Thank you to the organisers of this conference for the opportunity to be here today to help address some of the big issues facing humanity. As we'll be hearing there are a number of them, involving threats to life's essentials such as food and clean water, overpopulation, the increasing frequency of climate-induced disasters, and the threats posed by war and weapons of mass destruction. I'm going to focus on the issue of warfare generally, the need to prevent it, and offer some thoughts on how we can go about this. The title of this conference 'Shaping the future" is well chosen and we must remember that the future is not a foregone conclusion but is a matter of how we create it.
Firstly, why is war a problem?
The answer to that is in some ways fairly obvious; war is destructive on a massive scale and leaves legacies that continue for decades and longer. But it's helpful to remind ourselves of just how destructive warfare is, and of some of the hidden costs. In relation to health impacts, we should remember a resolution from the World Health Organisation from 1981, which stated 'The role of physicians and other health workers in the preservation and promotion of peace is the most significant factor for attainment of health for all". That resolution is still as relevant and important today as it was nearly 30 years ago.
The impacts of wars are vast.
- It's estimated that during the 20th century, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war . Civilian war deaths constitute 85% to 90% of casualties caused by war, which is a dramatic change from 100 years ago. Small arms and light weapons cause hundreds of thousands of deaths in war each year. In addition to war's death toll, much larger numbers of people are left either physically maimed or psychologically scarred for life, or both. Psychological injures in particular can affect subsequent generations when they are associated with substance abuse, interpersonal conflict, violence and suicide. In the US, in 2013, more troops committed suicide than died in combat.
- Warfare brings with it the destruction of communities and infrastructure, including health care facilities, access to food and water, water purification and sewerage facilities. There is disruption of services and often deliberate targeting of healthcare workers.
- Sexual crimes often flourish during warfare, sometimes on a very large systematic scale; as do other grave human rights violations
- There is the issue of refugees - the UNHCR currently estimates there are over 50 million forced to feel their homes, either to another country or within their own country. In Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan refugees number in the many millions.
- There are weapons that kill long after war is over, the UXO such as landmines, cb's; Cambodia, 1 in 236 is an amputee from landmines; 70 to 90% of the victims of the 110 million landmines planted globally since 1960 were civilians
- There are other weapons with long-lasting effects, such as depleted uranium that has been used extensively in several recent wars, including in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, and which leaves a long-term radioactive legacy.
- Agent Orange and other herbicides were sprayed over 10 - 15 % of South Vietnam between 1962 and 1971. We know that Agent Orange is carcinogenic and has other health effects. Vietnamese authorities estimate that over 3 million citizens suffer serious health effects as a result of Agent orange exposure. Herbicides in Vietnam were used partly against food crops, with the goal - successfully achieved - of forcing the rural Vietnamese into the US- dominated cities, where many of them lived in slums. In effect, civilian famine was used as tool of war.
- Env impacts of warfare are multiple and include toxic waste that's left behind at many military and former military sites, in the form of lead, heavy metals, live bombs, ammunition, asbestos, and PCBs
- Fossil fuel usage by the world's militaries is enormous. Consider the energy needed to move tens or hundreds of thousands of troops, especially to distant shores, with all their fighting equipment and means of survival, including medical and other essential infrastructure. That's even before the fighting - with its aircraft, ships, tanks and support systems - starts. Modern fighting machines burn fuel at rates that make most civilian usage pale by comparison. A study ordered by the Pentagon and released in 2007 stated that the military in Iraq and Afghanistan are using sixteen times more fuel per soldier than in World War II.
- War also can trigger acts of environmental sabotage, such as occurred in the 1991 Gulf War with the release of oil into the Persian Gulf and the burning of oil wells by Saddam Hussein's forces.
- And then there are the economic costs of going to war and preparing for it. The SIPRI estimates that global military spending in the year 2013 was $1,747 billion, that's $1.747 trillion annually, which is approximately $4.7 billion every day . This represents an unconscionable diversion of resources from areas of basic human need such as food, clean water, shelter, health care and education. In 2010 the World Bank, estimated that less than 5 percent of global military spending would be enough to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, lifting all people out of poverty.
The final thing i'm going to mention about the impacts of warfare is the fact that the weapons of war have brought humanity to the situation where we can virtually destroy our species, along with many others, if the wrong decisions are made by our leaders, or perhaps even accidentally. I'm referring of course to nuclear weapons, about which Bill Williams will speak much more tomorrow. Suffice it to say here that nuclear weapons are unique, they are the ultimate instrument of terror, they destroy indiscriminately on a massive scale, drawing no distinction between soldier and civilian, child and adult, innocent and guilty, and they leave a radioactive legacy that lasts for thousands of years. In November 2011, the International Committee of the Red Cross passed a resolution which stated that these weapons raise "profound questions about the extent of suffering that humans are willing to inflict, or to permit, in warfare". Even the testing of these weapons has been estimated to eventually result in excess cancer deaths of approximately 2.4 million people, mostly in the northern hemisphere.
