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Obsessed with military might


Why is the United States so addicted to the idea that the proliferation of arms will bring peace? Recent developments suggest that America’s obsession with military power has reached a new high.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has become the world’s largest arms dealer. In 1999 the United States sold $12 billion worth of weapons to 91 countries and to NATO. In addition, the State Department has approved licenses for sales that could reach a record $46.9 billion to 151 nations. The Pentagon, moreover, has given training to the military of more than 105 nations.

The United States sells weapons to nations with little regard for their human rights record. In 1999 the United States sold $1.37 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia, a nation without elected institutions or political parties. Saudi Arabia is the largest importer in the world of U.S. weapons -- a nation where freedom of the press and religion are severely restricted.

The United States is also reckless in its sale of small arms. America supplies nearly half of all arms deliveries to developing countries. An alliance of recent origin of 200 nongovernmental peace groups, including Pax Christi, has begun work on a worldwide treaty to control the indiscriminate proliferation of arms.

These small weapons have been the main killers in the 49 conflicts since 1990. Even worse, these light weapons have been the major reason why more than 45 million people have been killed in 170 wars since the end of World War II. Millions more have become permanently disabled as a result of the use of small weapons.

The end of the Cold War has resulted in a global deluge of surplus arms that includes pistols, machine guns and grenades. These cause an estimated 90 percent of all the war casualties.

The June 2000 issue of Scientific American contains all the frightening details of America’s outpouring of arms to the world. The Rwanda genocide in 1994 saw some knives and clubs, but the systematic slaughter was carried out by guns and grenades, many made in the United States and transferred from other nations to Rwanda.

America’s delusion that peace can come from the use of a threat of violence is also manifested in the escalating military budget. The Bush White House has just added over $30 billion to the 2002 Pentagon budget of $329 billion.

The $30 billion add-on is more than twice the defense budget of all the rogue states (now called states of concern) -- Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Syria; the combined budgets of these alleged threats come to $12.8 billion!

The supplement of $30 billion is more than the total international affairs budget for the United States of $23.3 billion.

Then, of course, there is “Star Wars.” An excellent article on “the missile defense debate” by John Newhouse in the July-August issue of Foreign Affairs recapitulates the strongest arguments for the belief that the concept of missile defense is unwise and unworkable -- not to mention that its execution would require the cancellation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union.

There is little likelihood that Congress will overcome any of these compulsions that give America the illusion that more threats of violence will bring peace. Congress seems unable to propose that the U.S. cut back its nuclear weapons to a thousand -- a measure urged by the entire arms control community and by international experts everywhere.

Congress indeed cannot even control handguns or stop the violence contained in the death penalty.

It is humiliating to see America continue to think that the sale of weapons large and small, the creation of a Maginot Line in the sky and a massive expansion of sophisticated weapons that are not needed can bring global peace. The doctrine of Vatican II and papal teaching before and since that council urged disarmament, trust among nations and brotherhood among all peoples.

Is it possible to change the mentality that more massive armaments are needed? The Pentagon seems to be in the grip of the corporations that make the weapons and are anxious to get some of the billions of dollars that will be spent on “Star Wars.”

There used to be a peace caucus in the Congress -- in the days before and after the Vietnam War. There is little sign of that now.

And the peace movement both in and outside the Catholic church seems to be thin and weary. Can any set of arguments about the futility and danger of the military buildup get to the American people? Can we somehow get back to the glory days when the pastoral on peace of the Catholic bishops electrified the church and the nation?

The Council for a Livable World is one of the best “think tanks” for peace. There is also a group of similar organizations such as the Center for Defense Information and the Union of Concerned Scientists. They continue to warn, educate and inspire. But America at the moment seems to be paralyzed by its obsession with the idea that the threat of violence will bring peace.

The worst sin for the proponents of peace is silence. Perhaps Christians and others who deplore the present situation should think of a new movement -- one devoted to disarmament and a new foreign policy based not on the power of arms but on the power of love.

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.

National Catholic Reporter, September 14, 2001