Arshad Majid Rather
Every year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) publishes global military spending figures, as well as those of international trade in conventional armaments. In 2018, the amount of global spending on weapons and military personnel was $1822 billion. In other words, 2.6% of the world’s nominal GDP. Over a period of time the arms trade has acquired a massive economy of its own. It is a giant enterprise that has grown by leaps and bounds.
The advanced countries have prioritised defence and arms spending, and wilfully ignored other sectors of equal or more importance. One such neglected sector is healthcare. It turns out that it is the only one coming to the rescue of mankind. Had advanced countries sufficiently invested in public health, perhaps we would have not been caught napping. The hundreds and thousands of lives that have been lost may have been saved.
Avoiding the weapons race is not just about diverting the money to healthcare. It is also about saving the millions of lives that are snuffed out by bullets, by bombings, by ceaseless wars and intractable conflicts. No jets flying in the skies showered petals on the victims of war. Conflicts seem to have become a “million dollar baby” which must be nourished with human blood. Humans feed on humans in this barbaric, cannibalistic world. There have been chemicals used as weapons against innocent civilians and children.
As the “million dollar baby” grows, it keeps on changing its form and its insatiable appetite craves for a variety of new dishes. Modern-day conflicts are fought with naked ulterior motives to keep the baby healthy. Such motives range from upholding democracy to protecting monarchy/dictatorship, conflict over regional resources or ideological dominance, sectarianism, or even the protection of “God’s Kingdom”. One wonders what kind of God employs such self-proclaimed “Warriors” to defend or to expand his kingdom. The innocent souls consumed by war may still be wandering to seek answers as to why they were killed. Chasing justice in this world seems to be just like chasing a mirage.
However, the blame cannot be apportioned selectively. If the cultivator of the poppy is to be blamed for its production, an equal blame falls on the marketing agents and the consumers. The trade and production of arms and ammunition thrives not in isolation but in coordination and collaboration. Supply and demand go hand in hand. Producers and consumers share a relationship of mutual reciprocity, utterly devoid of ethics when transactions involve human beings as commodities. Here all relations are temporary and all interests political and economic.
Karl Marx said that the economy determines the social structure. Today’s economists also believe that the economy is the backbone, the lifeline, of both state and society. Indisputably, the economy is important, but what is bad is exploitation, oppression, in the name of the economy. Why is economic development more important than environmental degradation? Why does Adivasi rehabilitation involve the displacement of the Adivasis themselves? You and me, in our ruthless pursuit of materialism, have brought upon ourselves more woes than dividends. We need to show more regard not just for human rights but for the environment as well. The silent cry of nature is no less deafening than the cacophony of loudspeakers.
I have read that the global arms trade is the second-largest business in the world after petroleum. Stakes are too high to be risked, even if entire mankind along with the natural world has to be set on fire. But wildfires once they start do not respect borders and boundaries. Even water pouring down from the skies cannot douse them. Nature seems to have grasped what mankind is up to. It has sensed that humans have turned themselves into a bunch of machines devoid of ethics, emotions, sense and sensibility. An unknown friend of nature has now arrived to heal its wounds. Humans see in it an existential threat. They have locked themselves in fear but still shudder with dread when anyone sneezes or coughs or yawns. Even Uncle Sam with his nuclear stockpiles cannot protect his powerful kingdom. It cannot fight the unseen “weapon of mass destruction”. Nature’s friend is mankind’s enemy.
History is an interesting teacher. There have been in the past formidable enemies of mankind such as Spanish Flu, SARS, Ebola, etc, but none of them lasted too long. Today’s coronavirus would also become history tomorrow. But before it vanishes, let us learn from it some history lessons. Let us learn from it how little we need to sustain life. Let us learn how vital it is to live and let live. Let us learn that the arms race has given us nothing but devastation. We have to save people as much from missiles as from measles. Indifference kills more people than starvation does. Feed millions to save billions. Break the stereotype of the “other” and recognise all human beings as “equals”.
This viral pandemic reminds us how closely human health is connected to the health of wildlife and the environment. All measures must be taken to take care of the natural environment. We are all stakeholders one way or the other, who can make this planet a better place to live in. Even the biggest of avalanches are made of small snowflakes. Collective, coordinated and concerted efforts would yield fruitful results. Let us break the cycle of greed, hatred and apathy to evolve as better human beings. Let us build better societies and better civilizations in which we all can grow and prosper together.
The writer is Assistant Professor of Sociology at GDC Anantnag [email protected]