Much of modern civilization is based on war or war preparation. The link between widespread poverty and a world that depends on military force to resolve conflict is clear. Money that should be invested in education and health is diverted to military purposes.
Human security… is a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, an ethnic violence that did not explode, a dissident who was not silenced… Human security is not a concern with weapons. It is a concern with human dignity.
…Mahbub ul Haq
According to the United Nations, 25 countries spend more on weapons than on education; 15 countries spend more on the military than on education and health needs combined. And it doesn’t stop there. Military spending leads to enormous additional costs.
In the end, it is the vulnerable who pay. Since 1960, four out of five war casualties have been civilians. The majority of them were women and children living in some of the poorest countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Between 1982 and 1992, 1.5 million children were killed in conflict zones. Another 4.5 million survived, but were left disabled.
Arms sold to foreign governments are often used against their own citizens. Although Canada is not one of the worst offenders, in 1995, 40 per cent of our military exports (other than to the United States), went to human rights violators and to countries involved in armed conflict. The toll exacted by this civil conflict was enormous. People were uprooted from their communities. Women and children were abused in refugee camps.
Between 1985 and 1996, for example, more than 46 million people became refugees, or were displaced within their own country as a result of armed conflict. This is more than double the number of only a decade earlier. Most of these conflicts stemmed from ethnic and religious tensions; an increasing number resulted from disintegrating states.
War and war preparation also wreak environmental havoc, destroying both our history and our heritage. The oil slick released by Iraq’s destruction of Kuwaiti oil fields, for example, was the size of Northern Ireland! And in some of the poorest countries in the world, landmines have converted fertile farmland into land too dangerous to cultivate.
In Cambodia, 1,800 minefields have turned 300,000 hectares of once-productive land fallow. It costs between $5 and $50 to produce and plant a mine. The cost of removing one is approximately $1,000.
The human toll, however, will never be measured in dollars and cents. Landmines maim and kill men, women, and children for decades after a cease-fire. Take Cambodia, for example. One out of every 236 Cambodians is an amputee; most are civilians who stepped on landmines.
Peace is not merely the absence of war, but a positive alternative that must be worked at and give the investment it deserves.
Michael Renner, Worldwatch Institute
Those who suffer the direct and indirect consequences of war and the military spending that support it have been deprived of their ability to sustain themselves. Ultimately, economic security cannot exist without physical security. The global effort to address world poverty must grapple with this basic fact.
If lasting peace were something we truly valued, virtually everything would change. Preventing conflict would become a top priority. And not just for government foreign policy, or humanitarian organizations, but for each of us.
Governments, NGOs, and citizens’ organizations are learning how to avert the slide into violence and war. Peace-building interventions create situations where people’s vulnerabilities are reduced, tensions are eased, and trust is built. NGOs can help with community mediation, informal diplomacy, and by providing the basic tools needed to rebuild societies.
With only a little outside help, people are able and eager to work within their communities to improve them.
For its part, Canada should actively support structural reforms that address those areas where poverty causes conflict, gross economic inequity, political discrimination and human rights violations.
Chilean Ambassador Juan Somavia, who led the 1995 World Summit on Social Development, reminded Canadian NGOs of this recently. He pointed out that “developed societies reached stability by adding elements of equity”… so people feel a part, feel they are participating, feel and hope that through education and other means, things may in the future get better”.
In short, peace depends on ending poverty and making a commitment to justice.
It won’t be easy. Resistance can be expected. Canadian arms manufacturers would be prohibited from exporting weapons to countries engaged in armed conflict. The Canadian government, then, would have to provide them with incentives to convert to civilian production.
Decisive political will makes a difference, as Canada has already proven. In December 1997, 121 countries gathered in Ottawa to sign a treaty banning the production and use of anti-personnel mines. This was accomplished after less than a year of negotiations!
The Canadian government should continue to provide leadership, by creating a public review process for all Canadian arms exports. This process would assess the impact of each potential military sale on citizens and their regions.
Canadian defence forces should no longer concentrate on preparing for war. Instead, they should invest their resources, weapons, purchases and training in peacekeeping. A more specialized Canadian Forces could perform all the essential military functions we require: peacekeeping, domestic security and coastal patrol, with a budget of $7.5 to $8 billion. This is approximately $2.5 billion less than 1997 expenditures.
Savings could then be invested in rebuilding Canadian development co-operation, landmine clearing operations, and other non-military contributions to global security.
We are partners in our own evolution. Of all Earth’s creatures, only humans have the unique ability to imagine new realities and then realize them. Alternatives to a conflict driven, war-oriented future exist, alternatives that can shift us from a world of social instability to one of social transformation.
Each one of us can contribute to this process. It will take inspired political leadership, combined with strong grassroots movements. But wouldn’t building alternatives to violence as a means of resolving conflict be a fitting way to say farewell to this century, marked as it has been by war and destruction?
Together, we could make the 21st century the Age of Peace.