Global military spending, 2016 to 2017

On the Conscience:Taxes for Peace not War home page is a counter showing the global military spending so far this year.  It comes from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) figures.  We use those because they are not particularly controversial; they do not include lots of things a strict pacifist would like to see included.  As I start writing this, the number is based on their 2016 figures and is £509,860,928,935.

Yes, global spending on militarisation (essentially, preparing for killing people), is five hundred thousand million pounds.  A million pounds, spent, half a million times.

For comparison, nobody wants to spend the £11,000m to £23,000m it would take to cure the whole world’s 185m people with Hepatitis C.  But we have spent £509,000m on arms so far this year.

(Hepatitis C treatment is the most expensive medicine in the USA, link.  Details of the cost of curing it, link.)

Anyway, it is time for me to update the web site because military spending figures for 2017 have been released.  And it has gone up by about 1.1%, once inflation has been taken out.  As an absolute sum just the difference is about £47,287m.  Military spending in 2017 represented 2.2% of the global gross domestic product.

(For reference, feeding the world’s starving people would cost £23,000m, £132,000m or somewhere in between.)

So, I have updated the script and now the number, based on the new 2017 figures, is £524,852,595,454 so far this year.
£524,853,983,114
£524,854,467,457
£524,854,865,718
£524,855,841,115
£524,873,308,033…

 

The USA is happy with itself as it is: frightened

Having wasted most of the weekend online arguing with pro-gun people in the USA, I have given up.  I have tried this before and keep coming to the same conclusion: they are happy as they are.

They believe the level of violence and gun-related deaths is quite low compared to other causes of death, and so is quite acceptable.

They believe there is a huge threat to society waiting to get them and, unless there is a ready civilian militia armed to a military standard, it could get them at any time.  They need to be ready.

They believe that people being armed is why their society is so peaceful, that it is only unarmed people that are victims of crime, and it is their own fault for not being armed.

It is a belief system.  Facts and statistics are immaterial and disregarded.  You cannot argue using logic against a belief system.

Essentially what they have developed is a Gun Faith.  Guns are worshipped, adored, protected by the constitution and idolised.  ‘Idolised’ being the operative word.  Some people carry a St Christopher, some wear a cross, some carry a picture of Mary and some wear a birthstone crystal.  In the USA people carry a gun for the same reason: faith it will protect them.  Despite the factual evidence to the contrary.

A funny thing about religions is how people take it to extremes to prove their faith: growing a couple of locks of hair really long, totally covering their women, refusing to shave.  In the USA Gun Faith the extremists carry semi-automatic rifles simply as symbols of devotion.  The NRA is the church of this religion.  I get all that now.

That’s why people have started referring to the pro-gun lobby online as The American Taliban.

“Religious” violence

My response agreeing with someone’s post on an Open University blog:

Every conflict which has escalated into terrorism has ultimately been resolved by listening.  “I think there has to be a political solution.  All wars have to end in some kind of political compromise.”  (Jeremy Corbyn)

I think you are right.  In this case it is not militant Islam that is the problem, that is the excuse.  It is the tool used by cowardly and genuinely evil people to get angry young men to commit murder and become suicide bombers.  It is the lazy branding used to explain the behaviour and ‘other’ those aligned with or sympathetic to their views.  But the claim that it is the cause or the causation is misinterpreting the situation; if it wasn’t religion making the divide it would be race or nationalism or political belief.

There were a lot of unhappy people in the Middle East cross with the Western world, united in a woolly concern about cultural imperialism or economics or tired of being sidelined or concerned about the future of the Middle East given an apparent bias in financial and political support to one particular country, or even a number of other things too.  And we weren’t listening, so the shouting got louder until a couple of buildings got destroyed in New York.  Given they were a global emblem of globalised capitalism I suspect we can take a guess at what the protest was about: cultural imperialism and the imposition of products, media output and values upon a number of closely-related societies who found those impositions increasingly intolerable.

And when protests are not heard, they get louder and louder until they go bang.

I am not aware of any great effort on the part of Western governments to say “Hmm.  There’s some unhappy people here.  Let’s find out what the problem is and come to an agreement.”  But there are many calling for airstrikes and selling weapons and destabilising governments and killing civilians.  And the protests are getting louder and more frequent.  The combined political view seems to be “The question is whether we can kill people who hate us at a faster rate than we make other people hate us by killing so many people.” (David Mitchell)

If there is a religion involved here, I fear it is the worship of Mammon or Plutus, or one of their many allies.

Why do otherwise sane people do this?

Do you mean the suicide bombers and murderers?  I think that is fairly easily answered; a lot has been researched and written in psychology and criminology about how people can be made to believe what our philosophy says is nonsense or wrong.

Do you mean those who recruit, indoctrinate, train, equip and despatch them?  The easiest ones to explain: power-hungry cowards who get a kick out of disruption.  ‘Psychopath’ and ‘sociopath’ probably cover it.  Every terror group needs those, as does most nations I suspect – I bet there’s plenty work in the various secret services.  It’s just these ones are the baddies and ours are the goodies.

Or do you mean the government leaders who believe airstrikes really are accurate, that military intelligence from foreign agents is never unreliable, that killing people because they hold a different passport is morally good, that killing people will make the related survivors more friendly, that using their land for our proxy wars won’t upset anyone?  The sort of people who proudly proclaim they would conduct the first strike to start a nuclear conflict?

We need to UNDERSTAND violent, militant Islamism – and writing if off as a form of insanity is simply an admission that we don’t understand it.

