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Action is necessary to prevent a war

16 August 2013

You cannot send arms, and then complain about their use, says Alan Storkey

WE CALL it a "defence" budget, but it is no such thing. The UK faces no external threat. North Korea has an economy half the size of Lancashire, is the other side of the globe, and is suffocating under its militarism. Iran is losing its militancy under its new President, and is thousands of miles away.

We do not need defending. We spend most of our time and money "peacekeeping" - mopping up after conflicts that are our own fault, or which have arisen because we, too, as in Egypt and Libya, have armed a military dictator who has created chaos in the country.

Why not do something different? Let us prevent a war. We need President Putin's help, but that is how it goes. Wars involve a build-up of weapons until one side in a dispute thinks that it can overwhelm the other. The main problem in a dispute is the supply of weapons. So, for example, we worry about Iran's having nuclear weapons. The weapons lead to war.

Sheer vindictiveness requires me to point out that in 1978 the United States and the UK were overwhelmingly the biggest weapon suppliers to Iran: 1400 Vickers Chieftain tanks; Bell, Boeing, Grumman, Northrop, and Raytheon fighter aircraft; missiles; armed helicopters; and everything else. Moreover, both countries were teaching the Iranian military to fight, use sophisticated weapons, and become powerful.

The countries at issue now are Azerbaijan and Armenia. In the absence of some action now, they will go to war, and it will be a massacre. Even a minor prophet can see this one coming. Military expenditure in Azerbaijan has increased by 743 per cent since 2002, and it is not buying weapons to play with. President Ilham Aliyev promised in 2007 that military spending in Azerbaijan would be bigger than the total budget of Armenia. Clearly, he is aiming to address the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh with weapons.

Azerbaijan has been supplied with weapons by Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Israel, South Africa, and Turkey, while Armenia gets 95 per cent of its weapons from Russia. The EU has practised an embargo of selling arms to either side; on this one, it has behaved well. Russia supplies 55 per cent of Azerbaijan's weaponry, and Ukraine 34 per cent.

As we know only too well from Russia's involvement in selling arms to Syria, selling arms compromises a country's ability to stop war. You cannot sell weapons, and then complain when a country uses them, although David Cameron tried in Libya and Egypt. Russia has been morally impotent in addressing the Syrian civil war, as well as largely causing it by supplying President Bashar al-Assad with a deadly arsenal.

For Azerbaijan to desist, President Putin would have to end his weapon sales and threaten an embargo of all Azerbaijan exports and imports before the war breaks out, backed by the EU, the US, and all the other countries in the region. Because of the dependence of Azerbaijan on oil exports, that would stop the bloodshed that is coming. Acting now is a hundred times easier than when it has started. It could prevent an evil war.

But this initiative has a cost. It involves all of us, East and West, admitting that the policy of selling arms throughout the world is hypocritical, and must be stopped. At present, we are saying something like the following: "Buy arms. So long as you don't attack us, you can fight among yourselves as much as you want, and we'll sell even more arms." That will not do. As with the hypocrisy Jesus identifies in Matthew 23, it has blood in it.

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