Arms trade is no defence
30 July 2007
Someone once told me that a 20 year old who was not a socialist had no heart and a 40 year old that was not a capitalist had no brain.
And while the definitions of both ideologies (and those of any other political doctrines) have variously become so fused and splintered as to be meaningless in themselves, I think the gist of the of the saying could be preserved by substituting idealist for socialist and pragmatist for capitalist.
The trouble is I now find myself turning full circle. Possibly if our own life cycle starts and finishes with us in a drooling and dependent condition, then so the other phases of life flow and then ebb with age. Maybe like pragmatism over idealism. For someone whose limit of self-analysis is normally about how hungry I am, this is pretty deep. So what prompted it?
It was the sight of my own political leader (Gordon Brown – the UK’s new Prime Minister) setting off last weekend to meet US President Bush - the leader of the Free World (although I don’t seem to remember him getting the majority of the votes in the US, let alone any votes from any other country). On the other side of the world there appears to be a regime change underfoot in Japan, but how this ties into my argument I will get to in minute.
The US and the UK have a ‘special relationship’ that has been defined in recent years by the situation in Iraq. Given the hopelessness of the situation in that country it is infeasible that the two leaders don’t share a few words about it during this week. For all that both men may make reassuring noises about how the whole episode has been necessary and that they will stand firm, I cannot believe that they or anyone else can view it as anything other than a huge mistake. Even Iraqis who loathed Sadam Hussain’s regime will struggle to see light at the end of the tunnel. (Shallow as it may sound, Iraqs victory in last weekend’s Asian Cup football final is probably the best unifying, mood-lifting event since the Gulf War started.)
And why did it happen? Superficially, because of the false evidence of ‘weapon’s of mass destruction’. Now while the accusation was that Iraq was trying to invent these weapons all by itself, the majority of Iraq’s arms were manufactured elsewhere in the world, as have the arms from most other countries, whether they be supplied by current friends or foes. The continuing instability in Afghanistan, for example, is evidence of how assuming that your enemy’s enemy is therefore your friend can be dangerous business.
And here is where the idealism comes in, much to the cringing of the very successful defence industry in the UK and many other similar Western countries. In fact defence electronics has been a real success story, even before we needed to start replacing the all the armaments we have used up in Iraq’s cities. The loss of jobs in many developed countries would be very substantial if the defence industry, including their electronics contractors (as most of this work stays onshore), were to have the rug pulled from under them. And yet, having watched for years the misery in Iraq and other troubled areas of the world, I can’t help think that so much of it would be avoided if there was a ban on all exports of military goods. The very act of selling a country planes or tanks or rifles or communications equipment, sends a message. It signals who is on whose side and creates regional tensions. The situation in the Middle East is a global issue because so many countries have backed either Israel or Palestine – and that is backed with military equipment.
If everyone kept to their own ‘defence’ needs and unified only when called on by UN force that had teeth (and let us not forget how effective this was in the Balkans) then global tensions would diminish. Wars would become localised and isolated. How many global issues have, for example, Japan been involved in since it adopted a totally pacifist policy following the second world war. From public enemy number two 60 years ago it has transformed itself into an industrial super power without arming itself (or anyone else) up to the hilt. I believe one of the issues now playing a part in its political reorganisation is a call for a stronger armed force, which to my current idealistic mood would be a shame as it is ignoring the evidence of 60 successful years without one.
The pragmatists will win the day though. While the defence companies and contractors may have read this with a slight air of resentment, they know, as I do, that the money will do the talking. Our current friends may have the morals of a hungry tiger, but if they have the money they will be our allies.
Meanwhile, the 20 year olds and those of us who are obviously moving into senility a bit earlier than they should can say ‘I told you so’ and be ignored again.
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