Theater of Cruelty

A converted military industry

Ingeborg Breines
Ingeborg Breines
Breines is an adviser, former President of the International PEACE Bureau and former UNESCO Director.
CULTURE OF PEACE: MODERN TIMES prints here an extract from the book Fredskultur. Utopia or security policy alternative? Is it possible to envisage a change of the military industry to more safeguarding of civilian purposes and preparedness?


Perhaps it is smart to go a step further than that David Graeber (Bullshit Jobs, 2018) and divide working life into three different categories: useful jobs, foolish jobs and dangerous jobs? The military industry falls into the category of 'dangerous jobs', both through the resources that are used and the products that are made. Both useless and dangerous production should be reduced to an absolute minimum, and jobs that are not sustainable and destroy the environment should be closed down.

The American researcher Ruth Leger Sivard made over several years useful comparisons between social and military expenditure and showed with clear graphs, among other things, how many teachers or health workers can be paid for the costs of a single missile. In recent years, SIPRI and international peace organizations such as WILPF and IPB have made similar comparisons. This kind of public information brings out the abuses and monstrosities clearly.

A Green Beret Corps

Former president of International Peace Bureau (IPB) Maj-Britt Theorin led a commission that proposed creating a Green Beret corps of soldiers associated with the UN who could contribute to quickly remedying ecological disasters, partly caused by warfare. UNEP's former director Tolba took this further and developed the note "Mapping the possible use of funds budgeted for military activity, for civilian use to protect the environment". The memorandum contains a list of proposals that could change the military service in many countries if they had been implemented.

Today, there are few who question the Norwegian war industry, and that Norway is on the list of the ten largest arms exporters in the world some years.

The use of the military in crises and emergencies is already accepted in many countries, but does not seem to be an integral part of the structure and training of the military. While the military's social function could be gradually changed by systematically training the soldiers to deal with our greatest threat. Soldiers with a healthcare background were, for example, useful in connection with covid-19 vaccination.

Fabio Magnasciutti-symbol of peace

The brain capacity that is currently tied up in the military industry can be used to solve civilian tasks, not least to develop the alternative energy sources that are needed to ensure the survival of humanity. Military defense can be converted or changed to environmental defense, and soldiers are retrained and given a central, weapon-free task in helping to care for the earth.

Close to 50 Nobel laureates proposed in December 2021 that all UN member states should reduce their military expenditure annually by two percent. For the period 2025 to 2030, that would correspond to well over 1000 billion dollars. They wanted half of this peace dividend to be put into a global fund to fight climate change, pandemics and extreme poverty. In a situation of a paradoxical acceleration in the global arms race, at the same time as humanity is experiencing the undermining of welfare systems, such a release of funds, without any additional cost to people, could affect the lives of millions of people in a positive way. In the past, several peace organizations and institutions have proposed that all countries reduce their military budgets by ten percent annually, in order to free up the necessary resources to meet people's needs and counteract both pandemics, environmental and climate disasters. It is possible to discuss the percentages by which military expenditure should be reduced each year, in any case it will be important to get started quickly.

Demilitarization Technology

The logistics and organizational knowledge found in the military would be useful both in national and international emergency and aid work and in UN peacekeeping forces.

Conversion from military to civilian production will require both political will and technological know-how. Research funds should be used to establish institutions to promote demilitarization technology and conversion expertise. Perhaps a research institute for military conversion can be established at Kongsberg or Raufoss, which can give advice on how such a conversion from military to civilian production should best take place, preferably with inspiration from the Conversion Institute in Bonn? Past experience shows how quickly the industry can be converted from civilian production to war industry. Conversion is also fully possible the other way around. It is only a matter of political will. Åse Møller Hansen of the International Women's League for Peace and Freedom (IKFF) points out that, according to Statistics Norway (SSB), Norway imports machines and means of transport as well as technical and scientific instruments to the tune of billions. More of this must be able to be produced in Norway, for example at Kongsberg, which has such great technical expertise.


Unethical and unacceptable

During the great financial crisis in 2008, I was with some Icelandic friends and asked them if Iceland, which was badly hit, intended to establish an arms industry since it is so lucrative. There was silence around the table, until one of them said indignantly: "But the Icelandic people would consider that totally unethical and unacceptable." This would probably also have been the case in Norway in the past.

