks on medical facilities, according to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).6 The independent human rights group holds the Syrian government and its ally, Russia, responsible for upwards of 90 percent of these attacks. The attacks on health workers and health care have resulted in much of the health system going underground.7

Many human rights and medical organisations are working on developing stronger international protection over health care facilities and health workers, and accountability for those responsible for targeting them. Medact is developing a project focusing on mobilising grassroots support in the UK health community for these international initiatives, supporting the efforts of Medecins Sans Frontier.

  2. WHO,


Last updated:

January 27, 2017

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