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  the first step to
  change is the
  conviction that
  change is needed


the first step in change is the conviction that change is needed
THE problems we face at the beginning of the twenty-first century involve interconnected issues of militarism, economics, social policy and the environment. Global consumption of resources is exceeding Earth’s restorative capacity by at least 33 per cent. War and the preparation for war drastically reduce the store of these resources still further, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle in which competition for raw materials leads to further conflict. This means that global survival requires a zero tolerance policy for the destructive power of war.

However, exposing the extremes of today’s military and outlining the crisis in resources will only bring about change if we also tackle the question of security. Popular support for the military comes from fear, and that fear is based on hundreds of years of recorded history. We feel that we must have weapons to protect ourselves from the weapons of the enemy. This fear legitimises the development and stockpiling of new weapons and results in the election of public officials who will not hesitate to use violence. This in turn attracts the warrior to public office and reinforces his or her belief that military might is the best assurance of security. If the public were convinced that there were real, viable alternatives to war, such figures would lose their mandate.

Therefore it is vital that a new concept of security is devised, which puts Earth and its inhabitants first. The old paradigm of security protects wealth, financial investment and privilege through the threat and use of violence. The new concept embraces a more egalitarian vision, prioritising people, human rights, and the health of the environment. Security itself is not being abandoned; it is just being achieved through the protection and responsible stewardship of the Earth. I would call this energising new vision ‘ecological security’. Such a shift in focus requires a complex, multi-faceted approach to resource protection and distribution, to conflict resolution and the policing of the natural world. But in order to do this, we must first challenge the belief that military force is a necessary evil.

altering the core belief
Social change always follows a period when a core belief is identified and rejected. As support and awareness of this new way of thinking grows, the political climate changes and the old way of doing things is no longer acceptable. That is the lesson we learn from history. I believe, for example, that the vast social changes of the 1950s and 1960s came about when people began to challenge the idea that everyone should conform to socially imposed patterns of behaviour. This shift resulted in a new understanding of human and civil rights, with a focus on the freedom of the individual and an acceptance of racial, religious and sexual diversity.

Once a core belief is overturned, related changes spread under their own impetus. In the 1950s and 1960s we saw the growth of movements for civil rights, women’s rights, black power and gay rights. Consciousness-raising in turn yields changes in legislation, social behaviour, policy, even language. More recently, we have seen the recognition of the rights of the child, the movement against child soldiers, and animal rights groups.

There will always be those who resist change – in the 1960s, the rejection of socially imposed behaviour led to fears of social chaos. But we are quick to monitor when things go ‘too far’ and we adjust our beliefs accordingly. So whilst we recognise the freedom of the individual, for example, this does not mean that we tolerate them violating the rights of another. Self-correction and adjustment following the rejection of a core belief is a vital part of the process.

The core belief being challenged today is that military power provides security. There exists more than enough evidence to show this belief is untrue. There is a story about Vienna, a lovely city which was located on the path of invasion between the armies of the West and the armies of the East in the Middle Ages. The city was constantly under siege, so its warriors decided to build a high strong wall that was strengthened as time went on. At one point, however, the inhabitants began to feel crowded and wanted to expand the city beyond the confines of its wall. They had two options: knock down the wall and allow the city to grow, taking their chances with attack, or build a higher, stronger wall beyond the first.

You can well imagine the heated discussions and predictions of doom that followed! In the end, the referendum was won by those who wanted the wall torn down. You can still see the remains of it today as it forms the base of the ring road around the city centre. When the wall was torn down, Vienna was no longer a challenge to invading armies, a prize to be taken, and the constant sieges ceased. This may be an oversimplification of history, but I think it underlines the need to question the proverbial wisdom at some point.

