Winter 2011

Society and Culture

Global Problems, Global Solutions, Part 1

Of Weapons and Warfare

David Hulme

It is a fact that today’s trillion-dollar defense industry had its beginnings only after World War II. There had been industrialized armaments production prior to and during the first great conflict of the 20th century, but on a small scale. It was the Nazi rise to power and the global Allied response to it that gave weapons manufacturers their cue. The ensuing Cold War between East and West, led by the U.S. and Soviet superpowers, guaranteed the expansion of arms production for decades to come.

The fact of continual widespread war during the next half century meant that the armaments industry itself would globalize and demand rapid technological development. This happened not only in the United States, the Soviet Union (later the Russian Federation) and Western Europe but also in China, India, Israel, South Africa and Brazil.

Despite the early 21st century’s worldwide economic disruption, the 2009 report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) put annual worldwide military expenditure at $1.531 trillion—up 49 percent since 2000.

A Complex Issue

In a world that yearns for disarmament and peace, warfare has become a globalized problem. The defense industry is a key element in the equation, answering the demands of military establishments and various governments that need jobs creation and the growth of defense-related exports to further domestic prosperity.

This raises fundamental moral questions, though not for the first time. Following World War II, American general Omar Bradley summarized the moral deficit that had emerged after that conflict. In 1948 he said, “The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.” Despite Bradley’s perceptive analysis, a wartime colleague, U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–61), oversaw the phenomenal postwar growth and development of the American military-industrial complex. Yet when it came time to step down from office, he too made a speech in which he warned about the dangers inherent in the relentless pursuit of supremacy by military-industrial means. He said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”  

Today the military-industrial complex is far more powerful and influential than Eisenhower could have imagined. SIPRI calculates the U.S. share of 2009 armaments purchases at 43 percent of the world’s total. China comes a distant second at 6.6 percent! The reason usually given is that the United States has obligations worldwide, whereas other nations do not. And while there have been ups and downs in spending and development over the past several decades, the future of the industry now seems to depend on five factors. According to military and defense analyst Richard Bitzinger, they are the hierarchical nature of the global arms industry, defense spending, the global arms market, the globalization of armaments production, and the emerging information technologies–based revolution in military affairs.

Let’s look at them individually and assess the likelihood of a dramatic shift from involvement in globalized arms production to disarmament and universal peace.

Key Factors

Just a few primary actors affect the arms industry at the global level. Bitzinger reports that what is produced by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Russia accounts for 85 percent of the world’s armaments production. These are the most influential players, with the largest output and the most money to spend on research and development. Others in the second, third or fourth tiers of the arms hierarchy may adapt and modify or copy and reproduce what these leaders do. They simply cannot compete. They must choose between the high cost of dependency and being left behind.

Because of the depth of commitment to defense industries in first-tier countries, it seems unlikely that they will become less viable. It is important to note the difficulty of uncoupling the arms industry from national prosperity and employment in such countries. According to SIPRI, the “strong relationship between arms producers and governments and the industry’s perceived importance to national security … shield it from the immediate impact of severe economic downturns. This status is reflected in the continued high levels of arms sales, high profits, large backlogs and strong cash flows generated by arms production.” If this is the case for those who produce 85 percent of armaments output, significant reduction in such production is unlikely.

The second factor identified by Bitzinger is the defense budgets of these and other nations, which are themselves affected by a variety of factors. They do not always increase. Major shifts in the geopolitical landscape, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent impact on those countries in its orbit, affect production and sales. The peace dividend associated with the end of the Cold War meant that many were laid off in defense-related industries, and arms producers consolidated or merged. But since the turn of the 21st century, spending has increased again as long-planned projects have come on line, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have continued, and various East and South Asian nations have boosted their spending levels. Budgets in the United States and Russia have grown, while in Europe and Japan they have been slow to static. China and India have increased their expenditures for arms significantly. China reports that its defense spending rose at an average of nearly 10 percent per year between 1990 and 2005; its 2009 defense budget rose 14.9 percent over the previous year, according to Bitzinger. He notes that India’s increase amounted to 37 percent between 2000 and 2007. Similar high percentages were recorded for Singapore and South Korea.

