The cost of making the peace

Defence spending continues to climb

Some of us grew up during the Cold War and the accompanying arms race. Even before the end of World War II, Soviet Union scientists were playing catch up on the USA in the nuclear race, and once the two superpowers had sufficient stockpiles to nuke each other and the planet to oblivion, East and West faced off against each for the next 45 years.

Then wiser voices prevailed, and as the Soviet Union crumbled and finally collapsed, the world entered a period of greater stability, despite other nations across the globe building nuclear stockpiles of their own. Now, it appears, the race is on again, but for the Soviet Union read Russia, where President Putin with his invasion of Ukraine has revealed his dream of creating a new empire to dominate the east of Europe – just under a different name. As war in Ukraine raged on, the Russians found time last month to test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

The successful launch of the new Sarmat super-heavy ballistic missile was filmed and released to the world, capturing the dramatic but terrifying lift-off moments from four angles, for maximum visual impact and maximum barely veiled threat. Putin later said it was “food for thought” for those who try to threaten Russia. The Americans will have similar, perhaps even greater nuclear warhead carrying capabilities, and there seems little doubt that we have returned to an arms race as the world lurches towards a possible third world war. If it happens, it will be the last, and it won’t take very long.

Nations around the world spend thousands of billions every year on their defence budgets, although “defence” is a debatable choice of word as we watch Putin’s troops rampage through Ukraine. The UK alone spent £42.4bn last year on defence, and this figure increases every year. The staggering amount includes the cost of maintaining our Trident nuclear programme, which comprises four Vanguard-class submarines, each capable of carrying up to eight missiles and forty thermonuclear, independently targetable warheads. But the fleet is old, prowling the ocean floors since 1998, and the replacement Dreadnought class of submarines is due to be operational by 2028.

Billions are “invested” annually, as much as some small nations’ total yearly spend, and that’s without the cost of developing and manufacturing the so-called conventional weapons. Images from Ukraine demonstrate how deadly and destructive these can be. A single battle tank costs five million dollars or more; hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them are lying burned out across the country.

Ever since one early man picked up a stick or a stone to threaten another, men – and it’s overwhelmingly men – have been spending incalculable hours and resources on inventing and building bigger and better ways of terrorising and beating their neighbours into submission. They never have learned that there could be better ways of spending their fortunes. Will it ever change?

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