Few noted the irony when US President Barack Obama defended the ongoing war in Afghanistan in his acceptance speech for the Nobel peace prize. The day before Obama made his speech, the British government revealed its pre-Budget report, which allocated funding to a number of green initiatives aimed at helping to tackle global warming. Among the measures announced was an extra £200 million for making homes more energy efficient, £50m for wind turbine development and a five-year exemption from company car tax for electric cars. All this sounded good - until £2.5billion was announced for the war in Afghanistan, bringing the total annual budget for the conflicts in that country and Iraq to £4.4bn; this unfortuitously revealed the government's ugly true priorities. Global warming is the biggest threat the world faces, yet instead of addressing this with serious investment, a derisory amount is thrown in that direction. In comparison, there is no limit to what can be spent on war and arms. This approach of allowing arms spending and war to trump all other needs is something that has been evidenced for more than a century. In the first decade of the 20th century, a reforming Liberal government under the prime minister Herbert Asquith and chancellor David Lloyd George sought to bring in welfare support, including the state pension. This was to be largely funded by National Insurance. But as the decade wore on the military's demands for the funds being used on welfare reform grew ever louder. The military wanted arms in the build-up to the first world war. The welfare budget was swallowed up.
Fast forward 35 years to the post-war Labour government. This administration further built on welfare reform and created the National Health Service. But it was not long before the demands of conflict came knocking again with the arrival of the Korean war. Much of the funding needed for the NHS and other social support was siphoned off to pay for this war. Military spending has remained high ever since. Sceptics argue that the cold war was largely a facade created to support the arms industry. Margaret Thatcher's premiership represented an important period of development for what has become known as the military-industrial complex. This amounts to a cabal of interests from government, finance, the intelligence world and the arms trade coming together to promote weapons sales. The arms to Iraq scandal demonstrated that there were large commissions to be had out of arms dealing. The Thatcher period was marked by a series of major arms deals - the biggest of which was the al-Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia. The client in this multibillion deal was BAE Systems. The terms of the deal remain shrouded in secrecy.
Arms spending generally took a bit of a dip in the 1990s following the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, the arms industry's power to capture domestic budgets is evidenced by the British government's limpet-like attachment to the Trident nuclear deterrent. The country may be in the depths of recession, but the government will hit the low-paid and other suffering groups long before considering getting rid of this long-outdated system. The latest bonanza for the military-industrial complex came with the US terror attacks on September 11 2001. Arms spending rocketed in US and Britain to meet the needs of the war. The arms industry was delighted by this upturn in business and with live theatres of war to show off its wares. It should not be forgotten that the US and Britain are among the biggest arms-sellers in the world. The military-industrial complex's influence was best summed up by US president Dwight D Eisenhower. Speaking in the 1950s, he said: "Every gun that is made, every war ship 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 labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children... "This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron." Surely it is time to come down from that iron cross and start devoting the mass of resources to development and countering global warming. It is time to start serving the real needs of the people rather than the vested interests of the military-industrial complex.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.