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2017 No. 6 | Final Edition

Editorial: The crumbling edifice of hypermilitarised power
6 November 2017


Ray Acheson

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It’s hard to say what adjective best describes the tenour of First Committee this year, but it might be rancour. The rights of reply were more voluminous, loud, and increasingly likely to descend into the absurd than ever before. The rhetoric against disarmament—the objective of this Committee and one of the primary principles of the United Nations—was more acute than ever, especially in the nuclear field. The animosity between certain states felt like it had reached a tipping point. Yet the bitter vitriol thrown about by some was tempered by the understanding of the majority that progress has been made in disarmament, precisely by forging ahead without the most quarrelsome states.

Some of the bitterness of certain delegations at First Committee may be thought to have been derived from this progress—in particular, the negotiation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). But as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said in its statement to the Committee on 10 October, “It is not the ban that divides us; nuclear weapons divide us.”

Not just nuclear weapons. Chemical weapons—regardless of who has used them—are divisive. Explosive weapons are divisive. Small arms. Landmines. Cluster bombs. The weapons themselves, regardless of who uses them, or where, or why, are divisive. Weapons kill people. Their use, production, and sale generate insecurity and inequality. They undermine sustainable development and sustainable peace.

It is disarmament that can bring us together. By reducing available means of violence. By eliminating a source of inequality between and within states. By freeing up resources for other endeavours.

The rhetoric against disarmament—that the time is not ripe, that the security situation is not safe, that the conditions are too unstable—is rhetoric against progress, against security, against unity, against survival.

Yet “divisiveness” is the main argument used by those standing against disarmament. Their argument is based on the premise that eliminating certain weapons is polarising and unsafe. But how can anything that reduces means of massive violence divide us? How can it make us more unsafe?

The Orwellian logic of the nuclear-armed states, and of those that continue to profit from selling conventional arms to states that use them to commit abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, is that violence is stability. In the world they have sought to create, the means to destroy each other is what will keep us together. In this world, those who work for peace, development, and security through the reduction and control of weapons are making the world more unstable and rife with tension.

This absurd logic has held its grip on the international imagination for far too long. But the edifice is crumbling. The development of the TPNW took down big pieces of the arguments in favour of nuclear weapons. The Sustainable Development Goals and the Women, Peace and Security agenda, even without saying much about weapons, pose an acute challenge to current levels of military spending and approaches to “peace and security” and “sustainable development”.

We can keep chipping away at the false logic of peace through violence. We should do so together, in the ways that have already led to much success. We should not let the embittered few, cantankerous from watching their control slip away, prevent us from forging ahead to build a better world for all.

The levels of hypermilitarised, hypermasculinised violence we see in the world must not deter us from pursuing an alternative path. On the contrary, it’s our only option. Those who hold onto power through fear and intimidation will try to cling to the tools they perceive as granting them privilege in a complex world; the rest of us must find away through the cynicism that fosters to try something different.

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