TICK TOCK on the Doomsday Clock
Project assistant, SCRAP Weapons
Former Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s ever-so-relevant words “The world is over-armed and peace is underfunded”, mirror the current stance of the impending doom that looms over humanity as we inch towards total annihilation. “90 seconds to midnight” on the Doomsday Clock uses the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) to accentuate the unprecedented danger facing mankind due to its self-destructive ventures of mounting violations of international norms. Countering the same requires reassessing our priorities and shared values before the countdown reaches zero. With the global military spending at $2 trillion, rising nuclear risks, increasing likeability of Earth surpassing the 1.5 degree celsius mark set by the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the growing digital dehumanisation and ethical dilemma over the misuse and abuse of autonomous weapons, our future seems gloomy. These man-made threats to existence have been exacerbated in recent years with the growing Military-Industrial-Complex that has simmered into the very social fabric of communities across the globe. Feeding off the idea of understanding international reality in military terms, the “wartime economy” has not only resulted in huge divestment from public sectors but has fostered cold war attitudes of mistrust and a permanent armament industry.
ARMS AND THE MAN
Much like the humorous depiction of the futility of war in George Bernard Shaw’s 1894 play “Arms and the Man,” war is a greatly romanticised and highly glorified affair in international politics. The idea of sacrifice for national interest, whilst noble, conveniently dodges an important question of whether the death of countless soldiers is avenged with lasting peace among the warring nations. Equally vital is to ponder on the “enemy” we are fighting and what for. The perpetual war-like state of our world and the vicious cycle of violence and casualties cannot be fathomed in terms of conventional blueprints and requires alternate dispute resolution mechanisms, which precisely is easier said than done.
Torn between high-level diplomatic meetings and never-ending debates, countries tend to adopt an either-or approach to decision-making. They believe that no two agendas can be contemporaneous, owing to the military-industrial complex (MIC) ingrained in our psyche since the post-second World War era. Coined by US President Dwight Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address, it refers to the collaboration between government entities and industrial giants through million-dollar weapons deals. While democratically hypocritical, this “monopoly on violence” is the policy and monetary relationship between power elites like legislators, armed forces, and the defence sector. The farcical part of it all is the schemes adopted to normalise this unchecked power to the extent of garnering support for its continued operation. The military-industrial-academic complex or military-entertainment complex are some of the strategies devised by war planners to divert both the resources and perspectives of taxpayers. The militarization of academia in the name of “research” is what historian Stuart W. Leslie termed the “golden triangle of military agencies, the high technology industry, and research universities.” Furthermore, the partnership between the military and the entertainment industry has raised serious concerns about the possibility of manipulated media coverage and controlled narrative of armed conflicts. The US Department of Defense (DOD) has an entertainment media house and Hollywood liaison offices which offer resources to filmmakers to increase their credibility and likeness. Their two-fold goal is “to accurately depict military stories and make sure sensitive information isn’t disclosed” (DOD, 2018). But it didn’t stop scholars like Dr Roger Stahl from calling out the alleged “propaganda” movies which were employed to represent American military capabilities and steer pop culture. Movies like Top Gun, Pearl Harbour, Captain Marvel and the entire Jack Ryan series were supported by the Pentagon and CIA with the latest military gear in exchange for control over the script. Stahl has uncovered over 30,000 pages of internal Defense Department documents through the Freedom of Information Act which showed their direct editorial control over more than 2,500 films and television shows. In fact, the 1986 Top Gun movie boosted the US Navy’s recruitment rates by 8% according to the statistics from the United States Naval Aviation.
An extension of the military-industrial complex is the “Kalashnikov Culture”, the warped tradition of collecting and firing arms on special occasions, especially in Pakistan. Named after the Russian gun designer Mikhail Kalashnikov, AK-47s are often the weapon of choice for their low maintenance, ease of use and wide availability. This unwarranted influence and the consequent cultural impact of Pakistan’s military economic empire is discussed in the oft-quoted book Military INC by Ayesha Siddiqa. The author uses the term “Milbus” to refer to “military capital that is used for the personal benefit of the military fraternity, especially the officer cadre, but is neither recorded nor part of the defence budget.” As a dumping ground of weapons following the 1989 Soviet-Afghan war, weapons of the eastern bloc notably the AK-47s became household items and fueled the growing private armies in the country. Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto warned against this Kalashnikov enculturation with the statement, “We are left on our own to cope with the remnants of the Afghan war, which include arms smuggling, drugs and (religious) zealots who were leaders at the time of the Afghan war”. It truly had a direct and deadly impact on arms control, illicit trafficking, and the narcotics trade and has further weakened state control. Undoubtedly, militarisation has percolated to the societal levels in the form of power rallies and defence cooperation agreements to showcase the capability and might of nations and is a contributing factor to the industrialisation of war.
THE DURABLE DISORDER
The idea of an anarchic world order is often the only justification for the constant spending on the “defence” sector put forth by our world leaders. But the ceaseless balancing act of power equipped with new and improved weapons does not address whether there is an end in sight to this security dilemma which in theory will subsist till the existence of the last human soul. So the question arises, who are we defending ourselves from and how long till we reach the tipping point? Facilitated by corrupt officials, non-state armed groups, gun runners and drug cartels, certain groups of elites who have assumed the role of humanity’s torchbearer, greatly benefit from the low-intensity conflicts and political animosities among countries. In doing so, they have convinced themselves of its rationale for the “greater good” with whatever helps them sleep at night- whether political, religious or both. They piggyback on the law and order situation to continue their operations creating a durable disorder of war cries. While conflicts are part of human nature, armed conflict and war need not be the way we choose to resolve them- after all we call ourselves the most advanced race on the face of the earth.
