Before midnight

Another pandemic is sweeping the globe. Under the radar of much of the public, there’s been a steady uptick in military investments worldwide in the last decade. Even as the existential threats of mass extinction and climate upheaval are gathering intensity and becoming increasingly inescapable, the world’s superpowers and many other nation-states, in alignment with the corporate-industrial sector, are busy adding insult to injury.

Some highlights:

  • In 2019, 1,917 billion dollars were poured into global military expenditures, the highest figure since 1988
  • Fifteen nations account for over 80 percent: the US, China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, the UK, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Italy, Australia, Canada, and Israel
  • The largest military spenders in Europe, at 356 billion dollars annually, are Russia, France, Germany, the UK, and Italy; that figure increased 5 percent between 2018 and 2019; it is almost 9 percent higher than 2010
  • France is the highest military spender in Western Europe; Germany’s spending in 2019 was the highest since 1993
  • Western European expenditures lead in absolute numbers, but military spending is rising faster in Eastern and Central Europe
  • Russia accounts for 88 percent of military spending in Eastern Europe; as of 2019, its expenditures are 30 percent higher than 2010
  • Poland increased military spending by over 50 percent between 2010 and 2019
  • In Central Europe, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, and Romania increased military spending by 150 percent in the decade 2010-2019
  • South America increased military expenditures by almost 9 percent between 2010 and 2019, with Brazil, Colombia, and Chile accounting for most
  • At a military budget of 732 billion dollars annually, the US remains the largest spender, accounting for 38 percent of the global pie; the US also leads in arms exports
  • China, Russia, India, and the US are developing missiles that can travel faster than the speed of sound; in the US, they are now informally known as “super-duper missiles”
  • Under the Obama administration, and continuing with Trump, the US committed more than 1 trillion dollars, over the next 30 years, to modernize its nuclear arsenal
  • A new nuclear arms race is emerging, with China and Russia following suit in nuclear weapons modernization
  • From the erstwhile 2-way Cold War 1.0, we are trending toward a 3-way Cold War 2.0, spiced with Artificial Intelligence software
  • China has been increasing its military spending since 1994; in 2019, it jumped 5 percent over 2018; between 2010 and 2019, China increased spending by 85 percent
  • China’s current administration, as part of the “Chinese Dream” of entrenching superpower status, has committed to building a world-class military force that can dominate Asia Pacific and “fight and win” global wars by mid century
  • Southeast Asia increased military expenditures by 34 percent in the decade 2010-2019; the largest spenders are Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand
  • India surpassed Saudi Arabia in military investments, recently rising to third place globally; it increased its spending by 37 percent in the decade 2010-2019
  • Pakistan’s military spending increased by 70 percent between 2010 and 2019
  • Pakistan is now also an arms exporter; in 2014, Pakistan exported 60 million dollars of arms, a figure that has since doubled; Pakistan’s goal is to sell 1 billion dollars of defense equipment yearly
  • South Korea and Turkey have also substantially increased their arms exports in the last decade, and have national policies to continue raising those exports
  • Australia is the largest military spender in Oceania; it spent almost 26 billion in 2019, a figure 23 percent higher than 2010
  • Israel’s military spending increased by 30 percent between 2010 and 2019
  • Turkey’s military spending increased by 86 percent between 2010 and 2019
  • In Africa, total military spending grew by 17 percent between 2010 and 2019

Facing the perils of biodiversity collapse and climate breakdown requires a global consciousness shift. A major component of that shift is the recognition that international cooperation is imperative for immediate action. Collaborative work, in turn, means cultivating trust and transparency. The violent, competitive, fear-based, and greed-driven impulses that underlie military expansionism show just how far removed the powers-that-be are from the consciousness shift our time calls for.

And it reveals more: a preposterous political-economic establishment upon which so many rest their hopes for a better future. Not only do the ruling institutions (and most people who gravitate to them) lack the cognitive, emotional, and moral intelligence to comprehend Life’s dire predicament. They add the menace of global nuclear annihilation, and of regional war-driven death, disease, suffering, and eco-ravaging, onto the monumental threats we face.

If that were not absurd enough, another preposterous twist has been added: Upgrading conventional and nuclear arms with Artificial Intelligence. AI programs operate at speeds beyond human comprehension and command, and have the capacity to “learn,” “make decisions,” and act upon their emergent “assessments.” This offers fertile material for flicks like Terminator, Ex Machina, and Westworld. Back to the real world, on the other hand, the utter illogicality of refashioning weapons with AI computational power should be a shock-cincher for us to see through the political-economic troll at humanity’s helm. Consider what is at stake in the dry-speak of an official document written for the US Congress: “AI systems could accelerate the pace of combat to a point in which machine actions surpass the rate of human decisionmaking, potentially resulting in a loss of human control in warfare” (Sayler 2019, 37). It would take a lot less than a “runaway” nuclear war to bring about The End. The potential for out-of-control annihilation, begun purposely or accidentally, should disabuse us of any doubt regarding the soundness of mind of those in political and economic positions of power—those who make such decisions, those who countenance them, and those who sleepwalk along.

The US, China, and Russia, spurred by competition and fear, are all active in military AI development. Paranoid mirror neurons threaten to hurtle the rivals, along with the rest of Life, toward mutually assured descent into hell.

