The interconnectedness of things: Why we need to have a holistic approach to security
If there’s one lesson we’ve learned – or should have learned – from this pandemic, it is that no problem can be analysed, much less solved, without understanding its context. We’ve seen how excessive spending on defence at the expense of health has brought tragic outcomes during the Covid-19 crisis. Experts are now warning us that failure to respect the environment, coupled with creeping encroachment on the natural world, has increased our vulnerability to new viruses and is exacerbating the climate emergency. Although the link between defence spending and the climate emergency is not as immediately obvious as that between defence and health, they are nonetheless closely linked. Military and arms budgets are also major factors in influencing both the rate and severity of climate change. Unless we treat arms and the climate as closely linked issues, we won’t be able to resolve – or even mitigate – our climate crisis.
However, since such immensely complex problems can hardly be adequately covered in an article of this scope, all we can do here is point out some of the issues involved.
Who are the major polluters?
Research has shown that the defence industry is highly polluting: for example, a 2019 study by US-based Brown University showed that the Pentagon alone accounted for more pollution than Portugal. This issue is not unique to the United States: every country with a large defence industry produces significant carbon emissions. However, now that environmental concerns have become relatively widespread among most OECD members, the defence industry is trying to greenwash its credentials. Every major arms company is desperately looking to lower its carbon footprint in order to appease any would-be critics.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the military-industrial complex as:
‘an informal alliance of the military and related government departments with defense industries that is held to influence government policy’.
Both the military and the arms industry are well aware that they need to improve their dubious reputation when it comes to environmental degradation. To do this, they’ve decided to go for greenwashing: the race is now on to develop the next generation of new eco-friendly weapons.
But beware of glaring contradictions where competing policies cancel one another out.
Consider this scenario: a large share of European and US weapons sales go to the Middle East where tensions run high and vicious conflicts look interminable. The argument goes like this: we in the West have to sell weapons to human rights-abusing countries like Saudi Arabia and its allies because we’re dependent on OPEC oil – which is, of course, responsible for pollution. So whilst we’re eagerly selling to the source countries providing our pollutants, we’re simultaneously proclaiming our commitment to producing new eco-friendly weapons – which just happen to be highly profitable.
Countries often buy weapons because they’re intending to go to war or are already embroiled in conflicts. But wars – even those using ‘lower-carbon-footprint’ fighter jets – destroy enormous amounts of infrastructure (even without considering the ensuing deaths and economic mayhem). The aftermath of conflicts need huge amounts of scarce resources for rebuilding once a truce is reached. The need for steel and concrete for post-war road and building construction is enormous and guarantees more pollution. But then whoever said war was eco-friendly?
We already know that worsening climate conditions will inevitably cause conflicts between groups competing for scarce resources, especially land and water. As desertification spreads in the global south and subsistence agriculture becomes all but impossible, fierce struggles will become increasingly frequent. Conflicts create refugees desperate to survive and find a means of subsistence. Many Western governments are cynically preparing for what they fear will be a ‘tidal wave of refugees’ by investing in more weaponry, be it military boats, arms and/or or stronger armies, to keep these escapees out at all costs. Yet diverting the same ‘defence’ spending to combating climate degradation could mitigate its most disastrous effects and save many people from the need to flee.
Who are the winners and losers in this push for ‘security’?
SIPRI (the Stockholm Peace Research Institute) noted in its 2020 report that military spending increased by the largest amount in a decade, amounting to $1,917 billion during 2019 – a staggering $1,917,000,000,000!! That’s approximately $253 for every single person alive on this planet. Including those starving on less than $1 a day.
So precisely who has benefited from the enormous world expenditure on weapons? Not the citizens of weapons-producing countries who were the supposed beneficiaries of large defence budgets, as the worldwide Covid-19 experience has shown. Not the victims of war dying in their hundreds of thousands, not only from bombs and other weapons, but also from famine and war-induced illnesses (not even mentioning Covid-19) because their dictator-governments spent their national budgets on armaments rather than healthcare or agriculture. Deaths in Yemen alone are estimated at more than 100,000, not including the estimated 85,000 who have died from war-related famine.
That leaves the arms producers and sellers. They are the only the real beneficiaries – the winners, in fact – who have cleverly garnered billions of euros in subsidies and sales, plus illegal backhanders, all while peddling death in the guise of ‘SECURITY’.
And that’s why Eurosatory should never open its doors again.