Military spending, nuclear disarmament

What could we do if…….

…we did not spend so so much on the military.

About twelve years ago a Minister was hosting a dinner for ambassadors from South and Central America. It was after Brazil had decided that it would not proceed with the development of nuclear weapons. When asked why, several countries noted that with the growth of democracies, the people had been listened to, and previous money spent on weapons was redirected to housing, education, health and infrastructure.

If only that message was acted upon around the world.

Last year global military spending exceeded $1.7 trillion(US dollars)…that’s more than $4.6 billion a day, more than a dozen times what the world spent on official development assistance.

But it’s not just military spending versus aid, but think of the serious problems facing us: replacement of hydrocarbon fuels and the cost of transition; child poverty and the costs to remove this; an ageing population with the rising healthcare costs and availability of clean water for all.

What could we do if we did not spend this horrendous amount of money on the military industry? I am not sure of the percentage that is wages, but I think I feel sure in asserting that it will be the cost of the weaponry and the delivery mechanisms that will make up the highest part of that bill.

Working for peace is not just some pipe dream. Peace is positive. It is about life and enhancing the opportunities for every human. It is not an impossibility. It is economic good sense.

Disparaging peace activists with the term “peacenik” is the same as disparaging those who struggle to maintain eco systems as “tree huggers”. It is a standard technique of those who do not want change to disparage the activist, to patronise them, even to create a bogey that is feared.

I am proud to be a peace activist. I am proud to be a New Zealand citizen, who had the privilege of being one of the few Ministers for Disarmament in the world.

But I am very much aware that rather than leading the struggle for world disarmament New Zealand rather rests on its laurels and does not work as strongly as it could in all the forums available to pursue this goal. And in the interests of trade negotiations we have fallen for the emphasis on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons rather than pursuing relentlessly disarmament of all weapons of mass destruction.

Non-proliferation is the emphasis taken by USA and others holding nuclear weapons. So the media focuses on Iran, as it enriched uranium, but ignored Israel, which is said to have already nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them.

Under the  Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty there is a balance. Those that had weapons must disarm. And in return, those without such weapons would not work to get them. But all would have access to nuclear energy.

The problem is that those who promised to disarm did not write a timetable into this, nor did they establish a system to verify what weapons are destroyed and what new ones may be replacing those that are old. Yes there has been some disarmament, but it has been clothed in secrecy. In 1987 there were reportedly about 62,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Today, according to Kristensen and Norris (2013), that number is believed to be about 20,000.

BUT, there are robust, well-funded plans to modernise existing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. And no-one seems to know exactly how many nuclear weapons really exist in the world. Some countries report essentially nothing about their weapons capabilities, in terms of numbers of weapons, delivery vehicles, and amounts of fissile material.We have some bilateral treaties that set limits on deployments of strategic nuclear weapons of the Russian Federation and the United States, but no requirements for verified destruction, and no treaties addressing the possession, production or foreign deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Strategic nuclear weapons are those that are essentially long range, i.e. can be used to destroy cities across  continents: i.e. New York from somewhere in Russia, or Moscow from the Rocky Mountains. Non strategic (or tactical) nuclear weapons have a shorter range and lower yield. They can be delivered by planes, submarines. Their targets are weapons factories, stockpiles, raw material, transportation systems, power systems. But the destruction of such targets by nuclear weapons does not lessen the horrific humanitarian effects of the the use of such weapons on the environment, human and ecology  around those facilities. Just think of the effect of the tsunami on Fukushima and consequent effect on the area around this. Non-strategic weapons have been reduced, but they have also been modernised.

In the 201o Nuclear Posture Review, the Obama administration indicated that the US Air Force would retain the capability to deliver both nuclear and conventional weapons as it replaced ageing F-16 aircraft with the new F-35 Joint Striker Fighter and that  a “full scope” life extension programme for the B61 bomb, the weapon that is currently deployed in at least six European states, “to ensure its functionality wit the F-35”.

So we are faced with no effective disarmament of nuclear weapons…and this is what we need to focus on, to persuade our fellow citizens that disarmament is still a real issue, whose solution could well free up money to address our other pressing issues.

As New Zealanders we value our stand, but we should take our beliefs out there to the world with conviction and strength. We developed a way of growing community support at town and community level for the non nuclear message. It is a style that meets with a positive reaction from many other activists. The town of Portsmouth in England has voted not to be the replacement port for the nuclear fleet if an independent Scotland asks the fleet to shift from its current Scottish base.

So as we remember those who died in the World Wars and the conflicts that have followed, let us also remember the power and opportunity that comes from peace. What could we spend $1.7 trillion on next year? That’s not just a nice idea: that is an incentive.