May 2, 2010

Worldwide disarmament

We must try to consider security issues in the light of the needs in the new century

By Atle Hetland

Considering the prominent role of the military in Pakistan, sometimes even contributing positively, but also negatively to the country’s development, it is perhaps a bit brave when I in this article argue for disarmament, not only in Pakistan, but worldwide, including in Norway, my home country, in the superpower USA, in the former superpower USSR, now Russia, in India, in Iran, Israel, etc. I find it very positive that President Barrack Obama has taken steps to reduce the stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. Yes, perhaps USA cannot afford a continued arms race, and certainly, there will still be more nuclear weapons to finish the world many times over even after active nuclear disarmament. And I am sure many countries will not really disarm but divert its rearmament to other sectors than nuclear weapons, or even within the area of nuclear weapons, or related fields, in disguised forms.

I find it positive that the Liberal Democrats in the UK during the ongoing election campaign advocate for a review of the country’s nuclear policies, based on financial as well as security considerations. Party leader Nick Clegg maintains that the UK doesn’t necessarily become safer with continued investment in the country’s nuclear arsenals. He also draws attention to the fact that there in the future may be risks for other, unknown types of violent and armed conflicts, which could at worst include nuclear weapons. The traditional types of wars have in the past included conflicts between states. When Prime Minister Gordon Brown argues for continuation of the current defense and nuclear policies, which also includes a major chunk of the country’s budget at a time when it can ill afford it, he strikes me as old-fashioned and stuck in thinking from the Cold War time, which mainly ended two decades ago. But he is not the only one who is outdated, most of us are. We have hardly given alternative thinking space.

When I was young in Norway, there was and there still is, compulsory military service (conscription) for all male 19-20-year old citizens. Thirty-forty years ago, it was difficult to avoid doing the one-year service, while it today is easy to be dropped because the immediate threats are seen as small. I was lucky because I was assigned work at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO), where we were a little ‘army’ of idealists. We were a bit worried though that it would reflect negatively on our future carrier, which it did not in practice, partly thanks to the Cold War ending.

In other countries, such as Germany (that time called West Germany), it was considered positive if young people were active in the peace movement. In my home country, it was only considered positive in the ‘soft’ and intellectual groups, i.e. among teachers, social workers, religious groups, social scientists, and so on.

There was respect for our idealism, but it was also considered naïve and sometimes even unpatriotic to refuse military service. However, we did get security clearance; those of us who made it to become diplomats, including some friends who have became ambassadors, although many were actually pacifists and did not agree with Norway’s policy of being a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

This promises well for liberal democracies, such as Norway. Yet, Norway remains a member of NATO, lead by the only superpower. When I was a conscientious objector, there were friends who refused military service because of Norway’s NATO membership, but that was not much appreciated by the state. It was better if the reasons were humanistic or religious. We should recall that most religions carry peace messages, so also Christianity, the dominant religion in Norway.

Forty-fifty years ago, the peace movement in the West was more active than today, although there seems to be growing numbers of young and old people taking part. Even within the mainstream political parties, such as the Social Democratic or Labour Parties, there were strong pacifist sections. In Norway, a breakaway group left the Labour Party to form the Socialist Party, and many on the left side of the Labour Party were active peace activities and pacifists, such as the current Chairwoman of the Norwegian interest group "Nei til atomvåpen", Ingrid Eide, a former Education Minister and yearlong member of the party’s central committee. She represents the establishment as well as the modern thinking for peace and development.

When I discuss peace issues, being a Norwegian, I always mention that I find it wrong that Norway followed NATO and sent soldiers to Afghanistan, albeit not for combat but for security and training. This happened the first time that the Socialist Party ever had joined the Labour Party in a coalition government, which saddens me because they threw overboard one of the major principles for the party having been established, leaving the undersigned party-less.

As a social scientist, mostly having had the privilege of working in education and the social sectors, including development and humanitarian aid, I sometimes try to find if there are any good logics behind war and rearmament, including nuclear rearmament. I do not find much logic thinking at all. But then maybe I am just naïve, thinking as a teacher and humanitarian aid worker, emphasising positive moral values? And in Afghanistan, I believe that we, i.e. little Norway, would have contributed much more to that country’s future if we had stayed on our usual course and contributed in the civilian fields, noting that Norway is one of the world’s major donors of development aid and the country awards annually the Nobel Peace Prize. I think we became smaller and less of a lighthouse due to our policies in Afghanistan, and concretely, we donated less to refugees, returnees, women and other needy people and their development.

Let me underline that disarmament is an economic issue. When Germany and Japan have done so well in their economic development after the Second World War, a major reason was that they were not allowed to build up their military power. In other words, less allocation of funds for the military leads to faster development of the civilian society and greater prosperity for all people in a country. It is my hope that we in all countries in the world, in the years and decades ahead will reconsider our current defense policies, especially the costly nuclear policies. We must try to consider security issues in the light of the needs in the new century.

I have in this article on purpose not discussed terrorism and various disobedience issues directly. Most of these issues have little to do with military issues but much more with broader aspects of inclusion and participation in a country’s development. If all people, especially young men and women, find that they have a major stake in their country’s development, disobedience will be minimal. Naïve? Perhaps, but if we take the chance to believe in positive actions by people, it is more likely that we will succeed in developing a better world tomorrow.

The international network "Humiliation Studies and Human Dignity Network", coordinated by Professor Evelin Gerda Lindner, University of Oslo, works precisely for positive inclusion of all, so that the likelihood of conflicts and wars can be reduced. If we seriously begin disarmament, especially of nuclear weapons, imagine how much more money we would have for development! It is not naïve, it is just logical, and in accordance with values and needs of all young people. I believe it is we who are getting old who stand in the way for the next generation to work for this type of change. In Pakistan, we would see that there would be funds for achieving education and health for all, better labour laws for the working class, and even more regular electricity supply for everyone.

Atle Hetland is a Norwegian Social Scientist currently based in Islamabad.

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