Few noted the irony when in making his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, US President Barack Obama defended the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
The speech came the day after the UK government allocated funding in the pre-budget report to a number of green initiatives aimed at helping tackle, global warming, the most severe threat facing the future of the planet.
Among the measures announced was an extra £200 million to people to make their homes more energy efficient. There was £50 million invested in wind turbines development and an exemption for electric cars for five years from company car tax.
Sounded good, that was until £2.5 billion was announced for the war in Afghanistan bringing the total annual budget for the conflicts in that country and Iraq to £4.4 billion. This revealed the true priorities.
The world faces the biggest threat to its future in the form of global warming, yet instead of seriously addressing this with the sort of investment needed to tackle the problems a derisory amount is thrown in that direction. In comparison there is no limit to what can be spent on war and armaments.
This approach of allowing arms spending and war to trump all other needs is something that has been evidenced for more than a century.
In the first decade of the 20th century, a reforming Liberal Government under the Premiership of Herbert Asquith and Chancellorship of David Lloyd George sort to bring in welfare support, including the state pension. This was to be largely funded by national insurance. But as the decade wore on the demands of the military for the funds being used for the welfare reforms grew ever louder. The military wanted armaments in the build up to the First World War. The welfare budget was swallowed up.
Move forward 35 years to the post war Labour Government. This administration further built on welfare reform and put in place the National Health Service. But it was not long before the world of conflict came knocking again with the arrival of the Korean War. Much of the funding needed for the NHS and other welfare reforms was siphoned off to pay for this war.
Military spending has remained high ever since that time. Sceptics argue that the whole Cold War was largely a façade created to support the arms industry. The over hyped threat and the falsified missile gaps.
The premiership of Margaret Thatcher represented an important period of development for what has become known as the military industrial complex. This amounts to a cabal of interests from government, finance, the intelligence world and the arms trade coming together to promote weapons sales. As the Arms to Iraq inquiry demonstrated there were large commissions to be had out of arms dealing. The Thatcher premiership was marked by a series of major arms deals the biggest of which was the Al-Yamama deal with Saudi Arabia. The client in this multi-billion deal was BAE Systems. The terms of the deal are highly secret and set alarm bells ringing whenever raised.
Arms spending generally took a bit of a dip in the 1990s following the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, the hypnotic power of the arms industry to capture domestic budgets was evidenced by the limpet like attachment of the British Government to the Trident nuclear deterrent. The country maybe in the depths of recession but the government will hit the low paid and other suffering groups long before it would consider getting rid of this long outdated system.
The latest bonanza for the military industrial complex came with the attacks on America of 11 September 2001. Arms spending orbited in America and Britain to meet the needs of the war. The arms industry was delighted doing good business and with live theatres of war to show off its wares. The Americans and British it should not be forgotten are among the biggest sellers of arms in the world.
The grip that the military industrial complex holds was best summed up by another American President, Dwight Eisenhower. Speaking in the 1950s he said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children...”This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
Surely it is time to come down from that iron cross and start devoting the mass of resources to development and countering global warming. It is time to start serving the real needs of the people rather than the vested interests of the military industrial complex.