These weapons must be abolished for a host of reasons that include moral, strategic, legal, environmental, human rights, economic and other concerns. I'll note here, and Bill will explain further tomorrow, that Australia is deeply implicated in the nuclear weapons policies of our ally, even though we do not possess these weapons ourselves. At the very least Australia should declare a nuclear weapons free defence policy.
So they're some of the reasons we need to prevent wars. But how do we do it?
There is of course no simple answer to that and some would say it is impossible. But there are steps that can be taken to greatly reduce the prospects of warfare, and I'll mention some of them.
1. The first thing I believe we need to do is to challenge and reject some of the myths that help perpetuate warfare, including the notion that nothing can be done because people are inherently violent. If we start from this premise, then we will indeed have a violent future. But if we recognise that individuals, communities and nations actually have a wealth of conflict resolution skills that are under-used, then we can make some progress. The defeatist approach would be a bit like saying that we're never going to eradicate illness therefore why try to even reduce it?
The anthropologist Douglas Fry wrote a fascinating book on the subject, "The Human Potential for Peace", in which he examined in detail the available evidence on conflict resolution strategies in a very large number of human societies. He reported on a wealth of cross-cultural information on conflict management, reconciliation and peace-making from around the world, and concluded that humans have a tremendous capacity for resolving conflicts without violence. War really represents the ultimate failure of diplomacy, and it's a pursuit that has no real winners.
Scholarly work on the greater need for diplomacy is supported by evidence that people are generally not well-suited psychologically to killing. The prevalence of profound emotional disturbance among returned soldiers, as mentioned previously, suggests a general aversion to killing or inflicting suffering on fellow humans, or even to witnessing such suffering.
So the need for greater use of diplomacy to resolve conflicts becomes even more important.
2. The second thing we need to do to prevent wars is to recognise that all human lives are equally valuable, and no nation has a monopoly on goodness or wisdom. For us in Australia, if we regard non-Western lives as being expendable in the quest for our own security, then we can hardly expect non-Westerners to treat us any better. For example, if the bombing of countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, with the entirely predictable mass civilian casualties that accompany warfare, is acceptable to us, then we increase the chances that there will be hostile acts in return. We cannot expect one rule for us and another rule for others. Once our "enemy" becomes a little less important, or even dehumanised as regularly happens during wartime, then we are more likely to turn a blind eye to atrocities.
Related to this is the need to really care about how the rest of the world lives - for example the 3 billion people who live on less than $2.50 per day while we spend $1.7 trillion annually on preparing for and fighting wars. A correction of these distorted priorities would go some way to making the world a more stable place. And these distorted priorities are not just a developing world problem, of course. In Australia the government is spending $24 billion on F35 fighter jets, to be used against an unspecified enemy, while slashing social spending at just about every level and cutting our overseas aid due to a budgetary "crisis".
3. The next myth for us to challenge is the notion that weapons make us safe and therefore more weapons make us safer. At a regional level, when nations start stockpiling weapons the chances of weapons being used to resolve conflict increases. That surely was one of the lessons of WW1. The current increasing militarisation of our region, the Asia-Pacific, especially Australia's willingness to cooperate with and contribute to the significant expansion of US war-fighting capacity in the region is a major concern. As our military preparations for war - against an unspecified enemy - increase, funding for our diplomacy via the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade lags way behind. Rather than blindly following the US into wars, Australia could speak loudly and clearly about the need to de-escalate tensions in our region and globally. Increasing our funding for diplomacy and reducing our military funding, would help to establish a role for Australia as an independent and peaceful nation.
To return to Douglas Fry's book, one of the important observations he makes is that the degree of peacefulness or aggression in a given society is not fixed in time, but can change depending on various influences. Warfare encourages further violence; ready access to weapons left behind in communities, even after hostilities cease, can lead to the resort to violence in domestic and other disputes. Peaceful means of conflict resolution are easily marginalised when weapons are available. Similarly, in societies where the widespread private possession of firearms is tolerated, such as in the US, the availability of the weapons leads to higher rates of violence.
Australia has played a strong and important role in the achievement of the Arms Trade Treaty that was concluded in April last year (but has not yet come into effect). However we would do well to build on that by refusing to host any more arms fairs, where weapons are promoted much as any other profit-making commodity.
4. The next challenge I'll mention in reducing warfare is for us to resist the fear and propaganda that we are constantly confronted with. Fear is a powerful tool in the hands of leaders to achieve [acquiescence ]of their people in policies that would otherwise be very disturbing. Australia's refugee policy is one example of this. Propaganda comes in many forms, often in the form of dehumanising of the "enemy".
Harold Pinter, who received the Nobel prize for literature in 2005, stated what he saw as the essential task before us if we are to prevail against what he called the "tapestry of lies" that confronts us. He said, "I believe that, despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching unswerving fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory. If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us - the dignity of man."