I agree.  Coming to the realisation that you have no option left to make your voice heard other than kill yourself and take others with you, is a very sane act.  When done in our name we consider it the highest form of self-sacrifice and heroism.  And it is done to make a point, whether it is holding out one’s hand in the flames when being burned at the stake for religious freedom, dousing one’s self in petrol and self-immolating for national freedom or any of the people who have died on hunger strike in prison.  These people are not killing themselves and others because they are insane.  They are trying to make a point, to be heard, a final desperate act in the hope their life can mean something by throwing it away.  Or rather they are the poor unwitting victims of the militant section of a much larger unhappy group of people.  It is that larger group who need to be heard.

But I don’t think we know who that group are.  And I’m not sure we’re even asking the question.

Principles of Just-War Theory

Lynn Roulstone at the Open University raised the questionsWhat do we think to Aquinas’s Just War theory?  Is it ever possible to have such a thing?” and provided a link to a short explanation of the seven principles of Just-War Theory.

I wasn’t particularly impressed by them and this was my response:

1. Last Resort
Sartre, Ghandi and Jesus said a violent response need not be the final resort.  Deciding not to use violence is also an available option.  It was certainly the best way for your civilisation to survive an invasion by the Roman empire, the Mongol hordes or many other invading forces who purpose was to subjugate.

2. Legitimate Authority
We have a representative democracy so if Tony Bliar decides to start a war despite dodgy evidence and 3 million people protesting, he is perfectly entitled.  If Obama declares war on Mexico tomorrow, he has legal, personal, absolute authority to do so under USA law.

3. Just Cause
Righting a wrong done to A committed by B by killing C is as logical as bombing for peace.  It just results in tit-for-tat feuds that need never end.

4. Probability of Success
If it is wrong to fight in case you lose – and there is always the possibility of unexpectedly losing – then one should not fight.  Conversely, if one has such overwhelming power that victory is inevitable, there must be diplomatic alternatives to using overwhelming violence.

5. Right Intention
A hollow argument.  The victor is always right, after the event.  Also, if the intention of war is to re-establish peace, then the best outcome is genocide of one’s enemies and destruction of their culture since that best guarantees peace.

6. Proportionality
The minimum amount of force absolutely necessary is often the assassination of one person or one dynastic line.  However, international conventions have long, long agreed that targeted execution of the leaders of sovereign states is against the rules.  Killing millions of the people who happen to live in the same country is OK though.

7. Civilian Casualties
The concept of total war (which is thousands of years old) means that the economy and production ability of the enemy are part of the war machine and valid targets.  Bombing dams to flood valleys is fine.  Armaments factories employ civilians as do the mines and refineries that serve them.  There is no point continuously killing their soldiers if they just keep breeding and equipping more – one must raze their cities, salt their fields, sabotage their infrastructure and starve the population into defeat.  The civilian capacity to raise armies must be destroyed.  The alternative is to not use total war, but then you lose to someone who is.

I do not see how there can be a just war.  Expedient, yes, but just, no.

Finding and documenting empirical evidence for peace

Utilitarianism is the aim of choosing ones actions (be they of individuals or governments) such that the most happiness is achieved for the most people.  However, empirical evidence is required to quantify the results of the various possible actions.  Also, definitions are required for ‘happiness’ and scales are required to quantify the measures.  This was the aim of 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham when considering such things as social policy for punishing criminals.

I suppose what I want to achieve is to gather together empirical data for the cost and implications of different approaches to preventing international violent conflict as well as for conducting international violent conflict, such that the various options can be considered in a measurable way.  Utilitarianism is a way of doing this by—at the risk of oversimplification—using the formula:

happiness = pleasure - pain

I am thinking more along the lines of:

peace = positive outcome expected - negative implications

where ‘violent conflict’ is quantified and included with the investment cost to form the ‘negative implications’.  Those wanting to start a war must be claiming a positive outcome, so that can be quantified too.

This should help eliminate, or at least help counter, “for our security” and “because they are a threat” and other such woolly thinking from the decision making, at least publicly.  It is also more human than my original idea which was purely cost-based.

Nuclear deterrent – Lord Gilbert

Lord Gilbert spoke a few months ago in the House of Lords on how the nuclear deterrent is effective in preventing wars.  At some point I’ll put his argument up here.  Meanwhile, a subset of his words were used in a number of articles online to say he was claiming we should “nuke the Taliban”.  It is ironic he was advocating a solution for maintaining peace to prevent the deaths of huge numbers of civilians and got attacked for it.

Anyway, you’ve gotta love the outraged headlines it produced.  Examples are:

As for what he said, this is taken from Hansard’s proceedings for 22nd November, 2012:

Lord Gilbert: … I draw your Lordships’ attention to what used to be called the neutron bomb.  The main thing was that it was not a standard nuclear warhead.  Its full title was the ERRB: Enhanced Radiation Reduced Blast weapon.  I can think of many uses for it in this day and age. … you could use an ERRB warhead to create cordons sanitaire along various borders where people are causing trouble.

I will give an example.  … nobody lives up in the mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan except for a few goats and a handful of people herding them.  If you told them that some ERRB warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there.  You would greatly reduce your problem of protecting those borders from infiltration from one side or another. These things are not talked about, but they should be, because there are great possibilities for deterrence in using the weapons that we already have.

© Parliamentary Copyright

He did not say we should nuke the Taliban.  He was saying there are options for deterrence that are not being considered because the subject is taboo.  The media reaction proved him right.  If you want to read it in context, which is about how deterrence is preferable to war, he started speaking at 3.42 pm.

One has to be very careful what one says when advocating peace methods other than going to outright war.  Many people don’t like it.  Weird, innit?

As H used to say:

If things don’t change, they’ll stay the same.