The Cost of Armaments

Written by Val Yule and Published Sun, 31/07/2016 - 12:26
A before and after picture of the markets in Alepo
A before and after picture of the markets in Alepo

A series of before-and-after pictures shows the cost to a city that is bombed. A recent example is the UNESCO-listed sites in the Syrian city of Aleppo – one example is given above. After bombing these sites were all rubble.

But armaments are a cost to everybody, whether they are victims of bombing or not. Military expenditure in the world can be worked out per head. In 2008:

  • USA $835 billion spent, population 285 million = $3,000 expenditure per head per annum.
  • Saudi Arabia $46 bn, pop. 26 m = $1,600 per head
  • UK $95 bn, pop. 60 m = $1500 per head
  • France $79 bn, pop. 59 m = $1300 per head.
  • Australia $24 bn, pop. 20 m = $1200 per head
  • Japan $58 bn, pop. 126 m = $460 per head.
  • Russia $44 bn, pop. 146 m = $300 per head.
  • China $70 bn, pop. 1,270 m = $55 per head.

What could have been spent on life-giving policies instead!

Public concern for the reverence for life is unbalanced. A major issue of pro-life morality must be not only the saving the lives of infants, but also the costs and profits of armaments.

Research, production and sales of armaments link with climate change, financial melt-downs, peak oil, war crimes trials, culture clashes, scientific ethics and pro-life activists. Armaments should be an urgent public issue and election focus, instead of rarely being mentioned in political discussions. A terrifying New Scientist article, 27 Sept-ember 2008, p. 26, was aptly titled ‘You thought cluster bombs were scary’.

War research and sales have consequences:

  • Inevitably they are used by your enemies, terrorists and rogue states. You have done the work for them.
  • Inevitably their design and use creates more enemies and hatred.
  • Inevitably the ‘world leaders’ who produce and sell them set moral examples to the rest of the world – which copies and will soon surpass. Who dares to call USA or Britain truly peace-making or ‘Christian’?
  • Inevitably armaments destroy and maim, in addition to the many natural disasters and diseases that already destroy and maim.
  • Inevitably they waste resources and brains. The enormous financial costs are hardly offset by the enormous sales to create more havoc and oppression elsewhere. Sure, great discoveries for good can result from military research; they should be made instead by research redirected to peace.
  • Such research inevitably harms the moral values of inventors and workers.
  • Inevitably it ignores the constant lessons that modern conflicts are not won by ‘shock and awe’.

We need self-defence – but not mighty missiles and million-dollar types of armaments that prove ineffective against the increasing menaces of terrorists, fanatics, pirates and blackmailers.

Inevitably military invention, computer war games and horror films interact psychologically to warp attitudes and alas behaviour – as we have seen.

Inventing and producing means to kill and torture are not justified by the argument of ‘making jobs and profits’. It is not inevitable that military inventions, computer war games and horror films should interact psychologically to warp attitudes and alas behaviour.

Global co-operation is needed for humankind to face the enormous shared environmental and economic threats, rather than expecting more and worse wars with death and destruction. We need technology to make all nations prosperous. We also need the psychology of peace-making, entertainment and the arts, to raise visions of how peace could be won, not self-fulfilling depiction of still more future horrors.

Every public discussion of life-and-death issues such as abortion should include also the life-and-death issue of armaments. The US maintains 5,000 nuclear weapons. Only one is sufficient to destroy a nation. Our reverence for life is unbalanced. Why is the nature and costs of recent scary military research not a major issue of morality in US Presidential elections?

Beverley Nicholls wrote Cry Havoc in 1933 about the armaments industry. Hardly a word needs changing.

Someone should compare what the defence budgets and military research of the big spenders are spent on, with what the big items such as sophisticated weapon systems and aircraft carriers can achieve against the biggest dangers to world peace today, including in major areas of armed conflict. Pirates, terrorists, insurgents, religious and political fanatics, social disruption, sabotage – what are the military means to counter these – and what alternative routes are there?

The revelations of what is going on in military research and the gung-ho exhibitions at arms fairs seem out of kilter with dealing with these dangers. In the face of enormous shared environmental threats, the prophecies now are of more and worse wars and arms races to make the destruction worse, not more co-operation.

The International Red Cross is reported as attempting to have landmines banned under international law, like chemical weapons. Good. A more effective complementary action is to campaign to have the making or selling of landmines chargeable under international law as a war crime, so that these profiteers could be put in the dock, publicly.

It seems ridiculous to be spending millions of dollars trying to identify war-criminals of fifty or more years ago, when more criminals are flourishing and active at this very time. The makers and sellers of landmines are more easily identified than the producers of chemical weapons research. It would not be possible to arrest and prosecute the lot, unfortunately, but examples could be made, sufficient to reduce the mass production, and help make the military, even guerrillas, more aware of what they are doing.

Val Yule is a psychologist and long-time member of the Humanist Society of Victoria

Last updated Fri, 02/09/2016 - 10:27

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