Columbans and Catholic peace groups, such as Pax Christi, support a new initiative in Britain called ‘Rethinking Security. It is a UK-based network of peace and security experts who challenged the UK Government’s decision in November to grant an exceptional increase to the Ministry of Defence’s budget while other departments faced cuts. In particular, the Government had announced a cut in the UK’s overseas aid budget to 0.5% of national income, down from the legally binding target of 0.7%.
The groups felt that in apportioning an extra £16.5 billion to the military our government is revealed to be out of step with the insight that military approaches cannot help us with major risks we face, such as pandemics and climate change. Pax Christi England and Wales quoted Pope Francis’ words in Fratelli Tutti that, “war is not a ghost from the past but a constant threat” and suggested that, “more military spending continues to lead us away from peace”.
Rethinking Security takes the view that “by prioritising military spending over other means of influencing international security, the government is sending a powerful signal that Britain’s security strategy is increasingly and overwhelmingly about projecting military power”. Yet, if the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us one thing it is that the real threats to people’s lives and livelihoods cannot be offset by spending on weapons.
Our notions of security are challenged in the age of climate change, mass migrations of people and the potential of cyber terror. The massive sum of at least £100 billion pounds to build and maintain another generation of nuclear weapons to replace Britain’s current Trident system is, to use the phrase of President Eisenhower in 1953, “a theft from those who hunger and are not fed”.
Our long-term security is threatened by a problem at least as dangerous as chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, or indeed international terrorism: the human-induced climate crisis. In fact, climate change has been called a weapon of mass destruction. Disasters can strike anywhere, in any form – a heatwave in one place, a drought or a flood or a storm surge in another. Last month, Columbans in the Philippines reported the devastating impact of five typhoons one after another, which literally washed communities down hillsides and destroyed crops and infrastructure.
The Columban view is: Let us put our money and resources towards tackling the real security threats of our time and building peace.