The Missing Link

The Missing Link

 

It is a pleasure to write for a readership like Christian Ecologists, who believe as I do that the world and all creation belongs to God.  We humans are here but for a short time and are no more than trustees of whatever we think we own or control.  Not that Christians have always behaved as trustees.  The "dominion" promised in Genesis has for long centuries been interpreted to mean that we can exploit, pollute, kill and destroy if such behaviour is judged by us to be in our interest.

This is just an introduction to a problem that has puzzled me  for a long time.  Why is it that so many people of good will really concerned about poverty and damage to the environment, seem so often to ignore the manifest appalling consequences of global militarisation.  It is almost as if outside a large modern city hospital there stood a sign saying “We deal with every medical problem here, but please don’t mention cancer”.  Any modern hospital that ignored cancer would be worse than ridiculous.  Nevertheless, time and again, militarisation is simply not on the agenda of world conferences dealing with poverty and environmental damage.

It is not as if we have not had enough warnings.  I have a pile of reports and surveys in front of me which make the connection.  It is strongly made in the Brundtland report Our Common Future of 1987.  It is there in the 1992 Canadian Science for Peace study of the impact of militarism on the environment.  The Swedish group, Co-operation for Peace, make the connection in 1992 in their Military Threat to the Environment.  Only last August the International Peace Bureau produced a comprehensive 16-page study which covers all the poverty / environmental issues.

Significant figures from within the UN system have regularly voiced their concerns.  Before the Rio summit of 1992 Mostafa Tolba, then Director the UN Environmental Programme, had this to say about the forthcoming gathering: “Disarmament and other security issues are not on the agenda, but global discussions and international agreements are worthless       without progress on these issues.”  He was not listened to.  It is true that in the final Rio document there are a couple of nods in the direction of the damage done by global militarisation, but they are nods only.  By the time Agenda 21 got down to us, the grassroots, those nods had been forgotten.

Read Agenda for Change, a plain-language version of Agenda 21, published by the Centre for our Common Future.  In the section about the protection of the oceans there is not a word about military marine pollution.  In the section about the management of radioactive waste there is no reference to the military nuclear cycle which presents as many, if not more, problems as civilian nuclear energy production.  I simply ask why is it that from Stockholm in 1972 through to Johannesburg in 2002 issues of militarism are marginalised and even ignored as they have been?

It is not as if the facts are in dispute.  The global military budget – half of which is spent by the United States – now runs at $800 billion annually.  The poverty and inflationary consequences are there for all to see, whether there are wars or not.  But in the last 15 years there have been major wars – the Gulf, Bosnia / Kosovo, and now perhaps Iraq.  Major wars, however, are not the only ones.  At least 30 other wars, mostly within rather than between states, are in progress as I write.

The damage done directly to the environment is as clear as are the poverty consequences.  About a quarter of the world’s jet fuel is used by  military aircraft.  The military occupy 1.5 million square kilometres of land for training and other purposes.  About 50 nuclear warheads and at least 11 nuclear reactors lie on our ocean floors.  More aluminium, copper and platinum are used by the military than by the entire third world.  Leaking oil-wells, defoliated forests, land wrecked with mines and depleted uranium, rivers full of  dangerous chemicals leaking from bombed factories - the list goes on and on.

Why then the “don’t mention cancer” attitude when it comes to mentioning militarism at major conferences about global problems?  There are at least two reasons.  The first is that the most powerful and militarised countries, wedded as they are to out-of-date notions of security based on individual state power, do not want the connections to be made.  It would be much too uncomfortable for them to make them.  The second is what I have to call rather unkindly the yearning for respectability shown by many non-governmental organisations whose charitable status to a large extent depends on not rocking the boat too energetically.  To raise the issue of militarism in the British context is at once to find the finger pointing back at us – our Trident nuclear submarines, our very substantial export of weapons, our militarised culture and traditions.  Those are not issues which any British government wants discussed in world gatherings.

Happily non-governmental organisations are now co-operating much more vigorously than they did in the past.  As I write I have before me a report from all the major development organisations which makes clear that a war on Iraq would be a disaster for ordinary people there.  The great global gatherings at Seattle, Porto Allegre, Genoa and Florence, have brought together connecting campaigns as never before.  “Another world is possible” is today’s excellent, positive globalisation slogan.  Another world will not be possible unless the consequences of global militarisation are taken seriously and the world moves towards more intelligent notions of common security.