When discussing global issues, there is a proverbial elephant in the room, a cause of tremendous human suffering rarely challenged in the media: the military-industrial complex.
There is a myth perpetrated that there are good guys and bad guys in the world and that if we blow up the bad guys, the world will become safer. The truth is that there are good and bad people everywhere, and good people far outnumber the bad in every society.
It is important to note that civilians living in Western Europe have not been victimized by warfare since 1945. We have made tremendous progress in learning to preserve peace on this continent. The problem is that these countries, and the United States and Canada, do not have an issue exporting the horrors of war to other parts of the world. We seem to be getting even worse in this regard as the survivors of the Second World War become fewer and fewer in number.
In December 1998, Labour Party representative Tony Benn addressed British Parliament. He was born in London in 1925 and remembers well the impact of Luftwaffe attacks on his city. He points out how this strategy backfired for the Nazis by increasing British resolve to win the war. He makes clear to his younger parliamentarians that it is naïve to expect people of the Middle East to back down after coalition bombings of their homes. They too love their children and their families, and such attacks only serve to stimulate extremism. Given the rise of ISIS and the perpetual state of conflict in the region, Benn’s message has proven to be prophetic.
When looking at the events of the world, it is important to keep in mind that the arms industry is extremely lucrative and global conflict increases their profitability.
Many criticize the failure of the United Nations to preserve global peace. Upon closer examination of the structure of this organization, one notices the powerful influence of the Security Council. It is significant to note that the five permanent members of this council have veto power over all resolutions put forward. These five permanent members are Russia, China, Great Britain, France and the United States. All five countries are among the world’s largest producers of military weapons.
After the atrocities of the Second World War, we developed clearer and more stringent definitions of war crimes. This is referred to as International Humanitarian Law and one of its cornerstones is the protection of civilian populations. Yet the International Committee of the Red Cross points out that “During the past 60 years the main victims of war have been civilians.” Despite the development of highly sophisticated “smart bombs” and the use of “precision drone warfare,” this trend continues.
In addition, the arms industry is rife with corruption. For example, in a 2019 Congressional hearing, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that a military contractor was charging American taxpayers $1,443 for a part that cost them $32 to produce.
If military spending does not make the world safer, what does bring peace and how much does it cost?
Few would argue the benefits of a good education. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai has pointed out that if every country cut their military expenditures for eight days a year it would be save enough money to allow every child in the world to get a free education to Grade 12.
Each nation has a right to a security force to protect its citizens, but investing in grossly overpriced military technology will not bring us security.
The truth is that we need mutual respect, education, health care and sustainable development. Peace thus achieved will cost a fraction of what we are now spending on our militaries.