Third is that by no means all of the armaments produced by any nation are destined for its defensive purposes. In this global arms market, weapons made by several of the leading manufacturers are destined primarily for export: Britain’s BAE Systems (78 percent); France’s Thales (75 percent) and Dassault (70 percent); and Sweden’s Saab (68 percent). These figures for 2007 are matched by those of manufacturers in Israel (75 percent) and Russia (80–90 percent) for the same general period. Though American firms have mostly sold to the domestic market, there has been an increase in exports, particularly of F-15 and F-16 fighters and M-1A1 main battle tanks. Many of these companies and their subsidiaries operate internationally, both producing and selling in countries other than their home base.

What these numbers tell us is that the arms bazaar is so intertwined, internationalized and interdependent that untangling it and making significant changes would be extraordinarily difficult.

A fourth and related factor is the move away from single-nation arms producers to transnational companies. It is not simply a matter of international investment but of joint ventures and cross-border mergers and acquisitions. This creates vulnerabilities in the event of serious conflicts. Nations cannot risk being held hostage by critical production facilities outside their borders. This is particularly true of the specialized parts needed for advanced technologies. The globalization of arms production also creates vulnerability in producer nations to rogue elements that may seek access to advanced technologies. Yet they are so critically needed by host country and producer alike that it is unlikely that they will scale back operations.

The fifth factor that inevitably affects the global arms industry is the continuing demand for improved weapons and systems. This is compounded by the fact that some fear that even the very nature of warfare is slated to change. According to Bitzinger, the current revolution in military affairs is “nothing less than a paradigm shift in the character and conduct of warfare, and is thus seen as a process of discontinuous and disruptive (as opposed to evolutionary and sustaining) change.” What he describes is network-centric warfare; that is to say, war fought with the aid of linked computers, sensors, microelectronics, miniaturization and related technology. This shift will demand responsiveness on the part of arms producers, and there is no reason to believe that they will not comply. Indeed they already have. Witness the growth in the development and deployment of drone aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), some for surveillance and others with the kill power of missiles.

Technological Revolution

The introduction of the Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk drones into the Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan theater has changed the face of conflict. There are now thousands of such drones in operation. Often launched from distant air bases and guided by operators in faraway facilities, these weapons are really complete systems. According to the U.S. Air Force, “the MQ-1B Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance, unmanned aircraft system. . . . A fully operational system consists of four aircraft (with sensors and weapons), a ground control station, . . . a Predator Primary Satellite Link, . . . and spare equipment along with operations and maintenance crews for deployed 24-hour operations.” The Reaper is a similar aircraft, while the larger Global Hawk is “a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system with an integrated sensor suite that provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, capability worldwide.” 

Each time I . . . read a report mentioning a drone taking out a terrorist camp in Afghanistan, I felt myself living at the time of the most important weapons development since the atomic bomb. . . .” 

P.W. Singer, Wired for War (2009)

Then there are the field-launched Shadow and the hand-launched Raven, thrown up into the air by soldiers to spy out what may be beyond the next hill or city block.

The next generation of drones, currently being tested, include some as small as insects that can fly in through windows, and others the size of commercial jets that can fly at very high altitudes. Loren B. Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Virginia, told the Los Angeles Times that drone technology “is the most hotly sought-after weapon system in a generation.”

Undergoing tests is the new Global Observer. It has a wingspan equivalent to that of a medium-sized passenger jet, is capable of surveying the whole of Afghanistan at one glance from as high as 65,000 feet (19.8 km), and can stay aloft for a week at a time.

The bat-winged, jet-powered X-47B will fly unmanned from an aircraft carrier, undetected by enemy radar, and return after carrying a payload of laser-guided bombs to its target. Having undergone its first test flight in early February 2011, the X-47B represents what some call “game-changing technology”; the use of such drones will mean engaging in combat from relatively safe distances, and while the goals will be no less destructive, human casualties could ostensibly be kept to a minimum.

