Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on April 27 cracked open one of the most horrendous problems confronting mankind-the world’s endless wars. Inaugurating a conference on ‘Islamic reality and contemporary challenges’ in Colombo he pulled out an issue often kept under the carpet not only by the world’s powerful leaders but also by a major part of the Western media. He said: “Peace talks must be held with weapons manufacturers rather than with the warring parties. Peace can be achieved if every state leader bans weapons and stops manufacturing them in his own country.” The President hit the nail right on its head! Indeed a welcome and timely wake up call.
With unsettled and unpredictable leaders already in command in some major arms -manufacturing countries and new ones seeking to run many nuclear armed nations, mankind is entering a dangerous stage. The world is extremely unlikely to see the end of its never-ending destructive wars. The arms industry is having fabulous business with or without boisterous extremist leaders but the world is going through stressful times.
The Daily Mirror of April 19, 2017 wrote a strong editorial under the heading “For lasting peace, dismantle weapons industry” The editorial drew attention to the need to look at the root causes of war and violence. It underlined the fact that those who manufactured multi-billion dollar weapons would also manufacture conflicts or the markets.
In another strongly worded editorial the Daily Mirror on the following day criticized the US’s pounding on Afghanistan, without any direct provocation, the ‘Mother of All Bombs’, second only to a nuclear weapon costing a whopping US $ 16 billion! (Rs.2,400,000,000,000/= or Rs. 2.4 trillion). The Mirror editorial pointed out this as another “instance of the ‘democratic’ West testing its weaponry on vulnerable people of a different colour, religion and in an area where the fallout did not adversely affect the Americans.” Headlined “Non-White Lives Do Matter Mr. Trump”, the editorial said, “Mr. Trump, to the people of the US and the arms dealers who back this US president and are egging him on, we say ASIAN LIVES MATTER get your battleships, nuclear carrying submarines, air force and army out of our part of the world.” Well said Editor! Meanwhile the silence of the human rights activists and the NGOs is appalling! Those who are organizing discussions on ‘violent extremism’ for ‘Young Parliamentarians’ and others having regional conferences on ‘countering violent extremism’ will have the answer in the Daily Mirror’s forthright editorials and President Sirisena’s alerting speech. Instead of promoting the agenda of the arms industry through their activism on the wrong side of history, these so called do-gooders must change their theme to ‘Ending Violent Invasions by the West in Asia’. The silence of the NGOs may also be because they are awaiting their next funding from countries manufacturing arms that kill not only human beings but also destroy animals, vegetation, fauna, flora and Mother Nature. Shame on them all!
The perceived ‘enemy’ of the pre 1985, arms industry-backed world leadership was communism. Arms sales reached Himalayan heights by 1985. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the mid 1980s, arms sales dropped sharply by more than 50% until around 2002. From 2003 onwards, by which time ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ was installed in the firing line post 9/11 as the next enemy to succeed communism, arms sales began recovering reaching TIV Billion 30 by 2014!
The Times of Israel of April 6, 2017 reports that in 2015 global ‘military spending’ rose to US $ 1,700,000 million or $1.7 trillion! This sum is sufficient to solve more than 50% of Asia’s poverty related problems! Addressing the US Congress last year, His Holiness Pope Francis said if we wished to have lasting peace, the arms industry must be dismantled. The Pope could not have chosen a better place to express his deep concerns for the suffering multitude of women, children and the elderly than the United States by far the largest manufacturer and the leading exporter of arms in the world.
"Fair enough, every country must have its security strategies in place! But where are the peace plans, dialogues, reconciliation mechanisms and conflict resolution processes?"
Between 2010 and 2014, the US, with a 31% share and Russia coming second with 27%, together supplied 58% of all arms exports while the next eight biggest arms exporters were China 5%, Germany 5%, France 5%, UK 4%, Spain 3%, Italy 3%, Ukraine 3% and Israel 2%. The value of these percentages translated into dollars or local currencies would be mind-boggling. The top arms exporters are from the developed world but the theatres of wars had always been the struggling third world countries.
