Climate disarmament: how nonviolence can resist the militarisation of the climate crisis
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as: “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.” However, we should be aware that when we talk about climate change or, better, the climate crisis (especially if in political terms1) we mean the degenerate relationship between human life and the planet: the crisis is not of the climate, but of the capitalist society which is causing and boosting it to change. To speak as effectively as Naomi Klein did, the world is on fire because we are burning it down2.
In these pandemic times, with Covid-19 threatening to overwhelm health systems around the world, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute SIPRI has released updated data on military spending for 2019. SIPRI recorded a 3.6% increase compared to 2018 with a record $1,917 billion, or $259 for every inhabitant of the planet. This increase shows that the world is overwhelmed by an arms race for the benefit of the few, and risks leading us to global catastrophe. It also shows the enormous power of the defence industries, particularly in Europe, North America, Asia and Oceania. NATO’s military budget alone reaches $1,035 billion, or 54% of global military spending. In the Middle East - the only region where military spending has decreased in 2019 - the tragic consequences of militarised conflicts are very clear. At least half of that huge sum is spent on military production with enormous CO2 production, yet these carbon emissions are not accounted for by national and international statistical indicators on sustainable development. Of course, the record goes to the Pentagon, which is also the world’s largest oil consumer. Despite its exceedingly high environmental footprint the contribution of the US military is not properly accounted for among the emissions of industrialised countries, and is exempt from the restrictions decided by the 2015 Paris agreements. This means that if the emissions produced by the US military were properly considered we would be even further away from the set target of containing temperatures by a 2°C increase.
Faced with this "catastrophic convergence", when considering climate change, the “elephant in the room” is the military apparatus with all its institutional and private affiliated corporations. Despite the impact that wars have on the environment and populations the most brilliant human resources are employed or co-opted by the military sector. It follows that the fight against climate change happens if no more wars are prepared, and that it cannot be done without coherent disarmament policies based on nonviolence.
It is precisely in the sense of a critical perspective capable of unmasking this cumbersome elephant that I would like to introduce the expression “climate disarmament”. I derive the expression from that of “unilateral disarmament” so dear to Pietro Pinna (the first Italian conscientious objector - for "reasons of conscience and nonviolence" - to the service of military killing, to whom I owe this and much more of my nonviolent persuasion) and widely used by the writer Carlo Cassola in his cultural and political commitment. There is no longer the need for an optimistic appeal for a people and a government to make the “heroic” choice of no longer yielding to the extortion of armed defence and the waste resources caused by militarism. Nowadays we have the awareness that the effects of climate change will affect everyone. There is no planet B, say young people all over the world. The choice at the time of the climate crisis becomes then: climate disarmament or non-existence.
If one wanted to put climate disarmament within the framework of the UN’s Agenda 2030, then one could shortly say that it would be the most coherent logical consequence of the passage which reads: “There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development”3. What do I mean, more specifically, by climate disarmament? At least three things:
- a programme of radically transformative and coherent policies with which activists and rightsholders can use when engage in [or carry out] advocacy work with to governments, institutions and the private sector (also referring to international framework e.g. Agenda 2030);
- a realistic approach that can also influence the transparency, metrics and accountability of initiatives for sustainable development and the fight against climate change; and
- a theoretical device to keep up with the arguments and narrative about the climate crisis of the military apparatus and the capitalist corporations connected to it.
Among the concrete proposals, many are already on the agenda of antimilitarist and nonviolent movements:
- begin the process of ecological conversion of military spending, allocating the resources thus released to all those social activities aimed at “leaving no one behind”
- ratifying and sustaining the implementation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)
- establishing (where they are missing) and adequately financing Civil Peace Corps and the Universal Civil Service to prevent and transform conflicts through nonviolence
- developing educational programmes centred on the principle and method of nonviolence for the achievement of climate justice
- stopping the arms trade immediately, in particular to countries in conflict and which do not respect human rights, without hiding behind expressions such as “illicit trafficking”
- implementing at national level the recommendations of UN resolutions 1325/2000 “Women, Peace and Security” and 2250/2015 “Youth, Peace and Security”
- demilitarising borders, and recognising in international law the category of “climate migrants and refugees”
- promoting and financing research and studies for peace, with a focus also on the development of appropriate statistics of sustainability and policy coherence.
Many other things could be added and discussed but I will stop here to be concise. However, the important thing is to do well and soon, because in the meantime the military apparatus is moving with all its political and economic strength to have an undisputed leadership role in the face of the planetary emergency and maintain control in a world struggling with the climate crisis4.
As reinforced by the 31 nations represented in the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), an increasing number of national, regional and international military and security institutions are concerned and planning for the risks of climate change for military infrastructure. In this planning they prioritise the power of the armed forces, for military operations and for security in general, and are far removed from the “human security” which should be referred to by those who are moving towards sustainability5.
Equally important is the private sector's greenwashing in support of the military sector, which publicises the enormous technological efforts they are making to reduce the carbon emissions of war production and the sustainability of new products that are “good for the environment but still deadly to the enemy”, such as green bullets. From the perspective of climate disarmament, new methods of peace analysis should be opposed to this kinds of operation, such as emergy analysis - a method for environmental and systemic accounting in terms of sustainability and quality of resources used for a product, service or process - applied to military instruments and war production6.
Even an extreme phenomenon like the COVID-19 pandemic could and should help us to finally question the meaning of security and the expensive dependence on military spending to make us feel “safe”. Because this is only a prelude to what - first the poor and oppressed - will face as the effects of the climate crisis emerge. Nonviolence can help us to reverse the course (assuming we are still in time) if we constantly feed it with disarmament proposals to make peace among humans and with nature.
1 Cfr. Anthony Giddens, The Politics of Climate Change, Polity, UK, 2009.
2 Cfr. Naomi Klein, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, Allen Lane, UK, 2019.
3 United Nations, General Assembly, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, A/RES/70/1, 21 Oct. 2015, p. 2
4 See “World Climate Security Report 2020”: https://imccs.org/
5 See also Nick Buxton, Ben Hayes (edited by), The secure and the dispossessed. How the military and corporations are shaping a climate-changed world, London, Pluto Press, 2016.
6 See: Francesco Gonella, Christian Elia, Silvio Cristiano, Sofia Spagnolo, Francesco Vignarca, From Head to Head: An Emergy Analysis of a War Rifle Bullet, «Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy», 2017, DOI: 20170004.
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