A Military Budget for Peace

February 29th, 2020 - by Gray Southon / Degrees Do Matter

Peace and Security: A Discussion Document

Gray Southon / Degrees Do Matter (Special to EAW)

TAURANGA, New Zealand (February 24, 2020) — The desire for peace is common amongst nearly all countries and cultures, and most religious traditions are dedicated to it. Yet war and other violence, as well as the systems for perpetrating them are so prevalent. It is common to ascribe this problem to those that profit from the military, but I find that the support for the military also exists amongst others. Why is this so?

There are many aspects to peace:  it means much more than the absence of war or destructive conflict. Nevertheless, the assurance of protection from such conflict is one of the basic requirements for peace. People seek security, and it is in that seeking for security that problems arise.

I will explore the implications for this desire for security by discussing two approaches:

  1. Response to external aggression, principally addressed through military capabilities and supportive alliances.
  2. Maintenance of collective international collaborations addressing common threats of all types, including conflict.

The first approach arises from a focus on one’s own country with a fear of the other. This attitude is affirmed by dominant views of history that place considerable emphasis on conquests and catastrophic destruction of societies. Current events also re-enforce this perception of a complex of international threats that need strong military responses. 

Much of our culture re-enforces such views of global threats, represented by the popularity of war stories and such fiction as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings  and many other conflict literatures and violent video games. This all affirms a belief that destructive capabilities are the key to addressing conflict. As such, this perspective is deeply embedded within our culture and thinking.

The second approach to security evokes a quite different perception of the world. It sees a community of nations within which there is continuous and widespread engagement. While there are diverse perspectives and various conflicts arise from time to time, the level of interconnection and common interests are such that there are strong forces promoting constructive problem solving and rejecting destructive combat.

At first sight, such a view may seem dangerously idealistic, limited at best and very much at odds with the first view of the world. However, on examination it represents a very important and expanding aspect of global realities.

From the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia onwards there have been a wide range of institutions and agreements that have progressively provided substance to this approach. Organisations such as the League of NationsUnited Nations, European Union, a variety of regional groupings, trading groups and a multitude of specialist, cultural and other organisations provide international links and coordination between nations.

The importance of such an approach becomes much more evident when considering the wide range of threats that affect us, such as climate change, biosecurity, threats to the Internet and our commercial systems, to which military power has little to contribute. While the rationale for such a cooperative approach is strong, there is little in our history, culture, media, current institutions or financial support to provide the public credibility and understanding required for collective security to be as powerful as it needs to be.

Most countries use a combination of both the military and cooperative approaches. Nearly all have some type of military establishment and alliances as well as involving themselves in various diplomatic engagements. One may argue that this dual approach is the most reasonable, as it provides the appropriate capability for whichever situation arises. However, are these really synergistic or counterproductive approaches?

In answering this, a number of questions arise:

  1. Can nations develop the levels of trust and understanding required to address complex and sensitive issues when they are threatening each other with increasingly destructive weapons?
  2. What sense does it make to invest in military capabilities and weaponry when there are close alliances between all nations?
  3. Can one maintain the secrecy and superior military capabilities required for effective military action when you are in close collaboration with all potential enemies?
  4. What is the meaning to a nation’s intrinsic values when it is simultaneously promoting peace, cooperation and respect, as well as the power of destruction, to solve problems?
  5. Have we the resources to put sufficient effort into both approaches?
  6. What is the role of the military in a highly cooperative global society?

 The first approach makes sense to those focused on their own nation and who see a threatening world out there, while the second makes more sense to those taking a global view and can see the value and potential of cooperation.

Can we move towards the benefits of a constructive internationalism without risking our security?

First we need to have a clear idea of what we are gaining and losing in each case.

Few of us have any idea of what cooperative internationalism is currently giving us. The UN, for instance, is far more than a few forums – it is over 100 institutions which provide extensive support in a host of different ways, from weather, agriculture, human rights, development, trade, peacemaking, disarmament, food, environment and of course health, as with the current coronovirus epidemic.

