The Arms Trade Needs a Shift from War Economy to Green Economy

IN FOCUS, 2 Oct 2023

Vijay Mehta – TRANSCEND Media Service

27 Sep 2023 – In 1973 the Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz described the paradoxical relationship between market economics and the threat of ecological catastrophe:

“All the advantages that man has gained from his ever-deepening understanding of the natural world that surrounds him, his technological, chemical and medical chemical progress, all of which should seem to alleviate human suffering instead to favour humanity’s destruction.”

Any rational assessment of our current military mindset seems to support this prophecy. The cold war has been over for more than two decades, yet the world continues to increase its military spending as if we were facing unending conflict. The latest figures for 2023 show that the arms trade numbers have reached US$2 trillion. The US is still number one, spending US$873 billion on its military, but China and Russia are catching up fast.

More remarkable is the seismic shift of military spending in Asia, with the frightening prospect of the start of a new cold war there. India is now the world’s largest importer of arms, and the four next-largest are South Korea, Pakistan, China and Singapore. Asian countries divert vast sums into buying weapons and armaments, despite millions of their people being deprived of basic rights, food, shelter, education and health care.

The tragic proxy war in Ukraine between Russia and its allies including China and Ukraine, USA, NATO and European Union is continuing with catastrophic consequences in which millions have been killed and made homeless bringing untold suffering on the European Continent after relative peace for the last 75 years.

Militarism is the key driver of the economics of underdevelopment and the oppression of developing countries. Western countries install puppet governments and supply them with arms to tyrannise and control their own people, in return for unfettered access to natural resources such as oil, gas and minerals. Countries are sold weapons including small arms, cluster bombs and landmines
(110 million of which lie buried under the Earth), causing wars, environmental damage and poverty.

This extreme poverty is the cause of 2 billion people subsisting on less than US$2 a day. Every 3.6 seconds, someone dies of starvation. Every 30 seconds, a child dies of malaria. Every minute, a woman dies in childbirth. This is a genocide of neglect and abandonment. US president Dwight D. Eisenhower once said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in a final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

The negative effects of this militarism on the environment and on global and human security including refugees, migrants and many other vulnerable groups are catastrophic. The environmental risks of nuclear contamination leaks are already well known from Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the Fukushima disaster. The immense possibility of a radiological fire threatens the Fukushima reactor unit 4 site, constituting a potential health hazard and a danger to our children and the whole of civilisation. What is not as well known is the pollution created by the US military – the world’s single largest user of petroleum. This profligate use of fuel is extremely harmful to the environment.

Millions of people in more than 120 countries have been affected by militarism. Refugees, migrants, internally displaced persons and stateless people flee from fighting or are forcibly driven out of their own countries as a result of internal disputes.

Yet poorer countries feel they must defend themselves from the ever vaster resources the rich world pours into its military-industrial complex. India, China, Pakistan and many other developing countries in which poverty is the overwhelming problem are wasting ever more of their scarce resources on expensive weapons systems and the fuel to operate them, rather than on irrigation, pollution control, education and the many other life-improving essentials that their people currently lack.

Africa continues to present the most disheartening example of the connection between militarism, resource theft and poverty. The World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report is the first to make this nexus of effects its central theme, interlinking violent crime and international disputes.

My book The Economics of Killing has explored the alternatives to this tragic scenario and has advocated for a shift from the war economy to a green economy; military reduction; cutbacks in the global arms trade; reform of the monetary system; and addressing the root causes of violence, wars and terrorism. According to the Global Peace Index 2021, the global economic impact of violence was $16.5 trillion, equivalent to 10.9 per cent of global GDP, or $2,117 per person. Against that, expenditure on Peacebuilding and Peacekeeping was $41.8 billion in 2021, which equals just 0.5 per cent of military spending.

We need to build a new social, political and cultural society that is sustainable, equitable and in harmony with the environment. Stopping militarism and deploying resources towards completion of the UN’s much-needed Sustainable Development Goals would leave a lasting legacy for generations to come, ensuring the continuation and progress of our sacred civilisation and humanity. Then we would be able to meet the challenges of the paradoxical relationship described by Lorenz.


Vijay Mehta is an author and peace activist. He is chair of Uniting for Peace, founding trustee of Fortune Forum charity, and board member of GAMIP-Global Alliance for Ministries and Infrastructures for Peace. His books include: The Economics of Killing (Pluto Press, 2012); Peace Beyond Borders (New Internationalist, 2016; and the most recent How Not To Go To War (New Internationalist, 2019) where he proposes that in countries and communities, in governments, private institutions and media, Peace Departments and Peace Centres be established to report on and promote peace.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Oct 2023.

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