issue 221 - July 1991
- eight steps towards a future
Illustrations by KORKY PAUL
Nearly all arms-producing countries sell weapons to nations with poor human rights records or with military dictatorships. You can put pressure on your government to stop doing this - and to cease selling to any part of the world where a conflict is raging. Picketing arms fairs and exhibitions discourages local authorities from hosting such events.
In our culture we learn history as a series of battles won. But schools could teach it as a story of humanity and human achievements, with wars as tragic disruptions. Then children might learn that it is smarter to resolve conflicts peacefully than with their fists. They should be discouraged from playing with war toys which make war and violence seem an inevitable part of normal life.
The arms trade thrives on secrecy. In most countries it is extremely difficult for members of the public to find out who is exporting what to whom. This makes it virtually impossible to lodge a protest before the sale has been made. Demand that your government publish details of all arms transfers in an Export Register - as they do in Sweden. It's your right to know.
Millions of people work in arms and arms-related fields. Through your trade union you can try to influence decisions about what contracts your company takes on. Put pressure on management to consider producing something more socially useful. With the arms industry in deep recession this may be the only way of saving jobs. If you are doing scientific research avoid areas with military applications or funding. Or better still, study ways in which existing military science could be converted to civilian use. If you are in the armed forces, don't you think your skills might be more creatively used elsewhere?
So many firms are connected with arms manufacture it would be impossible to boycott them all. Some are making genuine attempts to move out of the field. But some companies are making no attempts to diversify at all - or are actually increasing their military investment. Many of these make consumer items - radios, kettles, cars - which you could boycott (see Action Page). Ask your local council if it is investing in military interests - and avoid unwittingly doing so yourself by taking out an ethical investment or pension scheme.
The arms industry is one of the most energy intensive and polluting especially if radioactive materials are being used in production. Public protest makes this harder to conceal. And defence industries could - with government backing - put their technical skills into finding ways of disposing of waste and cleaning up the environment. They could start by cleaning up the many, deeply polluted military bases no longer in use now that the Cold War is over.
Arms control can easily slide to the bottom of the political agenda. Ask your politicians what has happened to the peace dividend produced by the end of the Cold War. Keep up the pressure for cuts in defence budgets. Your government should be taking a lead in the United Nations to make international arms control agreements integrated and comprehensive - with harsh penalties for cheats.
The greatest barrier to creating a demilitarised society is in our heads. We have got used to believing in the need for armies and the inevitability of war. But standing armies are a relatively modern invention. And most conflicts are caused not by inevitable disagreements but by suspicion and distrust. We need more openness of mind - and information; more willingness to discuss and debate and learn about each other's differences.