We know about Europe’s NATO but what do we know about the more broadly based peace-making alliance, OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe)? How much of the work of diplomats is covered in our media? There needs to be much greater concerted effort in understanding the way nations do work together and the benefits we receive.  Such an understanding needs to go far beyond the high level institutions as noted above to a whole range of societal activities which enrich our understanding and engagement with other countries.

What then do the military combat capabilities provide? The common answer is that it ensures peace by providing a deterrence to military adventurism. While this may be so to a degree, it does also promote mutual encouragement of military expansion, usually referred to an arms race, and related fear and animosity between nations. This can be seen now between the major powers.

Further, military power has been largely unsuccessful, and arguably destructively counterproductive, in addressing the internal conflicts that have cursed many middle east and African countries in recent decades.

From a global perspective, what can be said about the contribution that our collective combat capability makes to civilisation, in contrast to the costs and destruction that it imposes? It is common to see one’s own military as valuable, and those of at least some other countries as a threat. But does this make sense when seen from a global perspective?

Concern for nation security needs to consider that if another power wants our land, it would be much cheaper and constructive to buy it, along with the relevant companies, and if necessary, pervert our political and/or information systems to gain the control that they need. Such has been done in the past, and will no doubt to done again. We need to have a much more sophisticated and broad-based security system, such as is provided by society-wide international engagement.

Apart from the limitations of the military approach is the costs and threats involved, such as the maintenance of military capabilities in a wide range of countries with global expenditures in the trillions of USD.  In addition there is the continuing enhancement of military capabilities such as artificial intelligence, space-based weapons, internet capabilities and more flexible nuclear weapons. Driving this process are military-industrial complexes spanning many countries which promote and profit from these expenditures. Such complexes places great stress on our democratic systems.

New Zealand is in a particularly interesting situation. It specializes in maintaining broad relationships throughout the international community while achieving a largely independence foreign policy. Part of NZ’s attractiveness internationally is that it does not threaten anyone, and is often said to have no enemies.

This policy enabled it to attract 75% of the UN General Assembly vote when applying for Security Council membership in 2014, and shortly after, taking a leadership role in the creation of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty along with two thirds of the world’s nations, but against the interests of nearly all our traditional allies. However, NZ does maintain a small military capability and participation in the five eyes network. Do we understand how these capabilities affect our international reputation and the impact on the country’s diplomatic effectiveness.

New Zealand needs to look more closely at the real benefits and risks of its diplomatic and defence strategies, and explore the potential of moving to a more dedicated diplomatic emphasis, with a focus on “whole of nation” international relations. It could also place much more emphasis on recognising the benefits that we gain from our diplomatic and associated activities and put more resources into enhancing these capabilities throughout society. 

Comments welcome to gray@southon.net

Author’s Additional Comments

While my primary focus is climate change, I am also very concerned with the degrading effects that the military establishment has on the society for a number of reasons.

I have been thinking about this for some time, and while accepting that issues such as the military-industrial complex do have a consider influence in maintaining the military, I have come to the conclusion that there are considerable sentiments in the society as a whole that military power plays a critical role in maintaining security.

I say sentiment, as it is not particularly rational, but is deeply embedded in many societies arising from the way history is presented, extensive literature, movies etc around military action, the way international affairs is presented in the media, the prevalence of violence in movies and computer games, and the very fact of their high funding levels and the pagentry gives the military a dominant place in national identity.

With this sentiment being prevalent, there is likely to be quite strong resentment arising out of any attempt to degrade that sense of security that many people feel arises from a strong military capability. This resentment may have a considerable political influence. 

The peace movement, I feel, needs to recognise that the above sentiment may be a significant reality in the community, and to evaluate it if possible. More particularly then need to develop techniques to counteract it is some way.

One way, I suggest, is to explain how in practice security is much better assured by the many ways that nations work together to address the many complex threats that are facing the society as a whole, most of which the military has very little or nothing to contribute to. That despite the chaos we read about in the news, there is a considerable level of cooperation which supports much of our services that we rely on, has done so for many decades, and could do so much better if given the chance.

Unfortunately, this is not an easy sell, as this side of international affairs has little of the support of historical representation, literature, media, movies or games. However, there is much evidence to support this view. Perhaps if more people can develop a more constructive view of their security, and the destructiveness of the military solution, perhaps they would be more receptive to the diversion of the funds.

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