Monday, June 18, 2007

Armed Madhouse- Starving Masses

Last week the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released a report on global military spending. In it they found the nations of the world spent a staggering $1.2 TRILLION on wars and weaponry--with none other than the U.S. leading the pack. The figure is staggering even more so, in the small rate of time it took the increase to occur. The report states, "The volume of conventional weapons traded internationally in 2006 was 50 percent higher than that of 2002." What kind of world do we live in where millions go hungry or live in poverty, where our ecosystems and our species face threats like global warming, where diseases like HIV ravage entire societies and treatable maladies like malaria are allowed to fester, and yet these "imagined communities" we call states--to whom we look to in order to protect the public welfare--spend TRILLIONS on varied machines created for the sole purpose of maiming, injuring, terrorizing and taking human life?

Ever wonder what our world might be like, if those resources were put towards a series of humane causes? The report states, "Millions of human beings' lives could be saved by health measures that would cost a tiny fraction of what the world spends every year on its armies." Amazing, yet unsurprising. There was a time when humanity (or best put, the colonial powers who had carved up the world to their liking) thought they could actually "outlaw war"--then World War I came, and abruptly drenched that dream in blood and reality. Seems we haven't been able to entertain that preposterous notion of perpetual peace since. I hope somewhere out there in the cosmos, there aren't some intelligent life forms looking at the dire state of humanity, and deciding that our criminally neglectful governments need a collective "regime change"--along with an ensuing occupation.

Global Arms Race Feeds Insecurity

June 18, 2007

Remember the "peace dividend"? That was what the United States and Russia hoped to save on defence when the Cold War ended.

Back in 1988, the world spent $1.2 trillion U.S. on the military. And for a few years there was a $400 billion dividend as spending fell to $830 billion in 1996. But the terror attacks in 2001 reversed that trend.

Last year spending surged back to $1.2 trillion, with U.S. spending leading the way at $530 billion, driven chiefly by the Iraq war, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported last week. The peace dividend is a fast-receding memory.

The report should be required reading for policy-makers not only in Washington but also Ottawa and other world capitals.

It focuses on three troubling post-9/11 trend lines – more military spending, more nuclear-armed countries and a greater willingness to contemplate using nuclear weapons. These factors pose a growing threat to international stability in the 21st century. They also divert vast resources away from priorities such as reversing climate change, world hunger and even battling terrorism effectively.

These grim findings should spur a spirited debate between Democrats and Republicans during next year's U.S. election. At the same time, Canadian politicians should weigh them before the next federal election, when Afghanistan and military spending will be an issue.

The stark fact is that efforts to curb military costs and to rein in the nuclear threat have stalled, with serious policy consequences.

What could a $400 billion peace dividend bankroll? A serious drive to reverse climate change, for one. Former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern estimated a campaign would cost 1 per cent of the world's $40 trillion economic output. That is, $400 billion.

The United Nations aspires to cut dire global poverty in half with a $100 billion program, helping many of the 1 billion people who live on less than $1 a day. As things stand, global aid grew by just $8 billion from 1990 to 2004, to $73 billion, according to the Reality of Aid Network. And the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria had to go begging at the Group of Eight summit for $6 billion to save some of the 6 million people who die from these diseases each year.

It is a tragedy that much of the United States' increased military spending, which represents nearly half of the entire world's outlay, was spent waging an unproductive war in Iraq, based on the false premise that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Those resources could have done so much more in Afghanistan, where the 9/11 terrorists planned their attacks.

But the U.S. is far from alone in misdirecting resources. In the past decade, relatively poor India, Pakistan and North Korea have spent fortunes getting nuclear weapons, joining the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Israel. Iran is now trying.

And even as the Americans and Russians plan to trim their deployed nuclear weapons from 5,000 each to 2,000 each by 2012, they are busy upgrading their arsenals. As are China, Britain and France.

They also are lowering the bar to their use. Military planners now envisage using "low-yield" nuclear weapons to fight even non-nuclear-armed foes. In years past, using such weapons was unthinkable, except in dire circumstances. They existed only to deter nuclear attack.

As the Stockholm research institute cautions, these trends to higher military spending, nuclear proliferation and a lower bar to using nuclear weapons are worrisome. The world needs to rethink its priorities, focusing first on effectively addressing climate change, hunger and disease. And it needs to do so to avert the unthinkable.


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