Why are both Bush and Harper buying new equipment to upgrade their combined military?
Our leaders on both sides of the border are telling us that the path to peace is war. Though they intend to stay at war "for as long as it takes," both the Canadian and American armies are actually wearing out. Unexpectedly, the rates of deaths and disabilities are high, the equipment is subjected to great wear and tear, and the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan are holding their own.
Moreover, a new version of democracy is emerging on the North American continent. It doesn't seem to matter which political parties get elected. The present leaders are not listening to the groundswell of voters who want peace, not war.
As CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported:
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper has spent more than $20 billion so far on his military spending spree even though the Opposition is accusing Harper of an American style defence build-up that seems more attuned to offensive warfare than peacekeeping...The prime minister is gambling Canadians will support this massive defence spending after decades of neglect, observers say. But the Opposition says the leader of a minority government doesn't have the mandate to reshape the military in this way, especially when there hasn't been a proper debate in Parliament or in the country."
Harper's spending spree to equip Canada's armed forces illustrates the disconnect between the leadership and voters. It's not that new equipment isn't needed - but $22 billion worth?
Having promised not to abandon Canada's role of peacekeeping for the United Nations, Harper has expanded it to include war-making on behalf of the US coalition and is overhauling Canada's military. For what purpose? With whose blessing? The maintenance and operating costs for this new equipment will be showing up later.
According to a report by Robert Fife of CTV, this will be the biggest build-up Canada's military since World War II when we all swore off world wars.
Albert Einstein, who advised Truman to develop the A-bomb as a deterrent before Germany did, reacted to its use by saying: "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.".
And so Harper's and Bush's partnership is confidently moving toward Einstein's "age of sticks and stones." This is despite Bush's lowest approval rating of any US president ever (it's less than 30% at this writing). And this is also despite Harper's recent acknowledgment that the "political will" of Canadians to support the military in Afghanistan is rapidly decreasing. According to the rules of democracy, they don't need our support - at least, not until the next election. So by then, we may be too committed to change course.
According to Murray Dobbin in his article "Harper's Taste for War" (posted on the Internet at tyee.ca) Harper was even disdainful of the UN's post-WW II resolve to end wars and replace them with peace activities. He quotes Harper as having said: "For a lot of the last 30 or 40 years, we were the ones hanging back....I can tell you that Afghanistan has certainly engaged our military. It's, I think, made them a better military notwithstanding - and maybe in some way because of - the casualties." Dobbin adds that Harper told the CBC that Canada's revised role as war-maker rather than peace keeper in Afghanistan has "...certainly raised Canada's leadership role, once again, in the United Nations and in the world community." So apparently, the new equipment is to make a better military and to enhance our leadership.
Isn't there any alternative to war? Again these days we are hearing an Internet "buzz" that a United States-led invasion of Iran is now imminent. This time, it is Iran that might be acquiring the dreaded "Weapons of Mass Destruction." Is that why we need to be re-equipping our military?
The debt load from the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is already substantial. On Canada's side, the GST may need to be raised or both our health system and other benefits may have to be shortchanged to pay for our participation in the "war on terror." This so-called "war" is meant to fuel our fears. The alternative is to build a culture of hope that works toward peace, not war.
Bush has already spent over $600 billion on the four year war in Iraq. That's $10 billion per month, apart from the annual US budget. Harper's $22 billion on new equipment is only the beginning of Canada's spending. Bush and Harper do not have withdrawal strategies, so these costs are ongoing.
Given the budgets of Departments of Defence, both countries could well afford a couple of billion to start up Departments of Peace. It would be a better investment. Not only would Departments of Peace balance our interest in war with an interest in peace, they might even set examples globally.
What would a Canadian or American Department of Peace do? Like the Department of Defense, it would find plenty to do globally - or even locally. But here's a specific activity. CNN recently reported on a study that demonstrated that $625 billion already spent on the War on Terrorism now in its fifth year would buy thousands of fully equipped schools or hospitals. Why not do so? Similarly, Harper's $22 billion for equipment would buy a lot of education and health service wherever it is most needed.
Or maybe Departments of Peace could be used to plan the withdrawal strategies when Department of Defense are not successful in foreign lands. Or maybe Departments of Peace could do the work of implementing some sort of Marshall Plans after wars are over, win or lose?
Or maybe Departments of Peace could be used to oversee the greening of war efforts? Wars are notoriously bad polluters because they consume enormous amounts of energy and create more greenhouse gases than any civilian activities.
But most of all, Department of Peace could be used to balance our two North American versions of democracy and give us the opportunity to support something between elections.
In theory, democratic countries get the leaders they deserve. Voters supported Bush for a second term, knowing that he was a warrior chief. Voters supported Harper suspecting that he also was one. By insisting that our leaders manage departments of peace as well as departments of war (aka "departments of defence") we would encourage a more balanced approach to running our countries.
Peace, like war, has to be planned and implemented over long periods of time. Eventually, we hope the Departments of Peace will have budgets of $10 billion per month and Departments of War only $2 Billion. Why not?
Don Ayre is a retired child and family therapist. He welcomes your ideas about families and peace at firstname.lastname@example.org.