These new craft represent the next generation of UAVs. Peter W. Singer, author of Wired for War, writes that by 2015 the U.S. army hopes “each brigade will actually have more unmanned vehicles than manned ones. . . . Each brigade will also have its own unmanned air force, with over a hundred drones controlled by the unit’s soldiers.”

Again, under these circumstances it is unlikely that the arms producers will cease their search for and production of new weapons of war. Singer speaks of his growing sense that “we are in the midst of something important, maybe even a revolution in warfare and technology that will literally transform human history.”

Another View

As an aside to this new thrust in military-industrial thinking, Victor Davis Hanson notes that “even with changing technologies and ideologies, and new prophets of novel strategies and unconventional doctrines, conflict will remain the familiar father of us all—as long as human nature stays constant and unchanging across space and cultures.” His summary statement is that “war is an entirely human enterprise” (The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern, 2010). And here is our point of departure in considering the biblical dimensions of this global problem of warfare.

We have experienced the results of technology in the service of the destructive side of human psychology. . . . The means for expressing cruelty and carrying out mass killing have been fully developed. It is too late to stop the technology. It is to the psychology that we should now turn.”

Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (2001)

War as we know it is indeed an entirely human enterprise. But what is it in the heart of man that causes this perpetual descent into killing off another part of the species? Sometimes it is envy. In the first recorded murder in the first book of the Bible, a man kills his innocent brother “because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12). This is the apostle John’s conclusion looking back over human history to that early time. In other words, there is right and wrong behavior toward our fellow man. One commentary says of Cain’s behavior, “It is as if he could not wait to destroy his brother—a natural man’s solution to his own failure.” How often has envy played into one nation’s aggression against others?

Another New Testament writer, James the brother of Jesus, asks, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” His reply defines other aspects of human aggression: “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1–2).

It isn’t that we fail to recognize the need for and the benefits of peace. There are many institutes devoted to the promotion of peace. Woodrow Wilson, perhaps the most idealistic of modern American presidents, worked tirelessly for the creation of the League of Nations. He devoted himself to the cause of peace. He was a highly intelligent, devoutly religious man. But he could not achieve his goal, despite the fact that other well-intentioned world leaders joined him.

Within 20 years after World War I, the entire planet was on the brink of terrible violence again. The war to end all wars was a forlorn hope.

The United Nations inherited its goals from the League. Outside its headquarters in New York stands a sculpture, a 1959 gift from the Soviet Union. On its base the ideal of peace is expressed in the words “We shall beat our swords into plowshares,” taken from the prophetic book of Isaiah. Half a century later, there has been little progress toward universal peace. No matter the idealism of human leaders, humanity can never seem to succeed in overcoming what seems like its death wish.

Does that mean peace can never come? Hanson would say not as long as we have human nature. But what did the prophet mean when he wrote, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4)? Is this just senseless idealism? Or was he reflecting a divine imperative? Is it possible that a time is yet ahead for the planet when the end of war will be a reality? When people will simply not learn war?

Jesus of Nazareth came with a clear message of a coming time of universal peace on earth, when human nature would undergo transformation. He spoke of a future time of “regeneration” (Matthew 19:28, New King James Version). The apostle Peter made reference to a time of the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21, King James Version); and calling on the older prophets, Paul wrote of the mind that is set on “the things of the Spirit,” which is “life and peace” (Romans 8:5–6). It was the prophet Jeremiah who had recorded God’s words concerning the answer to human nature’s downside: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). This is the way of transformation for the human heart, and it alone can lead to peace that is from then on willingly self-generated.

Can anything be done in the meantime? Like so many other problems common to humankind, the best place to start is at home, with you and me. The human mind can be individually renewed and made peaceful now. How? In the way that has been known for thousands of years. The same prophet that speaks of swords being beaten into tools of peaceful production explains, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). That same God tells us, “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17–18).