Reinventing the World: War and Peace

Outside the UN Headquarters – a reminder of the organisation’s ultimate goal

War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!

“The world is a fine place and worth fighting for … But never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime. Ask the infantry and ask the dead.”

Bravo Hemingway! To save military resources ancient Greeks invented a type of combat where the best soldier of one army fights the other and the winner resumes the battle. With a similar intention Romans created the fundamentals of the Legal System. In our postmodern society the only country that actually gave A Farewell to Arms was Costa Rica after constitutionally abolishing its army on the 1st of December of 1948. Bravo Costa Rica!

Could you imagine a country without an army? What would be the consequences? To name a few, from that day Costa Rica’s military bases have become schools, achieving the second highest literacy rate and percentage of children attending school in Latin America. Public expenditure was optimised through universal medical care for all Costa Ricans and legal residents, with special emphasis on preventative health care and special services for children, women and seniors; average life expectancy stretched to over 75 years. Also, Costa Rica occupies third place in Latin America in the number of computers per person. Other benefits of this “funds reconfiguration” are 100% natural coverage in telecommunications, drinking water, electricity and social security. Costa Rica has no enemies or terrorism. The list goes on and on…

In the meanwhile, summarising some key details from chapter 5 of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)’s 2010 Year Book on Armaments, Disarmament and International Security for 2008, this is what’s been happening with the rest of the world:

  • World military expenditure in 2009 reached approximately US1.531 trillion;
  • This represents a 6% increase in real terms since 2008 and a 49% increase since 2000;
  • This corresponds to 2.7% of world GDP, or approximately 225 for each person in the world;
  • Yet, the UN’s entire budget is less than 2% of the world’s military expenditure.

States spend so much on their militaries but contribute so little to the goals of health, education, the environment and ultimately peace. At this level of spending, it would take just a handful of years for the world’s donor countries to cover their entire aid shortfall in promised official aid since 1970 – over 4 trillion.

Unfortunately, however, poverty fuels violence and defence spending has a tendency to rise during times of economic hardship. Defence companies routinely highlight their capacity to contribute to economic growth and provide employment. Indeed, some 2.4 trillion (£1.5tr), or 4.4%, of the global economy “is dependent on violence”, according to the Global Peace Index, referring to “industries that create or manage violence” – or the defence industry. A military may deliver geopolitical supremacy, but peace delivers economic prosperity and stability. And that, the report insists, is what is good for business and society.

The recent events in the Arab world have certainly shook the power structures. As Brazilian ex-president, Lula da Silva, states on the Sixth Al Jazeera forum (from 20th minute), fruit and political leaders can both be rotten on the tree, and if not removed when the time for change is overdue, might spoil the lot. Based on this rationale, Mr. da Silva explains why, against his party’s will, he decided not to pursue amendments to Brazil’s federal law to allow him to run for a third mandate. Ultimately, democracy and peace were the main reasons.

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