Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Still Too Much War

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday,  November 16 / 08

Zack Gross

Our family observes Remembrance Day as much as any Canadian family does.  We lost people in both World Wars.  We wear the poppy and attend November 11th ceremonies every year.  We hear veterans and young people alike say that we must keep Remembrance Day alive and relevant, in order to guard our freedom and honour our soldiers’ sacrifices – lest we forget and these wars happen again!

Well, excuse me, but since the "war to end all wars" and the the Second World War, wars have continued to be fought, continuously, around the world, at tremendous loss of life, limb and property.  How have so many affected by war in the past not noticed the violence of the present?  And, given our past experience, what have we done to eradicate war?

The Armed Conflict Report 2008 says that there are currently 30 wars being fought on our planet.  These include both civil conflict and wars between countries.  One-third of the countries in the Middle East actually have war on-going within their territories, while Africa “hosts” 12 wars and Asia 11.

On the UN-designated annual International Day of Peace, marked on September 21st, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon linked on-going war to continuing violations of human rights and chronic underdevelopment.  He pointed out that “many countries in Africa are not on track to reach a single one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the deadline of 2015.”

Statistically, over the past 10 years, more than one-third of poor countries have experience war while only two per cent of rich ones have shared that fate.  Armed violence further increases poverty by disrupting markets, displacing populations, destroying schools, clinics and roads, and scarring families and communities.  Building capacity for education, employment and health in developing countries will more effectively combat terrorism and conflict than deploying arms.  The current bestseller, "Three Cups of Tea," by Greg Mortensen, about an American mountain climber who turns to helping poor, remote Muslim communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan build schools is a testament to the value of sustainable development over “tribal” warfare.

In 2006, worldwide military spending stood at about  US $1300 billion, a figure not easy to imagine.  The United States’ share of this was $$536 billion.  In contrast, the UN peacekeeping budget came in at just over $5 billion.  Canada, in 2006, was ranked 13th in military spending in the world, at $15 billion.  Think of what that money could do!

Project Ploughshares, a Canadian church initiative researching and promoting peace, identifies “Five Ds” – five basic elements that contribute to world security.  They are development, democracy, disarmament, diplomacy and defence.  Canada has a tradition of supporting peaceful development through diplomacy, aid, and the promotion of democratic values.  Given our country’s extraordinary prosperity and stability, we have significant resources, experience and responsibility to advance development and peace beyond our borders.  But, what are we actually doing in this regard?

Project Ploughshares has compiled and analyzed the figures for Canadian spending in 2006-07 on security, taking in the Five Ds.  Their findings are that 80% of this spending is going to defence at present, with the other 20% split among the other four categories.  They have also compared the ratio of Canada’s defence-to-development spending to that of other modern OECD States (Europe and North America) in 2004.  The US ratio was most “out of balance” at 25 to 1 (defence to development).  Germany was at 6 to 1, Canada at about 4 to 1, while the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Ireland were around 2 to 1.  By 2006, Canada’s had grown to 4.5 to 1 while all other countries in the study, including the US, had held the line or had lowered their ratio. 

Says Project Ploughshares, “if Canadian development spending had reached the declared target of 0.7% of GDP
,” our ratio would have dropped into the range of the other OECD countries.  If we used our dollars to address unmet basic needs in the world, the instances of human rights abuse and conflict would drop.  Peace and development cannot be delivered by the sword, but rather by education, health and income-generating programs.

The passing of the torch, at the national Remembrance Day ceremony, from veterans of conflict back to the First World War and forward to today’s combat troops in Afghanistan, was a significant moment on November 11th. 

It not only marked the continuing sacrifice of Canadians in war and the doing of our duty, but – and this wasn’t mentioned on the telecast – it also marked our failure as a human family to bring an end to poverty, intolerance and violence. 

If we forget this and don’t act on it, our children will continue to die.

Zack Gross coordinates a provincial fair trade outreach program for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of 38 international development organizations.
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