Conscience Event Update: Military Spending – What’s the Cost?

by Shaughan Dolan ~ November 9th, 2016. Filed under: News.

On Friday 4th of November Conscience hosted the first in our latest series of events, ‘Military Spending: What’s the Cost?’ gathering speakers from CND, MedAct and the Green party to discuss the real impact of military spending on human society.

Aiden King, representing MedAct, began by drawing our attention to the difficulties faced by peace-builders, especially those working on small-scale local projects. Results from micro projects are often long-term, or even somewhat intangible to outsiders, making peace-building a difficult sell for many politicians when compared with traditional military intervention. Even when governments are willing to fund peace-building, there are still difficulties to overcome, for example, humanitarian aid has been ‘sold’ as peace-building in many instances. Dr King then stunned us all with the information that, in just 40 minutes of global arms spending, the equivalent sum to the World Health Organisation’s entire childhood vaccination scheme has been squandered on soldiers and weaponry. He closed with by reminding us all that, during wartime, the very social fabric of a nation decays, and all the institutions of that fabric with it, including healthcare and education. These effects are still discernible over six years after the cessation of hostilities.

Dr Rebecca Johnson, representing the Green Party, gave us a feminist perspective on the military spending question. As she quite rightly pointed out, unarmed women and girls are the most likely targets of violence during times of conflict, yet 95% of the perpetrators of armed violence are men. The gender imbalance here is so shocking many will disbelieve it, but the numbers are right; as Dr Johnson put it, ‘militarism is the armed wing of patriarchy’. Suffering during times of war is always disproportionately shouldered by the female population; sexual violence; the levels of violence society is willing to accept; murder; patriarchy is legitimised; mental health; national development grinds to a halt; food security is lost; health and communication infrastructure degrades and democracy and human rights are eroded. It can take years for women to be in the same position, in terms of human rights and position in society, they were before the conflict started.

Dr Kate Hudson, joining us from the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament, pointed out the lunacy of military spending at a time when huge, punitive cuts to all other areas of public spending are being made. £205 billion being spent by the British government on replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system is, according to Dr Hudson, more to do with the ruling elites concept of the United Kingdom and its place in the world, political hyperbole, and British militaristic culture than it is to do with national security or protecting the population. The job creation argument for replacing Trident rings completely hollow; a little social spending to retrain the engineers working on the new Dreadnought-class of submarines could lead to Britain becoming a world leader in the field of clean, renewable energy for example. Concerning world events over the course of the past year have energised Dr Hudson’s campaigning for a change of values and foreign policy to create a future that is genuinely secure for all of us.

The cost of Trident renewal has appalled many members of the public, especially as they also see libraries, leisure centres and NHS walk-in centres closing down at an unprecedented rate; CND’s most popular t-shirt proclaims the slogan ‘NHS not Trident’. Dr Hudson also reminded us of the fact that even those who do not oppose military spending often oppose nuclear weapons, as the vast cost of them impacts on traditional military spending on bullets, bombs and bandages. She finished by pointing out that not all of the costs to society of military spending are tangible; the psychological impact on the entire population of living under the Four Minute Warning during the Cold War is difficult to assess, but we know it was not positive.

During the Q&A section of the evening, we discussed many facets of military spending; arms subsidies, mutually assured destruction (MAD) in the 21st century, unilateral and multilateral nuclear disarmament and deterrence, among others. It was pointed out by our speakers that we need to talk to our enemies, and the media should praise and publicise those who do, while ‘roasting’ those who inflame international relations and demonise other human beings as ‘The Other’. It was pointed out that it is not conflict we need to be working to prevent, it is violence; conflict breeds debate, change and advancement, while violence destroys all our good works.  The language used to discuss nuclear weapons was challenged, especially the use of the word deterrent and the comparison between a nation with nuclear weapons for deterrence and a teenager carrying a knife for protection was thought-provoking.

Continued adherence to the doctrine of MAD shows that Western governments are stuck in a Second World War way of thinking, despite the digital revolution.  With the advent of cyber-attacks, now by far the cheapest method of warfare, governments must adjust their thinking to the new reality. Just as military commanders realised a century ago that the cavalry was no longer a valid means of waging war, our leaders now need to realise the dangers of continuing to maintain and even replace this antiquated method of so-called defence. International relations have been improved by the EU’s ability to make the British government neutral in the eyes of nations they once colonised (case in point Northern Ireland), not British acquisition of nuclear weapons.

We closed with the point that the individuals who profit from war are often the same individuals who have the most interest in maintaining the status quo, and they do so through controlling large swathes of the media all over the world, pushing their distorted world view. Fostering a climate of resistance to the militarism pushed by these individuals for their own personal benefit at the cost of the safety and security of the rest of us is a matter for all humanity; we are all responsible for our democracy.

Thanks to everyone who came along to our event!

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