European militarism impedes climate action

by Atiaf Alwazir*

“Zero pollution for healthier people and planet,” was the theme of the EU Green Week. Yet one of the largest sources of carbon pollution in Europe remains hidden from view and was barely mentioned all week.  As highlighted in our latest report, the EU’s growing militarism must be addressed if we are to have any hope of saving the planet.

European Militarism

The EU was founded on a peaceful vision aiming to prevent a new arms race between European nations.  Military matters were absent from negotiations and initial EU structures.  But now, there is a growing normalisation of militarism through its constant preparation for, and conduct of, organised state violence at European borders and worldwide.

The EU budget is increasingly used to finance arms-related activities under discreet but powerful arms industry lobbying. In March 2021, EU leaders adopted the European Peace Facility, a 5 billion Euro fund to train and equip security forces and militaries worldwide including lethal weapons.  And a new European Defence Fund (EDF) was approved of 7.9 billion Euro to cover research and development in armaments and military equipment between 2021-27. 

According to Laëtitia Sédou, at the European Network Against the Arms Trade (ENAAT), “this Fund illustrates the paradigm shift from a peace to a military project. It’s a dangerous precedent which undermines the EU’s credibility as a peace actor and diverts resources from peaceful resolution of conflicts and their root-causes, including climate change. The Fund will also exacerbate the global arms race.”

Impact on the climate

Military conflicts and preparations for such conflicts leak chemicals and toxins that damage water sources and cause severe health issues to communities and their lands long after conflicts themselves have finished. Militaries also emit vast quantities of greenhouse gas (GHG) into the atmosphere. A new report shows that “in the EU alone, the carbon footprint of military expenditure is equivalent to the emissions of at least 14 million cars per year.”

Despite many connections between militarism and the climate crisis, the European Green Deal ignores everything to do with climate impact of militarisation. According to a Conflict and Environment Observatory, there is “no consolidated public reporting of GHG emissions from national militaries of the EU and no overarching reduction targets which incorporate emissions from the military.” In fact, the military is not even listed as a specific sector under the EU Monitoring Mechanism Regulation (MMR) which requires Member States to report annual national GHG emissions.

The EU’s military expenditure continues to be presented as uniquely value-based and there is little self-criticism or acceptance of responsibility for fueling conflicts at home and worldwide; while simultaneously contributing to worsening the climate crisis.

Merchants of death

In October 1978, Robert Edwards, a British member of the European Parliament during a debate on EEC policy on arms sales to areas of tension said, “By selling arms to the poorest countries of the world we have become merchants of death.

Forty three years later, Europe continues to manufacture and sell weapons without any regard for human lives and the destruction of the planet.  France just sold 30 fighter jets to Egypt in a 4.5 billion Euro contract.  These deals are often justified using the economic argument that Europe ‘needs’ to sell these weapons. This is the same argument that was used to perpetuate the slave trade. The language used today to defend the arms trade, and even proclaim it as a moral force “defending our European values” is the same language used to justify colonialism. 

Just as colonialism did in the past, our militarised economic system profits from war and violence and the devastation of our planet, whether internationally or in overpolicing racialised communities in Europe. That’s because racism and racial oppression form the foundation for the militarized economy which could not exist without the presumption that some human lives are worth less than others. 

Time to connect the dots

We’re at a critical moment in history, and now is the time to engage in deep honest reflections of ‘how we got here’ in order to meaningfully address the climate crisis. This requires an unprecedented response rooted in a radical challenge to the normalised acceptance of violence.

Militarised responses that are motivated by fear will only deepen social inequalities, racism, and the climate crisis. We must make the links between climate, peace and human rights more visible and insist that any green transition plan must put people – not profits – at the centre.

We must replace our culture of war with a culture of collaboration and care. Over-investment in military comes at the cost of under-investing in healthcare, education, and climate. For a truly healthier society and safer planet, demilitarisation needs to be part of any credible EU Green Deal.

*Atiaf Alwazir is Head of Peace Programme at Brussel’s Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA)

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