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September 26, 2020

The dream of peace

Opinion

September 26, 2020

Amidst the frenzy of wars and conflicts, Global Peace day was observed on September 21 with the UN appealing to belligerent groups and states to suspend fighting for at least 24 hours.

The purpose of the day is to strengthen the ideals of peace and create awareness about the barbarity of war and the insanity of spilling human blood. But we are so immersed in this insane business of carnage that even the catastrophic pandemic could not slow down the intensity of atrocities in active war zones, and people continued to suffer in the killing fields of Yemen, Afghanistan, Columbia, Syria, and beyond.

The senseless spending on arms and militaries also remained unabated. America, the biggest champion of peace and stability, witnessed no respite in military spending with the White House Office of Management and Budget expecting a significant increase of military and defence spending by the end of 2021. The Stockholm Peace Research Institute states that in 2017 the total arms sales among the top defence contractors spiked to $398 billion. According to CNBC, Lockheed Martin, one of the biggest arms corporations in the world, is expected to have $64 billion worth of sales this year. With so much revenue in the arms trade, these contractors and corporations have a significant influence on policymakers and are some of the biggest donors in presidential campaigns.

War and economic prosperity of some states seems to be interlinked. US Major General Smedley Butler in his book, 'War is a Racket', has given a detailed account of different corporations that made billions from World War I. Butler claims that 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires appeared in the US after the terrible global conflict. During a war, even consumer goods or non-military companies manage to make money.

In modern times wars and conflicts seem to have been privatized with private military contracts emerging as quick profit-makers. States have been lavishing contracts on such entities. For instance, Blackwater was awarded a $21million contract in Iraq. The firm’s training facility is routinely used by the US military and the executive members of the company, including the founder Erik Prince, have deep ties in the White House. This shows the proximity of the company with American power corridors. Critics claim that, using his relations with President Trump, Erik proposed to outsource the Afghan war, which was criticized by many. Not only do firms like these flourish from the plight of people in war-torn countries, they also enjoy immunity from the US Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Former US VP Dick Cheney was accused of cronyism when Halliburton was awarded contracts during the Iraq War. The allegations took a serious turn when the audit reports confirmed excessive spending and overbilling to the Pentagon from the company. Similarly, Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, was allegedly awarded contracts without any competitive bids and according to the US Army Audit Agency report, $1 billion was under question apart from another $443 million expenses that the company failed to document. Dick Cheney, who asserted in the press that he had no financial interest in the company, kept receiving a sum of hundred thousand dollars in deferred payments even after he left the firm.

The Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit news agency, claimed that 70 US companies were granted contracts amounting to $8 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. Interestingly, these companies were among the top donors for the presidential campaign of Mr. Bush junior. The majority of these companies have executives who had close ties with members of Congress and senior military leadership.

In 2017, the Trump administration supplied weapons worth more than $100 billion to various Arab states along with another $350 billion worth of arms in the next ten years. Experts believe that BAE systems, a UK-based defence firm, sold around GBP15 billion worth of arms just to the Gulf States. Boris Johnson wishes to resume the export after the court halted arms trade from the UK to the Gulf last year over human rights violations in Syria and Yemen.

With billions of dollars spent on arms R&D and other allied corporate contracts, governments seem to be helpless in stopping wars and conflicts, they are at the mercy of these big influential corporations. Wars and conflicts create business opportunities for a few.

Somebody rightly commented, “War is bloody but it is bloody profitable.” But we need to put an end to this business of barbarism by converting arms manufacturing technology into something useful to humanity. In the 1980s, research claimed the world only needed $50 billion for such conversion. Scientists have a duty to ponder over the modalities that could make this conversion possible because without this peace will remain a distant dream.

The writer is a Karachi-based freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]