The first step in change is the conviction that change is needed. This could be said to be the theoretical stage based on observation and reassessment. The next step is practical, when people come together to exchange ideas and information and to lobby for social transformation. What we find in reality is that these two processes occur simultaneously – discussion gives rise to groups of like-minded people who engage in further analysis.

lobbying for change
It is clear that the multi-faceted problems will require a multi-faceted solution. No one person or organisation will have the wisdom needed to deal with all of the issues that must be addressed. Those working for peace, economic justice, social equity and environmental integrity must all stay connected, sharing their ideas and insight. ‘Staying connected’ in such a grandiose project will never mean total agreement on everything, rather a constant cycle of communication, action, feedback and re-evaluation. Honest dialogue about successes and failures is a protection against major mistakes during alternative policy development.

The good thing about such a complex range of problems is that the process can engage a wide variety of talents. Everyone should be able to find a comfortable niche where he or she can be useful and appreciated. For example, while there is a need for scientists and engineers to interpret documents, there is also a need for those who can convey the findings to the general public. The message about the dangers of nuclear weapons has been spread through art, plays, and poetry as well as through television, newspapers and magazines.

phasing out the military
We must first look at effective disarmament and the redirection of military resources, including human resources, towards more humanitarian aims; finally we must seek alternative means of solving conflict.

We also need to bring the research community into this equation so that disarmament becomes a longterm reality.

Many people were shocked when NATO decided to bomb Kosovo on its own authority. If NATO or some other coalition outside the United Nations can dictate military policy, then the chances of promoting a peaceful solution to any crisis are seriously damaged. There is more security for the public when international actions are based on decisions made by a civilian authority and are backed by the rule of law.

At a luncheon held in New York City on 8 July 1999, Jayantha Dhanapala, United Nations under-secretary general for disarmament, warned that the rapid globalisation of the arms industry meant that ‘money, information and decontrolled commodities flow between countries and global affiliates without any significant control by governments’. This freedom to trade arms means that countries or organisations can secretly build up weapons reserves, and also that highly destructive weapons can be developed, without any civilian oversight or control. An international police force under the control of the United Nations would make this clandestine build-up to war impossible. Since it would have equal responsibility to all nations and would therefore not be subject to the competition that exists between countries, it would not require constant increases in its firepower. Of course, it would have to be accountable to the UN General Assembly for its actions and decision-making and it would be important not to concentrate too much power in any one agency or department. When power is dispersed, it is less likely to be abused.

However, it is clear that the goal of change is not just civilian supervision of the military but the dismantling of the military altogether. This change will not be easy. No country is going to terminate its military forces unless it can be absolutely sure that other countries are doing the same – the fear of being vulnerable to attack would be much too strong.

disbanding the military
The United Nations, with the assistance of NGOs like SIPRI, has been tabulating military expenditure and arms trade transfers for many years. Enough data is now available to successfully monitor a freeze in military spending. Once a freeze is in place, 20 per cent of each country’s budget could be exacted each year by the United Nations for purchase of UN currency specifically introduced for this purpose. This UN money could then be restricted to the creation of jobs that meet human needs and also conform to tough ecological and planetary health requirements:
- all production must meet a genuine planetary need
- sustainable production, distribution, consumption, and waste disposal methods must be in place before any production begins
- initially, jobs created must contribute directly to the health, education, social service or environmental restoration sectors of the economy.

In this way military spending is phased out, jobs for military personnel are provided, and some of the most urgent planetary needs are addressed. This financial shift could continue for five years until the military budget is zero for all member nations, although it may take up to ten years.

An alternative suggestion is to redefine the military’s job description. After all, they are supposed to work for us, and in our name. Proposals include using military personnel for civilian assistance in ecological crises such as floods or volcanic eruptions. They could also carry out genuine peacekeeping, with new nonviolent training programmes and the development of conflict resolution skills. Imagine unarmed peacekeepers, trained in the art of diplomacy. When the option of war is not available, people are forced to think about the many possible but untried responses.

FROM: Planet Earth – the latest weapon of war. A critical study into the military and the environment. Rosalie Bertell.



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