The global media, particularly the Western wire services seldom report on arms exports or imports. Import figures and their dollar or local currency equivalent are rarely publicised. According to an NDTV report, February 2017 titled ‘World buys more weapons than ever before, India tops the list’; between 2012 and 2016 India topped the chart as the world’s largest importer of weapons. Saudi Arabia was leading the list of the largest importer of weapons until PM Narendra Modi came to power in India in May 2014. In 2010, Riyadh signed a 60 billion dollar deal with the US to purchase arms and ammunitions. Last Thursday’s presidential missile calling on world leaders to ban weapons that destroy mankind could not have been launched at a more appropriate venue than the Saudi-sponsored conference at Temple Trees.
How did India take the world’s number one title from Saudi Arabia? A report dated January 4, 2017 published by Bloomberg titled ‘Modi closes in on $660 million weapons deal’ states India was set to finalize “a $660 million deal for mobile heavy artillery weapons - its third major gun purchase in the past year and a sign PM Modi’s defence spending spree is far from over…”. The Huffington Post of January 18, 2017 reported that India had been on a “secretive weapons shopping spree on an emergency footing, buying up anti-tank missiles, tank engines, rocket launchers and various kinds of ammunition. The emergency purchases costing nearly US $ 3,000 million are from Israel and Russia. A United Press International (UPI) report of April 6, 2017 says the Indian Navy has signed a US $ 1,600 million contract with Israel Aerospace Industries to purchase an air and missile defence system.
The Indian Premier is due to visit Israel in July; the first by an Indian leader and will sign two defence deals with the Jewish nation, according to a New Delhi based correspondent S. Venkat Narayan. The two known deals are worth US $ 1,500 million that will include the delivery of 8,000 missiles. Venkat Narayan says this is in addition to deals that had already been finalized earlier in April 2017 to deliver to India, medium and long range surface to air missiles worth US $ 2,000 million.
According to a 2016 September defencenews.com report, India needs a whopping US $ 233 billion to meet its weapon and equipment requirements in the next 11 years quoting India’s Long-term Integrated Perspective Plan for 2012-2027. The plan reflects India’s outlook to solve negotiable problems through recourse to war, whether it be Pakistan, China, the Maoists or the new enemy violent extremists!
Fair enough, every country must have its security strategies in place! But where are the peace plans, dialogues, reconciliation mechanisms and conflict resolution processes? Where are the NGOs? Mahatma Gandhi, the iconic founding father of mother India is no doubt dead. But did India bury or burn with him the universally respected ideals that Gandhi lived for? India is also the seat of two great religions Hinduism and Buddhism!
Why is India siphoning off billions to the arms manufacturers when the country needs every Indian rupee to advance the millions of Indians below the poverty line? No doubt India has problems to be solved with Pakistan and China, problems that could be solved through dialogue among statesmen of these Asian countries, if only they would stop believing the fake and fear-mongering intelligence reports of countries that seek to sell their weapons.
"Why is India siphoning off billions to the arms manufacturers when the country needs every Indian rupee to advance the millions of Indians below the poverty line? "
PM Modi set a good example in May 2014, when he invited Nawaz Sheriff to New Delhi to be his guest at Modi’s inauguration ceremony. But within weeks, Pakistani phobic fear-mongering reports attributed to the arms mafia began to surface in the Indian media. The world also saw first signs of a down-to-earth Indian statesman when Modi arrived virtually unannounced in Islamabad in 2015 and joined Nawaz Sheriff’s birthday bash in Pakistan. Once again within days of this exemplary move, fear-mongering anti-Pakistani reports, some quoting intelligence sources were circulated. The obvious reason being, it is in the interest of the arms industry to keep the two nations to remain as antagonistic as possible. Retired top military men also play a big role in this big business. Narcotic business takes a secondary place.
The Indian PM had made a very welcome visit to Sri Lanka where he had participated as the chief guest in the UN recognised historical international Vesak celebrations in Colombo signifying peace and harmony. All Sri Lankans joined in the celebrations with best wishes! He would have, no doubt recalled the greatest gift that Sri Lanka had received from India, two millennia ago; Buddhism, with its universal message for mankind of tolerance and compassion. His visit carried a message to the region’s women, children and the elderly, the first casualties of all wars, to emulate Prince Siddartha who will always be remembered as the global role model who gave up arms, instead, preferred to receive alms. It was indeed a great event to all those who loved peace in our region.
(The views expressed here are the writers own and do not reflect the official position presently or previously held by the writer- email@example.com)