Bombing a home to pieces is not the path to a peaceful or green world. Yet right now, there are 3844 nuclear warheads deployed worldwide with missiles and aircraft. That’s ten nuclear warheads for every day of the year. Two thousand of these are ready for immediate launch and if that weren’t enough, an additional ten thousand are stacked high in military stockpiles waiting to be used. Most of today’s modern warheads are at least five times more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My home town of Copenhagen is well within range of many of these missiles, like most other places. Casualties would be staggering.
Missiles of particular note and concern stem from Russia, which has started deploying tactical nuclear warheads a step closer to Europe and into Belarus, its close military ally ruled by “Europe’s last dictator”. This is especially alarming as it is the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 for such weapons to be moved outside of Russia. This has led to the UN Disarmament chief warning that the threat of nuclear weapons use is higher than at any time since the Cold War.
Echoing this dismay is the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Releasing its annual assessment of the state of international security a few days ago, the independent institute stated “We are drifting into one of the most dangerous periods in human history”. Their research shows that the world’s nine nuclear armed states – the US, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and Israel – are continuing to grow and modernize their arsenals. According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the nuclear nine spent $157,664 per minute on nuclear weapons in 2022. That’s a total of $82.9 billion. Overall, all military expenditure saw a big increase worldwide, reaching a new high of $2240 billion. This is more than twenty times the annual financial goal agreed at the 2009 Copenhagen UN climate talks for adaptation and mitigation, which has never been met. What drove this boost in military spending? Largely, Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine.
While the impacts of Russia’s war in Ukraine are deep, tragic and far-reaching, it is not the only major crisis taking place. 2022 saw the sharpest rise in the number of people forcibly displaced due to social and climate crises worldwide. As of mid-2022, an estimated 1 in every 77 people – 108.4 million – had to flee their homes, more than twice as many as a decade ago. The United Nations’ refugee agency says this is the greatest number of forcibly displaced people ever recorded. Many of those people are in or from Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan. Yet conflict is not the only cause, as climate disasters led to 32.6 million internal displacements last year.
In the face of so much suffering and injustice, as usual there are those who stand to profit at any cost. Arms sales have gone up by 50% leaving manufacturers with blossoming balance sheets. But they are not the only vultures. Big Oil continues to make record war profits, the latest figures being to the tune of more than $200 billion. Added to this brutal bounty, and despite their promises and pledges to transition to renewable energy, governments are doubling spending on fossil fuel subsidies and approving new oil and gas projects. And, as exposed by Greenpeace’s Unearthed and Lighthouse Reports, on the back of a global food crisis that’s pushing millions more people into hunger, the world’s top ten hedge funds made an estimated $1.9bn profit from the food price spike triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Global solutions to borderless problems abound but too many political and business leaders are pushing for dirty profits and hateful division over peace, prosperity and frankly, the planet’s future. We are at a critical juncture where the focus should be on strengthening multilateralism for peace and climate, rather than promoting false solutions and profit mongering. The increase in nuclear weapons does not make our world safer and cannot address today’s challenges, quite the contrary. The Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons made history by declaring nuclear weapons illegal under international law, but nuclear armed states have not only failed to ratify it, they are deterring other countries from doing so.
Instead of this race to spend big on destruction, more time and resources could and should go on addressing the root causes of our interconnected environmental and social crises. Climate change is transforming our understanding of security, and beefing up arsenals is a folly against the reality of increasing economic disruption, flooding, disease, famine, drought and crop-failure, migration and intensified competition for food, water and energy in regions where resources are already hugely stretched. The smarter approach would be for the current system’s power brokers to focus on the root causes of today’s discontent alongside diplomacy and sustainable development, instead of cosying up to warmongers and disaster capitalists.
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