The lingering cold war theories and attitudes have intensified the threat posed by WMDs and to avoid another legacy of Hibakushas, we must dismiss the false idea of a “tactical” nuclear war. The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) released a landmark report in 2022 called “Nuclear Famine” which debunks the myth of a “limited” or “regional” nuclear war. Even 1/20th of the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, the report suggests, will have catastrophic consequences to the already deteriorating climate, the global food supply as a result of “nuclear winter” and eventually to public order. Equally important is the staggering costs of maintaining the nuclear arsenals which according to a report by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is $82.4 billion in 2021, an inflation-adjusted increase of $6.5 billion from 2020. Their report “Squandered: 2021 Global Nuclear Weapons Spending” details the spending of the nine nuclear-armed states, the companies that profited, and the lobbyists hired to keep nuclear weapons in business.
The rising number of failed states and spiralling civil wars have all been pointing to our fundamental failure in humanity as a whole in dividing resources and power among ourselves. Upon close inspection, the base cause of most of the ongoing violent conflicts is a mixture of historical neglect, lack of basic amenities, vested interests of superpowers and tendencies of hegemonic control. Moreover, the ready availability of arms and ammunition in markets across porous borders has become a reality where the end-users of arms transfers are seldom the contracting parties. Further, our flawed notion of the world being a “global village” was uncovered with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic back in 2020 and more recently with the massive earthquakes that hit Turkey and war-torn Syria. Lack of sufficient funds in social sectors, especially in terms of emergency relief (whether healthcare or disaster management), points to the dire need for a global slush fund to intercept the aftershocks, both theoretical and literal, in terms of layoff, inflation and the cost of living crisis.
WHERE ARE WE HEADING
While we are bathing in the nostalgia of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and synchronising our spirits to the upbeat tune for better days to come, the same can’t be said for our collective future if we continue to venture on the same pathway. The Doomsday clock is a clear indication of everything that’s going wrong in our world. While a single incident may not drastically alter the course of history, it does have a domino effect on the series of events that follow. Unless we are living in a simulation, a nuclear bomb once detonated or the earth once exceeding the set temperature cannot return back to its former glory. This is analogous to how a bullet, once fired, doesn’t go back into the revolver. Moreover, the rising number of mass shootings, especially those in which young children are the perpetrators, is both alarming and regrettable. We are so focused on securing our future generations by arming ourselves to the brim that our current generation is suffering the brunt of gun violence and climate anxiety, and even going to school is no longer considered safe. It exhibits how deeply the culture of militarism and weaponization has permeated our lives that children as young as 6 feel the need for a weapon to make their voices heard.
Escalating political extremism has raised the “chicken or egg” question of who sustains the culture of arms. Is it the businesses that are plotting the demand by creating the perfect customer and “arming” them with a sense of control amidst the chaotic legislation, or are they simply catering to the demands of the public, which likes to take matters into their own hands, literally? It is long overdue that we reflect on our decisions and the people we choose to make decisions on our behalf. There is an overarching importance to address the elephant in the room and question when did it become okay to threaten each other with WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) unless they comply with our demands, for our children to carry bulletproof bags to schools or for companies to dump industrial waste into our oceans. We can no longer be blinded by paranoia induced by conspiracy theorists and must undertake concerted efforts to tackle the uncontrollable brush fire of greed and ignorance.
- Stahl, Roger. 2022. “Op-Ed: Why does the Pentagon give a helping hand to films like ‘Top Gun’?” Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2022. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-05-30/top-gun-maverick-memorial-day-tom-cruise-pentagon-propaganda.
- Summers, William. 2022. “Maverick Top Gun stat turns out to be a real goose.” Australian Associated Press, June 14, 2022. https://www.aap.com.au/factcheck/maverick-top-gun-stat-turns-out-to-be-a-real-goose/.
- Paracha, Nadeem F., and Arifa Noor. 2013. “Years of the gun: A political history of the AK-47 in Pakistan.” Dawn, December 26, 2013. https://www.dawn.com/news/1076328.
- Cooper, Kenneth J. 1996. “A KALASHNIKOV CULTURE.’” The Washington Post, March 14, 1996. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1996/03/14/a-kalashnikov-culture/3e32ca0c-7f5d-418b-8280-c581d9bbb384/.
- Turse, Nicholas. 2004. “The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex.” History News Network, 2004. https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/4976.
- Bivens, Matt. 2022. “Nuclear Famine: Even a “limited” nuclear war would cause abrupt climate disruption and global starvation”. International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War 2022 https://www.ippnw.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/ENGLISH-Nuclear-Famine-Report-Final-bleed-marks.pdf
- International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. 2022. “Squandered: 2021 Global Nuclear Weapons Spending” June 14, 2022, https://assets.nationbuilder.com/ican/pages/2873/attachments/original/1655145777/Spending_Report_2022_web.pdf?1655145777
Project assistant, SCRAP Weapons