You could be forgiven for assuming that governments of the world inhabit two parallel universes.In July this year, Australia launched the 2020 Defence Strategic Update, which concluded that its region “is in the midst of the most consequential strategic realignment since the Second World War”. Pledging more than a quarter of a trillion dollars in new and upgraded capabilities between now and 2030, Prime Minister Scott Morrison invoked the 1930s to warn of “the multiple challenges and radical uncertainty we face”.
In contrast, the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (the Ban Treaty) presents as hopes among some other nations that sheer force of will is enough to bring about a world free of nuclear weapons. Established in 2017, the Ban Treaty commits states parties not to manufacture, transfer, station or receive and “never to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons”. The Treaty represents a watershed insofar as it obligates complete nuclear disarmament with no conditions – unlike the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has carve-outs for the five countries that tested nuclear devices prior to 1 January 1967 and aims to achieve nuclear disarmament in the context of general disarmament.
Regrettably, however, the Ban Treaty is a triumph of wishful thinking over realism.
Rather than fashion a treaty that provides a practical pathway to eliminating nuclear weapons, the Ban Treaty’s authors have actually made it harder. As members of the NPT, North Korea, Iran and Iraq all agreed not to acquire nuclear weapons, and have sought to do so anyway. The Ban Treaty does not even try to address the problem of verification and compliance.
Right now, the wealthiest, most scientifically advanced country in history is being brought to its knees by a virus it knew was coming. And having failed to adequately invest in pandemic protection measures, the U.S. government now is fighting a war against COVID-19. But, if the past two decades have taught us anything, we should know that “war” is the wrong metaphor and our military is the wrong tool.
Contrary to what President Trump, former vice-president Joe Biden and others might say, we are not “at war” with COVID-19. Given the unprecedented nature of this virus, it makes sense that we would be drawn to the idea that mobilizing for a health crisis requires us to have a wartime mindset. However, equating a “determined, coordinated national response” with war mobilization, rather than with community care, is precisely the problem. In fact, part of the reason we’re in this predicament is that we hollowed out America’s public health system in favor of military spending.
America isn’t ready for this pandemic because our government has been spending money on the wrong things. Instead of putting money towards fighting disease or alleviating suffering, the U.S. spent enormous sums over the past couple of decades on war and war preparation.
The federal budget “is the skeleton of the state stripped of all misleading ideologies,” economist Joseph Schumpeter once wrote. In other words, national budget choices reflect the most basic structure of who we are as a people. In the U.S., federal budget priorities have yielded a body politic well suited for war even as public health, education and infrastructure all have atrophied. Each year, Congress allocates the great majority of discretionary federal dollars to the Department of Defense, the nuclear weapons program in the Department of Energy, and the Veteran’s Administration for care of veterans. We have stockpiled thousands of nuclear weapons but not enough ventilators.
I have been thinking principally about the various kinds of security we all want and the various kinds of insecurity we face. Upon reflection, these turn out to be much broader than the way the concepts of security and insecurity are usually understood.
When we think of security in all its senses, it seems to me that the importance of global justice for security simply cannot be stated too. And secondly, it seems to me that public goods are essential for justice and hence for security—both here in the United States and around the world.
But first let us consider how security is commonly understood.
As it is usually talked about these days, as in “Office of Homeland Security,” “our national security,” “the conflict between civil liberties and security considerations,” “security was tightened,” or, more mundanely, “security guards,” the threats to our security are always intentional threats to our safety and well being, which of course means they are threats by people, whether individuals, groups, or nations.
Not so long ago, Communists were said to pose the biggest threat, now it is “terrorists” and “rogue nations.”
Security is a major growth business here and in many other parts of the world and an increasingly ‘high tech’ one. While we used to worry about intentional threats only from criminals, now our daily lives have been transformed by far more serious security concerns. More and more people have to carry, even to wear ID cards, big concrete blocks line the sidewalks of many of our streets and our access to countless public buildings is tightly controlled by phalanxes of security guards and video monitors. But most people pay little attention; the possibility of terrorist attacks has been normalized.
Generally speaking, most Americans’ concern about security today that is posed in terms of the word “security” is about intentional threats by people. We pay much less attention to threats to our safety and well being that are from nature rather than people, or are only indirectly from people, as unintentional consequences of human action. Though we read all the time about the dangers of global warming—a threat from nature that is an unintended result of human action—that is not what is usually intended by a “security” threat and it does not grip our imagination and fears in any way proportional to its severity. Hans Blix, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said, “I’m more worried about global warming than about war.” But even for those of us who share his assessment of the severity of the threat of global warming, I think that such threats do not grip our imagination and fear in any way proportional to their seriousness.
NATO’s main enemy is supposed to be Russia. It doesn’t matter that Russia’s military expenditures are about 6-7 % of NATO’s total expenditures (29 countries). It doesn’t matter that NATO’s technical quality is superior. It doesn’t matter that Russia’s military expenditures are falling year-by-year – decreased to US $ 64 billion in 2018 from US $ 66 billion in 2017. It doesn’t matter that Russia’s military expenditures averaged only US $ 45 billion from 1992 until 2018. And it doesn’t matter that the old Warsaw Pact budget were some 65-75% of NATO’s during the first Cold War and we were told back then that some kind of balance was good for stability and peace. Today we are told that the more superiority NATO has, the better it is for world peace.
In short, reality doesn’t matter anymore to NATO. And this is where the 2 per cent of GNP comes into play and reveals just how deep NATO’s crisis is. But have you seen anybody questioning this 2 per cent goal as the philosophical nonsense – or forgery – it is?
It resembles the Theatre of the Absurd to tie military expenditures to the economic performance of a country. Imagine a person sets off 10 % of her/his income to buy food. Sudden he or she wins in a lottery or is catapulted into a job that yields a 5 times higher income. Should that person then also begin to eat 5 times more?
The 2 per cent goal is an absurdity, an indicator of defence illiteracy. People who take it serious – in politics, media and academia – obviously have never read a basic book about theories and concepts in the field of defence and security. Or about how one makes a professional analysis of what threatens a country.
If military expenditures are meant to secure a country’s future, do the threats that this country faces also vary according to its own GNP? Of course not! It is a bizarre assumption.
Humanity is facing a biodiversity crisis. To solve environmental problems, we bring people from Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority to the same table. Conservation efforts are beneficial for all communities and facilitate constructive dialog across divides in conflict zones. This pleads for the integration of nature conservation into peacebuilding interventions.
In the Middle East, the essence of the project ‘Birds Know No Boundaries’ is threefold: a) to convince individuals and communities to protect their environment in their own country; (b) to favor communication between countries to foster experience; and (c) to use the project to raise awareness about environmental and peacebuilding issues. The intensive use of agricultural pesticides throughout the Middle East poses a grave threat to the environment and its biological diversity.
The Jordan Valley, located at the junction of Europe, Asia, and Africa, is an important diversity hotspot and is an important bottleneck on the world’s principle bird migration routes [Bruderer, B. and Liechti, F. ,1995). To protect birds migrating from Europe and Asia from poisoning, we developed a project to replace pesticides with biological pest control agents in agricultural fields. Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian farmers participate in this joint integrative pest management project with the ultimate aim of promoting more sustainable and environmentally friendly farming habits. Barn owls (Tyto alba) and kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) are common throughout Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority, especially in agricultural areas. Each pair of barn owls produces up to 11 offspring, which eat between 2000 and 6000 rodents per year, making them an efficient alternative to pesticides for the farmers.