A study just published by Saferworld puts direct government subsidies at £420m a year just for arms exports. Subsidies for the entire defence industrial base total as much as £4.25bn per year. And schools, hospitals and public transport are portrayed as bottomless money pits that can only be saved by private enterprise?
Arms companies are huge multinationals wielding a great deal of power, especially over their host countries. It comes as no surprise that the arms trade is exempt from the GATT treaty underpinning the World Trade Organisation. The WTO exists to prevent "barriers to trade", which usually amounts to overturning measures taken by governments to prevent foreign companies siphoning off their country's wealth. Taking action to safeguard health, education or the environment is out of order, but rampant militarism is okay, it seems.
A major consequence of globalisation is an increase in inequality, both internationally and within nations. This sharpening of divisions will inevitably cause and exacerbate conflicts as people fight for resources and power.
The Peace Research Institute in Oslo looked at the 98 major conflicts (most of them civil wars) between 1990 and 1996. The conclusions they drew make for interesting reading. These conflicts mainly took place in poor countries where the major "industry" is agriculture. Environmental factors are important, with land degradation and a lack of water being linked to civil war. The links between a country's level of debt and the likelihood of civil conflict is particularly strong. But that's okay, as it's creating new markets for the entirely moral defence industry.
Ultimately it is force, or the threat of force that keeps power in the hands of the powerful.
Amongst the loudest lobbyists for Plan Colombia (a massive package of cash for the Colombian Government, ostensibly to fight the drugs war) have been the companies after the country's oil, not to mention the arms companies that will ultimately receive the $1.3bn on offer. It's an open secret that the targets of the Plan aren't drugs cartels but indigenous peoples and left-wing groups.
That threat extends right down into our daily lives. When it comes down to it, the current order of things is backed up by people with big sticks. If you speak out too strongly, strike, question decisions by governments or corporations and don't shut up - the people with sticks will eventually cart you off or beat you down. We've seen it with the miner's strike, Seattle, live animal exports, the roads protests, even the protests against the Chinese premier's visit.
Standing against the violence perpetrated in far-off countries is the same struggle as fighting against the violence at home. Resistance in this country in solidarity with the day to day resistance all over the world will start the process of bringing about lasting change.