5. The next point I'd like to make is that we must support and strengthen international law, so that the principles it embodies are upheld globally. This is absolutely basic to our security, as it is in civil society. If we violate i'n law we cannot complain when dictators do the same. In 2003, Western nations including Australia invaded Iraq in an illegal act of aggression. There has been no accountability for that action. In Australia there are calls for a high level inquiry into the process by which we became involved in such a catastrophe, in an attempt to ensure that it cannot happen again, and to ensure parliamentary debate and approval before the country ever goes to war again. The notion of a Prime Minister alone, or with the support of a tiny handful of cabinet colleagues, taking the country to war, as happened in 2003, is fraught with risk. It is suited to a dictatorship, but not to a democracy.
6. Similarly we must support the United Nations, which was set up after WW2. The preamble to its Charter states "We, the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in or lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind....." Australia has made very important contributions to the work of the UN, but our ongoing and indeed strengthening relationship with the US greatly compromises our capacity to adhere to the UN's noble goals.
7. A further requirement in preventing wars, and perhaps the most important, is the need to address their many root causes rather than simply prepare ourselves to do battle in anticipation of hostilities breaking out. Resource scarcity is one of the major issues that will increase tensions and the likelihood of war breaking out. There are many steps needed here, including serious efforts to reduce global warming, responsible management of water resources, and forward looking energy policies. Far greater and faster implementation of renewable energies by all nations is needed to not only slow down the pace of global warming but also to reduce tensions as fossil fuel reserves dwindle, as they will. Nuclear power has far too many major problems, including its association with nuclear weapons, to be part of our response to energy and climate challenges.
8. Another step that would contribute to reducing warfare is an examination in the way in which we commemorate it, especially now with the WW1 commemoration upon us. Australia's official war commemoration runs into hundreds of millions of dollars of expenditure and is totally overshadowing other important aspects of our history. Warfare has become, in the world of officialdom, a defining factor in our national identity. Australia already has a very large number of war memorials, and more are planned for the centenary.
What does that say about us as a nation? What does it say to our young people - that going to war is the most important thing that Australia has done, and perhaps something they also should aspire to ? We need much more hopeful and constructive versions of our history than one built on warfare if we want this century to be any less bloody than the last. We must educate our young people about the true costs of war, not a sanitised and glorified version of it. Our best tribute to those who died in WW1, "the war to end all wars", and all the subsequent wars would be to learn from the events and decisions that lead us to war in the first place.
I'm going to now say a little about our region and reiterate some concrete steps that Australia could take to reduce our prospects of going to war again, especially in our region the Asia Pacific.
Militarisation of our region is occurring, and it increases tensions and suspicions. Australia's role in this is that we are hosting a definite build-up of US military presence on our soil. What might seem to us benign and non-threatening developments in our military preparedness is not necessarily perceived in that way by our neighbours. It is long overdue for Australia to examine our major military alliance, whose interests it really serves and its impact on tensions in the region. Australia should develop a voice that is independent of our ally's, for a number of reasons:
- Australian interests and US interests are not always the same
- Friends urge restrain and caution when it is called for; they do not simply act as an obedient servant
- Australia's relationships with our neighbours will be diminished if we are seen as just a mouthpiece for a great power.
- The strong role that alliances played in setting the scene for unleashing the slaughter of WW1
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has focussed attention on this issue, and writes about the best approach Australia could take towards our relationships towards both the US and China. He says:
"The only way peace and security can be achieved throughout this region is through a concert of nations where all the relevant countries have a seat at the table, where the great powers, especially America and China, are treated with respect but neither one seeks to assert or claim dominance over the other. That outcome will not be achieved by Australia compliantly going along with whatever the United States wants."
All these issues need public debate and scrutiny, and public input into government decision making processes. Analysis of issues such as the threats we actually face, their probability, the risks entailed and how we can best mitigate them deserve far better analysis than they have received in our most recent defence white papers. The defence white paper currently being developed does not show promise of analysing these issues with any better diligence than in the past.
In addition, Australia needs far greater emphasis on diplomacy and less on militarism . The Department of Foreign Affairs has been progressively starved of funds, for both diplomacy and overseas aid, compared to the funds made available for major weapons acquisitions.
In finishing I want to return to the title of this conference "Shaping the Future" and to emphasise that our future will be what we make of it; it is not pre-ordained.
Our fate is determined only if we lose hope, and if we give up. There are many examples of social movements that have succeeded in bringing about transformation in their societies -for example the abolition of slavery, the movement for which began with a dozen or so activists gathered in London to discuss the abolition of an institution that was deeply ingrained in society, was regarded as part of the natural order of things, and was very profitable for the wealthy. There was the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, the civil rights movement in the US, and Gandhi's non-violent resistance to the injustices of the British Empire. In all of these there was hope of a better society, and the essential quality of persistence.
The abolition of war is a bolder dream again, but we must hold fast to this goal. We must dedicate to it all the imagination, the humanity, the intellectual strength, the wisdom and the courage that we can muster. Already there is activity globally, in this WW1 commemoration period, to de-glorify war and to lay bare all the evidence against it. Warfare is an institution that has outlived any utility it might ever have had.