Why it is unrealistic to propose making museums free by cutting military spending

Art historian Tomaso Montanari, rector of the University for Foreigners of Siena, has again launched his own proposal, that of making museums free by cutting "a day's military spending." But it is a naïve and unrealistic project: here's why.

A great populist classic of cultural heritage: free museums funded by cuts in military spending. The proposal, which is far from new, was reiterated earlier this week by Tomaso Montanari in an interview with Fortune Italia: “A courageous move would be needed: guarantee free access to museums, as is already the case in many countries around the world. It would be enough to cut one day of military spending.” This is not a new proposal: allow everyone, citizens and tourists alike, free admission to museums while saving on defense spending. Assuming we’re talking about state museums, and assuming a return of pre-Covid visitor flows, it would mean finding resources of more than 240 million euros (so much was the revenue state museums got, in 2019, from ticketing alone).

So in reality this would be more than “one day of military spending,” since the ordinary budget of Defense in 2022 amounted to just over 25 billion euros, so to cover the lost revenue from museum tickets would require three days of fasting for the entire sector, but that is not the point: back in the day we were already branding as naïve and populist the plan to save on military spending to invest in museums, partly because Italy has long been among the NATO countries that invest the least in defense in relation to GDP, and partly because “military spending” cannot be considered a basin from which to draw at will to allocate resources wherever we please. The same proposal, “just cut military spending,” could be made, say, by those who would like more incentives for photovoltaic panels while totally disinterested in museums. And, incidentally, the advocate of the panel cause would also be right: is it more strategic to invest in innovative energy sectors to lower our dependence on fossil fuels, or is it more strategic to allow tourists to enter museums for free? If this is the rationale with which to advance ideas, one could suggest that the state recover all the underground and allocate some of it to free admission for our cultural institutions, or one could persuade the state to build incinerators to intervene in the cost of waste management and thus reserve the money saved on museums, and so on.

Of course, talking about military spending is easier: one might wonder what will ever be one day a year of military spending. Now, the writer has never espoused militarist causes (far from it), but unfortunately, and it has to be said with great regret, one has to look at the reality (which is extremely unpleasant), so the proposal to cut one day of military spending in order to guarantee free access to museums is, at least at the moment, simply unrealistic and unfeasible, for several reasons. First, Italy has international commitments, and straying from the goals, moreover in a situation where it is already difficult to achieve them, would mean demonstrating unreliability, and thus losing international relevance. It is then obvious that the current debate is about how realistic the goals are and how we should spend in order to be more efficient, but it is also true that in such a context it seems very unlikely that Italy would be ready to cut its military spending.

Second, the war in Ukraine has obviously affected the stockpiles of European arsenals. And moreover, the proposal to reduce military spending to finance free access to museums came just before one of the fiercest attacks since the beginning of the war fell on Ukraine’s capital: it is also thanks to the anti-missile defenses provided by NATO that a massacre of civilians was avoided in the past few hours. Helping Ukraine defend itself against the aggressor has living costs, and arsenals must be replenished for Western countries to retain their deterrence capability.

Third: even imagining a NATO in which there are no discussions and in which all allies remain in line with their commitments, it will have to be remembered that cuts in military spending cannot be decided unilaterally. In other words: if international threats are assessed to be increasing, who would be so self-defeating as not to prepare for every eventuality? Cuts make sense where there are multilateral international treaties in which everyone agrees to cut their spending. The principle, to be understood, is that of the SALT and START agreements between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which allowed for an 80 percent reduction in existing nuclear warheads at the time of signing. It makes more sense, if anything, to launch international campaigns to ask governments to get around a table and discuss treaties in which everyone, on all sides, commits to reduce military spending. This would need to be demanded in order to achieve first a reduction in spending and then disarmament.A proposal to this effect, moreover, already exists: it is called the Global Peace Dividend Initiative and the writer is among the thousands of people who have signed it (little has been said about it, however, perhaps because it is easier to say “let’s cut on military spending to spend on X,” forgetting that a state’s budget does not work like the one at home). Here it is: we would all like a world in which we do not spend on weapons but invest in museums, and sooner or later we will get there. Unfortunately, however, the time is not today: today it is up to us to work for that time to come closer. And the effort has to be directed in fostering the dissemination and awareness of proposals like the one just mentioned.

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.