Balance out of kilter in arms/society needs

Appearing in Montreal to promote the 1986 UNICEF report on The State of the World’s Children, actor-author PeterUstinov noted, with a flash of irony, that he had never seen anyone on the street collecting money for nuclear arms.

Obviously, he added, governments consider such expenditures to be essential matters that can’t be left to charities. The old, the infirm, the helpless – these and a wide range of human needs around the world can be left to the goodness of people’s hearts, but not the stockpiling of arms.

The relationship between the exorbitant amounts of money spent systematically by governments and the haphazard expenditures for economic and social development has been examined for many years. But it is only now achieving the concentrated global attention it deserves. The UN-sponsored International Conference on the Relationship Between Disarmament and Development, to be held July 15-Aug. 2 in Paris, is an opportunity to enlarge world understanding that human security demands more resources for development and fewer for arms.

The UN has pioneered the study of the linkage between disarmament and development. A three-year study by 27 experts from every area of the world, headed by Inga Thorsson, former undersecretary of state for Sweden, concluded: ”The world has a choice. It can continue to pursue the arms race, or it can move with deliberate speed toward a more sustainable economic and political order. It cannot do both . . . the arms race and development are in a competitive relationship.”

Thorsson quotes with approval the linkage established more than 30 years ago by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, who 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, from those who are cold and are not clothed.”

By taking a broader approach to the problem of security, the Thorsson group has defined a ”dynamic triangular relationship” between disarmament, development and security.

The purpose of national security is to secure the independence and sovereignty of the national state, the freedom and the means to develop economically, socially and culturally – which is precisely what we mean by development. Security is threatened by reduction in economic growth, ecological stresses and resource scarcities, and the morally unacceptable and politically hazardous polarization of wealth and poverty.

In 1984, the world spent $800 billion on its armed forces. This represents $130 for each person in the world. Of this figure, fully 80% was spent on conventional arms. While the vast arsenals of the Warsaw Pact and NATO account for the largest portion of the $800 billion, total spending by developing countries has increased at twice the rate of that in industrialized countries and today represents approximately one quarter of the world’s total. Developing countries spent almost three times as much on their military as on health programs.

So far, nations have been unable to advance development through disarmament savings. But at least a new examination of security has started in the past few years as the potential for global nuclear destruction and the realities of an interdependent world become better known. It will not, however, be sufficient simply to gather in Paris to lament the state of the world. We must arrive with ideas and, above all, a willingness to co-operate with one another and exercise political will in order to give the process some impetus.

The idea of reducing military expenditures by a fixed amount and transferring all or a portion of the savings to a development fund has been discussed through the years. The Soviet Union made such a proposal in 1956. In 1978, the UN examined the subject. Recently, Jim Wright, majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, proposed that the U.S. and the Soviet Union each place 10% of their military budgets into a trust fund to relieve world hunger, disease and illiteracy.

Not much is likely to come of such ideas without a great deal of planning for conversion of military industries into production centres of goods which people need. The political will to advance the conversion process is simply not present today.

In my view, a prerequisite to the development of political will is a deeper ethical understanding of the nature of the new global community. The concept of common ground, the implications of nuclear winter, the fundamental right of every human being to survive and develop all need to infuse the political process by first becoming dominant themes in societal life.

A worldwide awakening is needed to make the basic needs of humanity the first imperative of international policy. The forces of entrenched self-interest will, of course, oppose this. But a new age of global enlightenment must prevail if lasting security is to be achieved. The Disarmament/Development conference can, indeed, be an important moment of world concentration.