But today there are few who question the Norwegian war industry, and that Norway is in some years on the list of the ten largest arms exporters in the world and per capita is sometimes almost as big as the USA, by far the world's largest arms producer. Why does it seem that the Norwegian people no longer consider Norwegian arms production and sales to be unethical and unacceptable? Or maybe people think it's wrong, but don't dare speak out or aren't prepared to step out of their comfort zone? Nor were the protests large when Norway chose to send weapons to Ukraine in February 2022, despite previous guidelines that Norwegian weapons should not be sold to countries at war. Is it the case that researcher Cecilie Hellestveit is right when she expressed in an interview in 2020 that there is no general agreement in Norway that arms production or arms sales are in themselves unethical? If so, what has happened to the people's soul? What will it take to change this thinking?

Military activity and working life

Many people make a living from the military industry and military activity, mostly in the United States, where the military industry is huge. The largest concentration of war industry in Norway is at Kongsberg and Raufoss. The local mayors are reasonably afraid of losing these jobs. But it is a myth that military activity creates many jobs. No one needs to be afraid of becoming unemployed even if the military industry is restructured or wound up. According to the Watson Institute's project The costs of war with the same resources, there is 50 percent less job creation in the military sector than the average in the civilian sector. An average job in the military industry is two to three times more expensive than the average in the civilian sector. The study by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier from the University of Massachusetts shows that a billion dollars spent on civilian priorities will create significantly more jobs than a billion spent on the military.

Moreover, wise minds will be needed for many decades to come just to get rid of existing
end weapons and clean up toxic and dangerous military waste. Just by melting down and reusing weapons and removing rubbish and toxins from warehouses, landfills, bases, firing ranges, ports and theaters of war, no one has to be unemployed for many, many years.

A global fund to fight climate change, pandemics and extreme poverty.

The military industry cannot be legitimized by the fact that it provides some useful civilian innovations as a by-product. If the high subsidies that the military industry receives were instead used to develop new green technology, it would help to make it possible to take important, quick and necessary steps towards a more sustainable society. If the research had initially been focused on making life better, easier and healthier for people and had had the funds of the military industry at its disposal, production would have been more useful and human-friendly long ago.

In Norway

In small Norwegian communities that are dominated by military industry or military activity, people must of course not be harmed by such a transition to civilian activity. The transition must be planned carefully, and people must be given security for their daily income. In the book Peace is not the best (2017) describes the dependence of the Dag Hoel Raufoss community on the ammunition and weapons factory. But imagine if people, for example, at Raufoss, Kongsberg and Andøya were allowed to dispose of the same funds that are used today for military purposes. Then business, schools, hospitals and cultural life would be able to flourish.

Can a research institute for military conversion be established at Kongsberg or Raufoss?

It can hardly be all right to work in the war industry, although the workers are certainly happy to have work and to have the opportunity to use their skills. But it must be a very heavy burden to think that what they create can kill innocent children, young and old. It is hardly easy to answer questions from your own children about what they are working on. Knowledge of the consequences of Norway's large role in the world's production of war material is perhaps what is needed for people to demand that it cease?

The trade unions in Norway, like many other places, have been cautious about criticizing the military industry – despite the fact that 40 per cent of the corruption in the world comes from the arms trade. Both SIPRI and the World Peace Foundation show that bribery, fraud and bad environmental practices are common in connection with arms sales. The surprise in IPB was therefore great when many of the leading international trade unions came to the Disarmament Conference in Berlin in 2015. The trade unions justified their participation with a single word: environment. They had understood that they must contribute to disarmament in order to cope with the environmental crisis, understood that the world must change both production and consumption in order to save the planet and humanity from great misery. The head of the ITUC, the International Trade Union Confederation, in Europe said it so strongly: "There are no jobs on a desert planet." Since the trade union movement has often been in a dilemma between creating jobs and taking environmental considerations into account, these were encouraging notes. The environmental implications of activities in the military sector can no longer be overlooked.

There are almost eight billion people on earth. One billion of them live in extreme poverty. The world annually spends 2000 billion dollars on military activities per year. Think, just think, what a redistribution from the military to the civilian sector could mean. The accounts should be able to be simple.

First part of the book Culture of peace. Utopia or security policy alternative? deals with the culture of peace vision and the program of UNESCO. Part two deals with the obstacles to a culture of peace, of which militarism is the biggest – both economically, ecologically and ethically. Part three is divided into chapters that give suggestions on how a culture of peace can be created through education, sustainable development, human rights, equality, democracy, tolerance, freedom of expression and human security.

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