The government should spend whatever is necessary to ensure the security of Canadians. And to do so requires redirecting resources away from weapons of destruction towards the real and present dangers that threaten our security.
Leftists have long argued that “national security” is a euphemism for promoting a violent, patriarchal, institution that aids corporations and imperialism. They have reasoned that devoting resources to public health, proper housing, early childhood nutrition, etc. offers greater protection to the public than funding militarists.
Of course, arguing that unsafe work conditions, industrial pollutants and cars are a far more significant threat to Canadians’ safety than a foreign invasion requires a broader understanding of what security means. Playing to a more visceral sense of safety, militarists paint a picture of evil foreign actors seeking to destroy our way of life and kill us. But the COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis has made militarists’ “security” argument wholly untenable.
For a year and a half Canadians’ and others have had their lives turned upside down by a pathogen. Despite extreme measures to combat the virus, more than 28,000 Canadians have died of COVID-19.
The military and security establishment have been largely useless in combating the virus. Over 100,000 Canadian Forces/Department of National Defence officials — more than all the country’s medical doctors — have saved few lives.
A more significant mid-to-long-term threat to Canadians security than COVID-19, climate change is causing ever more significant destruction. In British Columbia nearly 600 died during an unprecedented heat wave in June. Others have died from the forest fires that displaced tens of thousands. Around the world multiple millions have been driven from their homes or killed due to heat waves, forest fires and torrential floods. The climate crisis is an existential threat to human civilization.
But the Canadian military has done little to protect anyone from climate disturbances. In fact, the military is responsible for a whopping 59% of federal government greenhouse gas emissions. Still, the government is plowing hundreds of billions of dollars into new military equipment.
In August the government announced a plan to modernize the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). The multibillion-dollar plan won’t warn of incoming fires.
As part of modernizing our “defences” the government is also planning to buy armed drones. At a cost of up to $5 billion the drones are unlikely to detect, let alone blow up, a virus.
The government is also planning to purchase 88 new fighter jets in coming months. The warplanes will cost $19 billion upfront and as much as $77 billion over their full life cycle. Still, these cutting-edge new jets won’t be able to stop, or even dampen, a forest fire.
The government is planning to purchase 15 new surface combatant vessels for $82 billion. The full lifecycle cost of the ships is set to top $286 billion. The vessels’ sophisticated radar and missiles won’t be able to detect, let alone destroy, a pathogen capable of upending our lives.
Spending huge sums on “security” initiatives that are incapable of addressing our most critical threats makes little sense. It diverts attention away from where governments should be focussed. Even worse, it makes war more likely, not less.
The truth is military spending is not about human security. It is about defending the interests of the rich and powerful who profit from inequality, insecurity and producing weapons of mass destruction.
Yves Engler will be launching his new book Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People’s History of the Canadian Military in Vancouver, Nanaimo, Duncan and Victoria between November 10–14.