A photo from the Global Wave action for nuclear disarmament.
Read on for more information...
Read on for more information...
I set myself this hypothetical earlier. As a law student, I am well-acquainted with hypotheticals; I'm quite comfortable for instance discussing whether or not I would be criminally liable if a swarm of bees surged through my car windscreen when I was driving, causing me to swerve off the road and run down an old man on a motor scooter. But I couldn't get my head around the concept of a trillion dollars. So I turned to google. I found this image, with its own corresponding YouTube video, to put the amount into perspective. This is what one trillion dollars of banknotes looks like, in double-stacked pallets no less!
Visual representation of one trillion dollars. Also see this video.
I'm not sure about you, but I'm thinking that's a significant amount of dosh! With one trillion, I could fight the autumn cold and turn my flat into a public sauna for the next thousand years. An estimated 30,000 people in New Zealand lack adequate accommodation. I could spend a fraction of the trillion giving each of these people a warm, dry home. I could give the United Nations a helping hand with eliminating extreme poverty, after all, the UN's 2014-15 budget was estimated at $5 billion. I could ensure all children in the world were schooled at a cost of just $26 billion.
Unfortunately, the one trillion dollars I'm talking about is of course money spent around the world each year on various contraptions designed to kill people. The thinktank Sipri, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, recently released data on global military expenditure, with expenditure for 2014 estimated at $1.8 trillion. (Far more than one trillion even!) The good news is that global expenditure has fallen overall, by 0.4%, but the bad news (apart from the fact that this is nowhere near enough of a decrease!) is that a number of regions have significantly increased their spending. The only regions to have actually decreased military spending are Northern American and Western Europe, mainly due to austerity measures.
Military expenditure in Saudi Arabia increased by 17% in 2014. Image source.
As you would expect, the crisis in Ukraine is in large part to blame. Ukraine's military expenditure shot up by 20% in 2014, and Russia and Eastern European states also bolstered their budgets. Saudi Arabia increased its expenditure by a staggering 17%, mainly because it is siphoning money into the Yemen campaign. China increased its budget by 9.7% with Vietnam's 9.6% increase close at its heels (think South China Sea disputes.) The United States has reduced its military expenditure for the fourth year running, something which is worthy of applause. However, expenditure is still sitting at a level 45% above that of 2001 prior to the September 11 bombings. Australia's budget has notably increased by 6.7%, which is unfortunate given that Abbott's government apparently can't find enough money to maintain government services to Aboriginal communities.
The upshot of this is that the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference will take place against a backdrop of regional conflict and high military expenditure. Tensions between Russia and the United States - the two biggest weapons-possessing countries - are particularly fraught. Whilst these difficulties are appreciated by New Zealand parliamentarians, this has not stopped a large contingent of MPs from speaking out for nuclear disarmament. Lead by Phil Goff, Labour's spokesperson for disarmament, 60 Members of Parliament recently signed letters which were personally delivered to representatives from the United States, China, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom, urging these countries to honour their commitment to complete disarmament. (You can read Brent Edwards' report for Radio New Zealand on the move here.)
According to Goff, the message is the same to all of those states. 45 years ago the nuclear weapons states promised to disarm, we expect them to honour their promises. The promise that Phil Goff is referring to is the one found in Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which compels nuclear weapons states (the same five states listed above) to reduce their arsenals and work towards complete disarmament. The text of the Treaty from 1970 simply reads: Each of the parties to the treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures related to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. Unfortunately, nuclear weapons states have not made significant steps towards disarmament and their progress in eliminating nuclear weapons has all but stalled.
From the Global Wave initiative.
It is this lack of progress, 45 years on, that gets under the skin of those committed to disarmament. At the moment, thinktank the Basel Peace Office has organised a global wave for disarmament. The idea is that people around the world will wave goodbye to nuclear weapons and upload photos to an online petition. Photographs of waves and personal testimonies are being collected already, and there will be a timed wave over the 24 hours before the start of the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in New York.
The letters from MPs and the photos for Global Wave are two of a huge number of initiatives around the world with the goal of building political will on complete disarmament and encouraging positive action. The topic of nuclear disarmament is a bleak one (who wants to spend their days contemplating nuclear annihilation?) - but what helps inspire peace advocates is the image of a world free of nuclear weapons. As I mentioned last time and as I will repeat, a world without nuclear weapons would be a safer and fairer world. It would be a world in which human error or evil intent would not risk causing hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths. It would be a world where money spent on weapons could be diverted into other more worthy causes. As the Basel Peace Office proclaims: Nuclear disarmament could free up much of the $100 billion (USD) global nuclear weapons budget for other areas of social need such as eliminating poverty, addressing climate change, and ensuring basic health care and education worldwide.
Just another reason to speak out for disarmament.