Global Militarism and the Environment

Jim Hollingsworth

On August 6, 1945, a solitary American B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, devastating the city and killing 200,000 people. Three days later, a similar bomb devastated Nagasaki. On the 45th anniversary of this tragic and pivotal event in the history of humankind, it is salutary to assess the continuing human and ecological toll demanded by world militarism.

In 1989, world military expenditures were more than $1 trillion. In the Third World, governments now spend approximately half their total budgets on the military and on servicing their national debt. With such huge demands on national budgets, humane programs for health, nutrition, housing, education, social services, and environmental protection are grossly underfunded.

Many of the world's worst environmental crises are in war-torn, Third World countries, but environmental problems there cannot be dealt with until the wars are over. "Stopping the wars has to be the first step in any rebuilding of the environment,'' says Peter Tessier, an agronomist with the United Nations.

If our planet is to be healed, the connection between militarism and environmental decay has to be recognized and steps taken to reduce military spending. U.S. researcher and writer Ruth Leger Sivard gives an example of how a five per cent cut in the global military budget would provide $5 billion for humanitarian and environmental needs. Such a sum of money could fund a cleanup of nuclear bomb plants; promote safe water, sanitation and supplementary food for the half of the world that desperately needs all three; provide material health care and education to all who need it; establish community health posts for the billion people in the world who have no primary health care; and build a worldwide satellite-based network for health education.

All this could be achieved with only a five per cent cut. With a ten per cent cut, we could reverse desertification, prevent the erosion of topsoil and develop alternative forms of energy.

Canadians often consider Canada to be a bit player in militarism, but an important protector of the environment. The figures tell a different story, however. This year Ottawa will spend 12.3 times more on the Department of National Defence than on the Department of the Environment.

Canada spends more on its military than the entire continent of South America does. At our current annual military budget of $12 billion we spend twice as much on the military as the entire African continent spends on health care.

In addition, in 1990 alone, Canada will spend 9.1 times as much on low-level air defence systems for our troops in Europe as we will contribute to the United Nations, and 4.2 times as much on defence as on foreign aid.

Canada is also an active participant in the international military market. Every second year Canada plays host to ARMX, one of the world's most popular military trade fairs. At ARMX, which is held in Ottawa, Canadian manufacturers promote and sell their products, which sometimes appear in the armouries of countries that have an atrocious history of violating human rights.

Canada exports approximately $2 billion worth of military merchandise each year. Some of this is purchased by Third World governments, which chose to buy military products rather than provide health care, nutrition and shelter for their people.

Furthermore, Third World countries often viciously exploit their natural resources in order to pay for their imported military equipment and to service their international debt.

Through its participation in the United Nations peace-keeping forces, Canada has done much excellent work in helping to solve disputes all over the world. It is to be hoped that this tradition sill continue.

Project Ploughshares, an ecumenical Canadian peace organization, is calling for a 50% reduction in Canada's military spending. There is strong evidence that on such a reduced budget we would still be able to defend our country and fulfil our obligations to the United Nations. As we remember the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, let us hope that our government hears and heeds the call.

Jim Hollingsworth is a member of Canadian Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
From Links, February 1991, Vol. 3, No. 2, p. 2
(Reprinted with permission from Probe Post, Canada's Environmental Magazine)



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