October 6, 2009

Weapons or Reason? in the 21st Century

I am assuming that world leaders are eager to hear my advice, since they seem to be confused about the proper direction for their foreign policies. NATO troops should leave Afganistan. NATO should be reconfigured to support peacekeeping and development in failed nations. Governments should adopt rational policies of progressive disarmament and spend destruction money on constructive projects instead.

In my counterfactual world, here are only defensive military organizations and no adventitious killing. Nations are respectful, generous and tolerant of each others’ differences. Disputes are resolved by negotiation, grooming, gift-giving, concerts, sports and shared celebrations. There are no “terrorists” since all humans would have constructive ways of expressing and remedying their grievances. The United Nations would be reorganized and would flourish as a forum of cooperation.

Belligerent politicians would be given the opportunity to duel with each other in public displays of their skill and courage as warriors. They would not be seen as heroes but as irrational pugilists, atavistic misfits that need to do battle in ceremonial combat without harming others. If Bush disliked Hussein, he would challenge him to a duel. Let the best man win. You would save a hundred thousand lives and a trillion US dollars spend on destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. The domestic economy of the US would flourish with constructive, humanitarian enterprises and would not miss the vanishing munitions industry.

Of course, for some time, one of the political impasses in every society occurs between hawks and doves. While one group is directly or indirectly approving of solders killing others in defense of “freedom” another group is opposing combat roles. Weapon lovers talk about the enemy with great enthusiasm. They want to use freedom destroying weapons to defend freedom. Without an enemy, expensive weapons look ridiculous. Hopeful idealists imagine a different nonviolent world with an external nervous system that links minds in grooming and altruistic information sharing that will render the two military activities (killing and property destruction) obsolete.

Anyone who really wants peace will have to confront and constrain governments that spend their money on weapons. They will have to reduce and redefine the nature and conduct of military organizations. The power of the military industrial complex must be reduced. The international sale of surplus armaments must cease. Guns at home must be banned. The problem, of course, is that so far no country will agree to unilateral disarmament. In the USA, few citizens will give up their own guns. They are ready to fight. Everyone has to disarm at the same time to the same degree and so far, this is impossible.

Every country that can afford high tech weapons makes a substantial investment in armaments. As new weapons are manufactured in more affluent countries, older weapons are sold to poorer countries so that the ability to destroy property and kill humans is well distributed over the planet.

The Kalashnikov AK-47 is a hand-held automatic rifle; an agent of death that sprays bullets in the direction it is pointed. Little or no training is required to kill other humans. Several countries manufacture and export them. They are sold to governments, criminals, civilians, terrorist and are used by child soldiers. Hodges described Kalashnikov societies where the proliferation of the weapon “makes it impossible for civil society to assert itself and halt the killing.”

A report compiled by the US Congressional Research Service stated: "We are at a point in history where many of these sales are not essential for the self-defense of these countries and the arms being sold continue to fuel conflicts and tensions in unstable areas...Where before the principal motivation for arms sales by foreign suppliers might have been to support a foreign policy objective, today that motivation may be based on economic motives." In 2008, the United States was responsible for two-thirds of all armaments sales to other countries, valued at $37.8 billion, increased from $25.4 billion sales in 2007. Italy was second, with $3.7 billion in weapons sales in 2008. Russian sales were down from the $10.8 billion in 2007 to 3.5 billion in 2008. Sales from the US to developing nations included a $6.5 billion air defense system for the United Arab Emirates, a $2.1 billion jet fighter deal with Morocco and a $2 billion attack helicopter agreement with Taiwan. Other large weapons agreements were reached with India, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Korea and Brazil.

India and China, the two most populous nations on the planet are creating large, powerful military organizations with nuclear weapons. China has advanced missile and submarine technology that gives them the offensive capacities that rival the worst that the US and Russia have to offer. The balance of power is shifting to Asia.

The idea that dominates the human mind is not to avoid war, but to avoid losing a war. Eisenhower was right. The military industrial complex is a powerful parasite that absorbs inordinate wealth, dedicated only to destruction and death. The cover of national security and military honor keeps most citizens confused and docile. At home, military personnel wear attractive uniforms adorned with badges, and medals. They have bands, marches, and perform impressive funerals. Their cemeteries and national monuments to honor dead soldiers are often visited by patriotic citizens.

Soldiers are rewarded for destroying property and killing other humans; they cannot make independent evaluations based on deeply felt, personal expressions of caring, concern, justice and freedom. Military personnel have ethics or rules of conduct that control their behavior within military organizations. There are also “rules of war” that are often ignored in combat situations. An ethical soldier may do great harm to others as long as he protects his comrades and follows orders. Some soldiers are sociopathic criminals who take advantage of war to commit atrocities against civilians.

While you could argue that many soldiers are basically good people who commit socially sanctioned crimes, there is an equal argument that soldiers are the agents of evil and cannot be excused. There is another argument that soldiers are also victims. They are killed by the people they are supposed to kill, but more, they are agents of a political elite who chose war over negotiation and compromise. The politicians do not go to war, nor do their family members. High ranking officers stay at a safe distance from the battles and order others to kill and be killed.

As visiting paleoanthropologists, we recognize this reptilan behavior, still active in the majority of humans. Is there hope for a new human nature emerging from the military mind, still preoccupied by death and destruction?

From Group Dynamics by Stephen Gislason