Rising military expenditures, munitions building, and arms trading, along with nuclear upgrades, the advent of a new arms race, and growing international and regional tensions—this ludicrous playbook for any moment in history but especially now—prompted the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, in 2020, to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds before midnight. In 2018, when the minute hand was pushed to 2 minutes to midnight, the Bulletin’s Board stated: “To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger—and its immediacy” (Dodge 2018).

As with pandemics, however, as long as the danger isn’t upon us, the underlying causes of the danger can apparently be ignored, waved away, and in fact fueled. (Unlike pandemics, if the danger of nuclear war actually erupted, it would be too late.) We are held hostage to a political-economic status quo that is feeding deadly dangers: Fossil fuel extraction and burning, wet markets and factory farms, industrial agriculture expansion destroying soils, grasslands, and tropical forests, relentless commercial fishing devastating the ocean, more land mining and now deep-sea mining, growing levels of plastic and chemical pollution, and weaponizing galore. To say that the emperor has no clothes is a pitiful understatement. The emperor is a zombie.

There are many elephants in the room we avoid talking about. Inter alia: the real ones, our fellow Earthlings, suffering dislocations, massacres, and enslavement; the rising numbers of livestock and humans now totaling 96 percent of the biomass of all large vertebrates; and the military-industrial complex, a fixture we feel stuck with and powerless to abolish. Though it would involve a massive undertaking, being manmade, the military-industrial complex can be undone. It is constructed, first and foremost, by nation-states with their territorial delusions, nationalistic claptrap, citizen conscriptions, glorified “histories,” and expansionist machinations. Working closely with the political establishment, it is co-constructed by the corporate sector building the nuts-and-bolts of the military machine—from the footwear to the satellites. The military-industrial complex is also undergirded by the beautiful brainpower of men (and women) being invested into the demonic technological imagination that precedes real-world desolation. It is buoyed by the prattle of deterrence, the silence or ignorance of the many, and the institutional reification of afflicted mental states like hate, aggression, competition, suspicion, arrogance, and unremitting fear. Lastly, this whole package is regularly wrapped up with the bow of humans’ ostensibly deplorable “nature.”

May the real human nature please stand up?

How about the humans who run with wolves, live to birdwatch, and love to snorkel? Restore gardens and meadows with native plants? Scream against mass extinction? Dedicate their lives to end the fossil fuel era? Grieve for the loss of creatures they do not know and will never meet? Hug trees? Write eternally sung songs like “Give Peace a Chance” and “Masters of War”? Write poems like Mary Oliver wrote poems? Die for the rainforest? Live to do hospice work? Devote themselves to end the disgrace of sucking bile out of caged bears? Swim with sharks and hang out with grizzlies? Create intentional communities? Come to their balconies to sing together during coronavirus lockdown?

The powers-that-be keep us disempowered in countless ways. But if we give them human nature, we’ve lost the game.

I’ve arrived at the expected what-is-to-be-done section of this blog. How can the military machine—which, at the very least, devours exorbitant amounts of money, brainpower, and Earth materials—be confronted and dismantled? There are no obvious solutions to propose. Karl Marx once excoriated the “Young Hegelians” for their naiveté of battling social structures with words. We hold our tongues from a consonant sensibility: we feel understandable discomfort that all we have to oppose the monstrosity of militarism is the wagging of them. The least we can do, however, is break our silence about the warmongers (all of them), who want us very much to treat the military-industrial complex as part of the world’s normal furniture. We can hurl words against them, let them know we see them, and demand Universal Disarmament Now.

We are not going to transform our reality by painting the tip of the iceberg green. We are not going to create an ecological civilization that carries a military-industrial complex forward. We have to make our daily practice, today, an affirmation of the human identity that builds relationships and institutions on elevated states of being—cooperation, affection, gratitude, care, unity, listening, and compassion. Even if powerless, we can be awake. Even at a loss for “policy recommendations,” we can still scream.

Read ‘Before midnight’, by Eileen Crist, on the #EarthTongues blog

Sources

Bokhari F (2019) With China as its mentor, Pakistan triples arms exports. Nikkei Asian Review, November 9, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/With-China-as-its-mentor-Pakistan-triples-arms-exports

Dodge R (2018) Approaching the apocalypse, the Doomsday Clock moves forward. Common Dreams, https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/01/26/approaching-apocalypse-doomsday-clock-moves-forward

Ewing P (2016) Obama’s nuclear paradox: Pushing for cuts, agreeing to upgrades. NPR, May 25, https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/05/25/479498018/obamas-nuclear-paradox-pushing-for-cuts-agreeing-to-upgrades

Maizland L (2020) China’s modernizing military. Council on Foreign Relations, February 5, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-modernizing-military

Paltrow S (2017) In modernizing nuclear arsenal, U.S. stokes new arms race. Reuters, Special Report, November 21, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-nuclear-modernize-specialreport/special-report-in-modernizing-nuclear-arsenal-u-s-stokes-new-arms-race-idUSKBN1DL1AH

Sayler K (2019) Artificial Intelligence and National Security. Congressional Research Service. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R45178.pdf

Spinazze G (2020) Press Release—It is now 100 seconds to midnight. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 23, https://thebulletin.org/2020/01/press-release-it-is-now-100-seconds-to-midnight/

Tian N et al. (2020) SIPRI Fact Sheet. Trends in World Military Expenditures, 2019. https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/2020-04/fs_2020_04_milex_0_0.pdf

Wezeman P et al. (2019) SIPRI Fact Sheet. Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2018. https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/2019-03/fs_1903_at_2018.pdf

[Photo by moutal5: CC BY-NC 2.0.]