The weapons expo is a marketplace for misery

This week’s NZ Defence Industry Association Forum is a chance for the weapons industry to woo politicians and entice officials to spend more on the military. But are fancier killing machines really the best use of our taxpayer dollars, asks peace activist Jessie Dennis.

This year’s election campaign captivated people across the country. Whether hoping for a change of government, working out the best tactical voting or steadfastly staying the course, many felt that the election would provide at least some choice on issues important to all of us.

But one issue that did not feature at all in the election was peace and security. In some ways, this is extraordinary given that the US and North Korea are on the brink of war, evidence of possible war crimes committed by New Zealand soldiers recently emerged, and military spending across the Pacific is skyrocketing. It is also surprising given there is a government proposal to hire out our main Air Force base at Ohakea to a foreign army.

On one hand, the lack of discussion illustrates how pressing domestic bread and butter election issues are: health, housing, education and taxes. On the other, it illustrates the fear political parties have of being seen to be soft on defence and somehow less than patriotic. This fear deters debate and critical examination of the vast resources committed to an array of agencies dealing with “national security” and what those agencies are doing with those resources.

This does us all a disservice. It is locking New Zealand into endless war-making at the expense of other serious needs in our communities. And the effects of those choices are not just domestic.

Military spending currently comprises some $3 billion a year. The two major intelligence services are another $200 million on top of that. These are enormous resources largely being used to ensure New Zealand soldiers can integrate into US and Australian forces, and a steady stream of intelligence is provided to US spy agencies. All three of these agencies agree that there are few, if any, direct threats to New Zealand, military or otherwise.

On top of this annual spend up, the government has committed an additional $20 billion over 15 years to new weapons. This $20 billion spend – $1.3 billion more a year – is just short of what many commentators have argued is required to repair our deteriorating health system.

The World War II general and later US president Dwight Eisenhower issued a grave warning of the effects of prioritising military spending, saying

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

October 8th marks 16 years of New Zealand’s participation in the war in Afghanistan. After so many years questions are really only now being asked of why we were – are – there. It is our longest war ever, but few would argue that anything good has come of it, excepting, of course, the weapons dealers who supply the militaries.

This week the arms industry is coming to Wellington in full force for their annual conference. They are coming to showcase their wares, to woo our politicians, and to entice our officials into spending our money on weapons and gear for the military.

More importantly than simply securing immediate contracts, the euphemistically named defence industry wants to lock in the idea that our national security is under constant threat. They say that the only way to be secure is to spend ever more resources on weapons and war. They say we must be at the ready, at any time, to fight wars and have the gear to do so.

At the same time, the idea of national security has been transformed to give arms dealers whole new markets for military style gear: immigration, customs, internal affairs, and even universities and schools… anywhere a potential ‘threat’ may emerge there is a market for security and surveillance technologies.

But the flood of weapons and surveillance technology into the world has made peace less likely, not more. The arms companies have given us only new and more effective ways of committing mass murder, and keeping everyone under constant surveillance.

It’s time that we reclaim “national security” for the benefit of the people who live in New Zealand, not for global arms companies. It is time we reclaim that $20 billion for our elderly who need surgeries, for our families who need places to live, and for our children who need access to education. It is time we reclaim that $3 billion a year for our hospitals, schools and communities. It’s time that some of our politicians get some guts and say no to ever greater military spending. Our security can only come from meeting the essential needs of people and affording human dignity to all. It does not come at the barrel of a gun nor standing on the corpses of our so-called enemies.

Read more:

Blood on their hands’: activists get ready to protest the weapons expo

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