The independent resource on global security

7. Analysing risks to human lives


I. Introduction

II. Major risks to human lives

III. The links between disease and violence prevention

IV. Conclusions


Read the full chapter [PDF].


Governments allocate large sums of money to their military sectors with the stated purpose of providing security for their citizens. The rationale that underlies this is based on a narrow traditional concept of security that links it to the risk of organized violence. Recent security analyses—taking different and broader definitions of security—call into question how far military measures can go towards providing security. They recognize a range of non-traditional security risks that cannot be addressed by military means.


The field of public health offers many examples of areas where non-military spending could be far more cost-effective as a means to provide security of human lives. According to reports by the World Health Organization (WHO), among the 10 leading global risk factors identified for developing countries with high mortality rates, four are related to hunger and two are related to the physical environment—unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene, and indoor smoke. Both of these are in turn linked to poverty. Thus, preventive interventions to reduce hunger, improve the physical environment and reduce poverty are important means of improving the security of human lives. Furthermore, in comparison with military expenditure, the prevention strategies developed for the WHO and other parts of the United Nations to reduce the risks to human lives are highly cost-effective. For example, 8 million lives could be saved annually for an annual investment of $57 billion in basic health interventions, and the cost of attaining the Millennium Development Goals has been estimated at $135 billion. These levels of investment are small compared with the level of world military expenditure, which amounted to $1204 billion in 2006.


More importantly, there are significant overlaps between the risk factors for disease and for collective violence, which suggests that there is an overlap in the agendas for ‘freedom from want’ and ‘freedom from fear’. This has implications for different types of security strategy. In particular, it means that in addressing one type of security threat, others can also be considered. While economic scarcity and competition for resources are potential sources of conflict and violence, using the world’s resources constructively to address hunger, environmental factors and poverty—including by transfers from the richer countries to the high-mortality developing countries—is likely both to improve human survival directly and to strengthen international security indirectly.



Elisabeth Sköns (Sweden) is the Leader of the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production projects.

Dr Elisabeth Sköns