War to the world

Decking the halls of power with weapons of little-noticed destruction

YAHOO LAUNCHED ITS LATEST FORAY into multimedia news gathering in September by hiring war correspondent Kevin Sites to “star” in an around-the-world-in-a-gunsmoked-haze tour of the planet’s war zones. Some might be tempted to dismiss Sites’ efforts as conflict porn, but he does revisit some of the rotten, forgotten places of the world whose misery calls out for more international attention. One recent trip brought him to the sorry state of Congo, a nation engulfed by a stupefyingly senseless civil war that starts and sputters but shows no signs of truly ending. After recording some of its dreadful stories, Sites was off to the next hot-spot on his list.

If his aim is to document them all, he may never run out of e-material. It is painful to note in this season of peace that the world has been at war—someplace—pretty much constantly. Eight “major wars” and 24 “lesser conflicts” currently snarl across the globe in places like Chechnya, Darfur, Iraq, Colombia, Nepal, Uganda, and Burma, and any number of “cold conflicts” teeter on the brink of violence. Many of Earth’s most vulnerable inhabitants awaken each morning to a nightmare world of war, brutality, and unspeakable cruelty.

Although they are often depicted as ethnic or sectarian clashes, most of the world’s strife reflects the lingering trauma of colonialism, according to Frida Berrigan, an analyst for the World Policy Institute. Other conflicts, particularly in Africa where some of the arcane minerals that drive our digital lifestyles have been located, result from the more contemporary aberration of “resource wars.”

The U.S. could do a lot more to bring a little more joy and a little less war to the world, beginning with a thorough reevaluation of its own criteria for determining when armed conflict is ever justified. Next, it could simply spend less on arms and more on economic development and human empowerment in the less affluent corners of the world.

A recent United Nations Human Development Report chastised the U.S. specifically and the West in general for a bizarre allocation of resources, such that, globally, for every $1 invested in development, another $10 is spent on military budgets. Such imbalances mean that the United States may have the most technologically advanced military systems in the world, but an infant mortality rate in its inner cities that rivals any forlorn deprivation zone in the Third World.

The U.S. could also put the brakes on its unseemly participation in the global arms trade and take a more imaginative role in containing the international small arms trade. In 2003 the U.S. transferred weaponry to 18 of the 25 countries involved in active conflicts. As the world’s largest overall exporter of weapons, the U.S. bears special responsibility for a world of want that is somehow awash in weapons large and small.

The $67 billion U.S. arms and defense services export industry represents only a tiny fraction of the nation’s overall economy. Even a large reduction in this bitter trade would not have a major impact, but a powerful confluence of Pentagon and corporate interests keep the U.S. export arms trade thriving even as it helps to accelerate small-scale arms races among the world’s poorest nations and destabilizes already tense state-to-state standoffs.

If the u.s. merely followed its own laws, says berrigan, global arms trafficking would diminish dramatically. Unfortunately it has been the policy of most U.S. administrations to maintain legalistic loopholes in arms export practices that are large enough to drive a tank through.

But U.S. manufacturers who produce the nuts and bolts of the world’s armed conflicts, the small arms that are responsible for 90 percent of the mayhem and death, also enjoy a less-than-critical eye from U.S. export authorities. Worse, perhaps owing to our culturally peculiar relationship with small arms, U.S. officials have single-handedly stymied U.N. efforts to bring some degree of ethical decorum and market containment to the international trade in small arms.

So let’s begin the new year with some national resolution on curtailing America’s weapons and war addiction. That way next December we can wish everyone peace on earth and goodwill to men without crossing our trigger fingers. 

By Kevin Clarke, senior editor at U.S. Catholic and managing editor of online products at Claretian Publications.

All active news articles