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Voices of Scotland The massive rise in ‘defence’ spending must be opposed

As political rhetoric tilts towards militarisation from both major parties, we must push on to redefine the role of the international courts and the very concept of ‘security’ itself, writes ARTHUR WEST

CURRENTLY in Britain, we have a Defence Minister, Grant Shapps, who said in a recent speech that we are in a pre-war rather than a post-war period.

We also have a Labour opposition which seems to want to out-Tory the Tories on defence spending.

In a recent speech, shadow defence minister John Healey talked about the need to rearm Britain. He used the speech to argue for substantial spending on defence, which would have certainly provided reassurance to the arms industry.

These recent speeches seemed to ignore the costs of war in human and financial terms — and underlined the need for CND and the wider peace movement to campaign against what seems at times to be a solid push from the Tories and Keir Starmer’s Labour to prioritise building for war over the urgent need for a peaceful world.

According to the Movement for the Abolition of War (MAW), most casualties of modern warfare are civilians — innocent men, women and children.

Unfortunately, some people can be persuaded to support wars through the power of certain sections of the media.

It is also the case that the massive arms industry, with its access to politicians in countries such as Britain and the US, can help to drive decisions to attack with bombs and bullets rather than look to resolve tensions between countries through the use of diplomacy and dialogue.

Detailed research by the Costs of War project based at Brown University in Rhode Island, estimates that wars involving the US since September 11 2001 have directly killed up to 905,000.

The Brown University research also indicates that 38,000,000 people have been displaced as a result of these wars. These figures are absolutely shocking.

There is not a single road to a peaceful world and a way out of the never-ending cycle of war which kills and harms so many people. I would therefore suggest that the following steps should be a focus of future peace movement campaigning.

First, we must call for reform of the UN and adequate funding for UN agencies tackling refugee and climate change issues. There is also an urgent need to restructure or abolish the security council in favour of a more democratic general assembly.

Second, the peace movement needs to become more focused on the role of international courts. It is often said that there are no enforcement powers available to international courts. I would suggest that this is only partially true.

If the UN wishes courts such as the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice to have more power, the UN has the power to authorise these steps.

Finally, the peace movement in Scotland and elsewhere must continue to campaign against the international arms trade. Britain is right up there with the US as a major seller of arms which play a major role in fuelling conflicts all over the world.

MAW research has indicated that British firms make up to £6 billion a year in arms sales. This is why it is often said that arms sales are good for the economy.

However, as the MAW has pointed out, every job in the arms trade is subsidised by around £12,000 a year. That sort of money could be used to develop job opportunities for skilled workers to operate in areas of the economy where their skills could be used for peaceful purposes.

The real motivation behind the arms trade is to try and achieve political and military influence in countries that receive the arms. We urgently need tighter controls on arms sales — in particular, a complete ban on sales to Israel.

One of the positive aspects of developing policies which focus more on welfare and not warfare is that it would provide an opportunity to build a more equal and fairer society.

As the excellent Richard Burgon MP said in the Star, “Our NHS is stretched to breaking point and many public services are close to collapse.” We also now have several councils declaring housing emergencies due to the chronic shortage of affordable housing.

However, despite these dire circumstances for working-class people military spending continues to increase.

As Burgon has said, “We need to push for an independent foreign policy based on supporting multilateralism and co-operation, which involves working together for peace and justice and real security.”

To move in a welfare-not-warfare direction, there is a need at the governmental level to redefine “security” as freedom from things like poverty and inadequate housing. There is also an urgent need to think of security in human terms and not military terms.

One of the ways to help fund welfare-not-warfare policies is to identify ways of raising taxes. A good way of generating money for public services would be to look at Burgon’s suggestions of an annual wealth tax of 1 per cent on assets above £10 million and setting capital gains tax levels at the same rates as income tax.

There are a few points which are relevant to the hurdles facing a welfare-not-warfare approach in relation to Britain and Europe — for example, a worrying development in the military role of the European Union back in March 2021.

In what could be described as a watershed moment for its defence policy, EU foreign ministers agreed to create a fund to allow the EU to send aid and military equipment all over the world.

The money for these arms and military equipment comes from a so-called European Peace Facility Budget. This fund is financed through contributions from member states.

Back in 2021, it was intended that £5bn pounds would be available to this fund to be spent in the years up to 2027. This budget will likely be exceeded due to the supply of arms to Ukraine.

In a nutshell, this so-called European Peace Facility will allow the EU to export lethal weapons around the globe, including conflict zones.

Perhaps the major hurdle to Britain developing a welfare-not-warfare policy position is the slavish support Britain gives to US foreign policy positions — even when it is against the interests of the country to do so.

This obedience to US foreign policy has seen Britain provide solid support to the disastrous Iraq war of 2003, which cost thousands of lives and caused disruption and instability across the Middle East.

More recently we have seen the British government give uncritical support to the US and Nato’s arming of Ukraine which involves giving no room for seeking a diplomatic and political solution to the current war with Russia.

A number of sources have reported that back in April 2022 former British prime minister Boris Johnson played a major role in scuppering the beginnings of a peace deal which could have prevented the substantial loss of lives on both sides of this dreadful war.

It is also very depressing to see both the government and Labour support the US approach to the war on Gaza. This approach has been based on continuing to arm Israel and refusing to call for a clear and binding ceasefire. Now is the time to remember the attempts of the late Robin Cook to introduce an ethical foreign policy in the early days of the 1997 Labour government.

It is time for Britain to have a foreign policy as envisaged by Cook, one based on trying to build a peaceful world and developing policies which are based on dealing with human security issues such as the right to decent housing and the threats posed by climate change.

Sadly the forthcoming Westminster election will probably see the two main parties offer no alternative to the depressing never-ending cycle of increased military spending.

Therefore the voices of the trade union and the peace movement must be heard during this election campaign — so that voters can hear sensible ideas for resolving tensions between countries without resorting to war or violence.

In today’s troubled world, it might be a good idea to remember the words of renowned scientist Albert Einstein who said: “It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.”

Arthur West is former chair of Scottish CND.

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