TUE, 05 APR, 2022 – 10:39 Irish Examiner
Any rational person looking at our world today would conclude two things: We have enough weapons already and we don’t need any more war.
However, one of the many disturbing aspects of the ongoing horrific war in Ukraine is that, instead of recognising the horror of war and working to end it, militarists, arms producers, and many governments are using the crisis to prepare for more war. There is little mention of demilitarisation and no mention of disarmament.
Demilitarisation and disarmament could have prevented the Ukraine conflict in the first place, however, both are now required to bring it to an end. An article in last Thursday’s edition of the Irish Examiner, Taking a Defensive Position, looks at the defence industry in Ireland. Descriptions of the industry by its proponents read like a description of some fantastical toy factory, a fairytale world where weapons are only used to preserve life and protect the environment.
Joe Murray of AFRI: “Do we really want our children’s jobs to be making weapons to kill other children?”
There is an admission that “some companies are manufacturing what could be used as ‘big boys’ war toys” but there is no further allusion to the industry’s primary purpose. The reality is weapons, no matter how sophisticated, kill extensively and often indiscriminately. Whether we make full weapons systems or lottery-style, dual-use components, which may or may not be used in weapons, we are responsible for their end-use and the people they kill.
The ‘war to end all wars’ took 20 million lives, but that was only the First World War. The Second World War killed three times as many in a century that saw nearly 200 million war dead. Does this not clearly illustrate that war cannot end war?
So far in this century, we have extraordinary death tolls reaching nearly two million people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen alone. There will be many more such slaughterhouses. A common denominator and one that magnifies the death tolls in all these cases is the use of advanced weapons — many of which are made in Europe but few of which have been made in Ireland.
Ireland’s neutrality has left us in the position of not having contributed, to a significant extent, to the fuelling of these conflicts, although allowing the US military unfettered use of Shannon Airport has irredeemably tarnished that record.
Until recent years, our Defence Forces have not been centrally involved in these wars, which are often imperialist in nature, clearing the way as they do for resource acquisition — global militarism has been more about the control of Iraqi oil and Nato expansion than about the defence of Ukrainian sovereignty.
However, there is now a stampede to move away from our proud history of being non-contributors to the arms industry, a stampede led by Minister for Defence Simon Coveney, who opened an online arms fair late last year to introduce Irish small and medium-sized enterprises and research institutes to arms manufacturers and military funders.
Mr Coveney is championing hugely increased Irish military expenditure and, increasingly, walks in lockstep with Nato.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the annual global military budget for 2020 was $1,981bn (€1,800bn). The US leads the field, spending $778bn, followed by China on $252bn, India on $72.9bn, and Russia on $61.7bn.
Does anyone feel safer or more secure as a result of this vast and ever-growing expenditure? Does anyone seriously believe that we need another small country to participate in this destructive and dangerous activity?
Apart from the huge waste of finances on weapons, there is a shocking waste of human intelligence and imagination in creating these instruments of death. Imagine what we could do if we diverted even a portion of these resources towards tackling hunger, poverty, and climate change, and providing clean water and healthcare.
Brown University’s Cost of War Project described the US military as “the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world”. If we did divert resources in this way, many of the root causes of conflict would be resolved at source and life on Earth might be preserved for future generations.
Just one-sixth of the global military budget would eradicate world hunger, according to a recent German government-backed report. Despite the spin put on Ireland’s arms industry by those involved, our country’s engagement with the business of bloodshed is a retrograde and deeply regrettable development.
Do we really want our children’s jobs to be making weapons to kill other children?
It is not too late to return to what we are best at. Building on our experience of war on our island, let us dedicate ourselves as a small nation to the promotion of peace in the world, to working for demilitarisation and disarmament, and to tackling the real and most urgent issues that face us — hunger, poverty, and a burning planet.