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Bruce Kent asks why war and militarisation are so often ignored in discussions of the environment and of development.

It is a pleasure to write for a readership of Christian ecologists who believe, as I do, that the world and all creation belongs to God. We humans are here but for a short time and are no more than trustees of whatever we think we own or control. Not that Christians have always behaved as trustees. The 'dominion' promised in Genesis has for long centuries been interpreted to mean that we can exploit, pollute, kill and destroy if such behaviour is judged by us to be in our interest.

This is just an introduction to a problem that has puzzled me for a long time. Why is it that so many people of good will, who are really concerned about poverty and damage to the environment, seem so often to ignore the manifestly appalling consequences of global militarisation? It is almost as if outside a large modern city hospital there stood a sign saying, 'We deal with every medical problem here, but please don't mention cancer'. Any modern hospital that ignored cancer would be worse than ridiculous. Nevertheless, time and again, militarisation is simply not on the agenda of world conferences dealing with poverty and environmental damage.

Warnings ignored
It is not as if we have not had enough warnings. I have a pile of reports and surveys in front of me which make the connection. It is strongly made in the Brundtland report, Our Common Future, of 1987. It is there in the 1992 Canadian Science for Peace study of the impact of militarism on the environment. The Swedish group Co-operation for Peace made the connection in their Military Threat to the Environment (1992). Only last August the International Peace Bureau produced a comprehensive sixteen-page study which covered all the poverty / environment issues.

Significant people from within the UN system have regularly voiced their concerns. Before the Rio summit of 1992 Mostafa Tolba, then Director of the UN Environmental Programme, had this to say about the forthcoming gathering: 'Disarmament and other security issues are not on the agenda, but global discussions and international agreements are worthless without progress on these issues'. He was not listened to. It is true that in the final Rio document there are a couple of nods in the direction of the damage done by global militarisation, but they are nods only. By the time Agenda 21 got down to us, the grassroots, those nods had been forgotten. Read Agenda for Change, a plain-language version of Agenda 21, published by the Centre for our Common Future. In the section about the protection of the oceans there is not a word about military marine pollution. In the section about the management of radioactive waste there is no reference to the military nuclear cycle which presents as many, if not more, problems as civilian nuclear energy production. I simply ask why is it that, from Stockholm in 1972 through to Johannesburg in 2002, issues of militarism are marginalised and even ignored as they have been?

It is not as if the facts are in dispute. The global military budget - half of which is spent by the United States - now runs at $800 billion annually. The poverty and inflationary consequences are there for all to see, whether there are wars or not. But in the last fifteen years there have been major wars - the Gulf, Bosnia / Kosovo, and now perhaps Iraq. Major wars, however, are not the only ones. At least thirty other wars, mostly within rather than between states, are in progress as I write.

The damage done directly to the environment is as clear as are the consequences for poverty. About a quarter of the world's jet fuel is used by military aircraft. The military occupy 1.5 million square kilometres of land for training and other purposes. About fifty nuclear warheads and at least eleven nuclear reactors lie on our ocean floors. More aluminium, copper and platinum are used by the military than by the entire Third World. Leaking oil-wells, defoliated forests, land wrecked with mines and depleted uranium, rivers full of dangerous chemicals leaking from bombed factories - the list goes on and on.

Uncomfortable truths
Why then the 'don't mention cancer' attitude when it comes to mentioning militarism at major conferences about global problems? There are at least two reasons. The first is that the most powerful and militarised countries, wedded as they are to out-of-date notions of security based on individual state power, do not want the connections to be made. It would be much too uncomfortable for them to make them. The second is what I have to call, rather unkindly, the yearning for respectability shown by many non-governmental organisations whose charitable status to a large extent depends on not rocking the boat too energetically. To raise the issue of militarism in the British context is at once to find the finger pointing back at us - our Trident nuclear submarines, our very substantial export of weapons, our militarised culture and traditions. Those are not issues which any British government wants discussed in world gatherings.

Happily, non-governmental organisations are now co-operating much more vigorously than they did in the past. As I write, I have before me a report from all the major development organisations which makes clear that a war on Iraq would be a disaster for ordinary people there. The great global gatherings at Seattle, Porto Allegre, Genoa and Florence, have brought together connecting campaigns as never before. 'Another world is possible' is today's excellent, positive globalisation slogan. Another world will not be possible unless the consequences of global militarisation are taken seriously and the world moves towards more intelligent notions of 'common security' as set out in Olof Palme's report of that name. Common security is not some distant pipe dream. There is no such thing as absolute security, as every graveyard should remind us. But within domestic society with some standards of civilisation, we no longer think that security depends on fortifying our houses as if they were castles, surrounding them with landmines and search lights and going about our daily business armed to the teeth.

We have learnt co-operation, mutual interest, some protection for the poor and political rights for minorities and other cultures. We have built systems of mediation and strucures of law. The police are certainly instruments of power but killing, for them, is a last resort and not a primary one.

If you think disarmament can't be done internationally, ask yourself why it is that Germany and France, involved in for three major wars in less than a century, can in practice no longer go to war because of the ties that now bind them together. The changing face of the European political world has made such behaviour effectively impossible. Europe today - why not the world tomorrow?

Bruce Kent is Vice-President of Pax Christi and Chair of the Movement for the Abolition of War.

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