OP-UN: Saving future generations from the scourge of war

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As this will be the last UN Briefing written by my Dominican Volunteer, Kati Garrison, I thought it appropriate to offer a word of thanks for the marvelous contribution Kati has made to our UN/NGO office over the past year. Her enthusiasm and commitment to the pursuit of peace and justice has been contagious, and her assistance to me has been invaluable. This final briefing is sobering, yet very important for us all to consider well. While the video link which Kati provides at the end is difficult to watch, it captures quite starkly the world in which we live: a world of violence; of great inequality; of twisted priorities; a world which has in many cases lost a sense of the sacred, and in so doing has lost its soul. Perhaps it will serve as a wake-up call for us all to become more pro-active citizens, willing to speak Truth to power for the sake of all of God’s good people and this one fragile home we share… Earth. In the words of our sister, Catherine of Siena: “Cry out as if you have a million voices, for it is silence which kills the world.” I have no doubt that Kati will continue to do this, wherever life leads her! — Sister Margaret Mayce, OP  

“War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.”

This quote by Thomas Mann emerged from the screen in the ECOSOC Chamber of the United Nations Conference building, during a briefing entitled “Determined to Save Succeeding Generations from the Scourge of War.” The words hit me like a slap in the face that awoke me to the realization that as a society, we are guilty of acting in a cowardly fashion. Certainly, one can claim that governments and those in positions of political authority possess considerable decision-making power in terms of declaring war or opting to engage in warfare.

Furthermore, it remains far from secret that wars are not waged on behalf of altruistic intentions, but rather for strategic and political purposes. For a reason I will never fully comprehend, war is viewed by many as a preferable (possibly more expedient or less challenging) method to resolve conflict. We could sit and speculate for hours as to why this practice serves as the status quo and articulate a million flaws in this line of reasoning, but engaging in such a discourse will not bring about the essential change we need in order to end war.

Alternately, I think we need to first scrutinize ourselves. If we intend to point a finger at our leaders who sanction war, then perhaps we need to also look at the individuals who permit others to make the decision to go to war on their behalf. I admit, as a U.S. citizen, I have acted in a cowardly manner. I have failed to embrace my obligation as a citizen to participate in the social sphere, to demand that my government divert its resources from war toward development, to speak up and educate policymakers about the alternatives to war, and to urge my country to sign/ratify/enforce the necessary treaties and resolutions to end war.

At this briefing, Nobel Laureate Jody Williams (founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines) vocalized her frustration with individuals who distance themselves from the actions of their governments claiming, “Oh, I am not political. I don’t do politics.” Jody rejects this claim that an individual cannot be responsible for the actions of his or her government because he or she does not engage in politics. She argues that these individuals make a choice not to involve themselves in political matters. Thus, they are making a political choice. In other words, by opting not to voice their political opinion, they are choosing to support whatever decision(s) their government makes. As stated by Eleanor Roosevelt, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”

Once we admit to ourselves that we need to work to overcome our cowardice, or what I prefer to term inaction, the next logical step is to take action: to speak out. However, this imperative to act leads to a quandary: where does one start? Should we focus on the arms trade, the displacement of peoples, the substantial increase in civilian casualties, nuclear weapons? The list goes on and on; it is daunting. Therefore, for the purposes of this briefing, let us focus on just one: the imminent danger of robotic weapons.

Currently, global spending on armaments adds up to more than $1.7 trillion (approximately 2.5 percent of the world’s GDP). As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has repeatedly emphasized, “[T]he world is over-armed and peace is underfunded.”* As wars continue across the globe, increasing amount of monetary resources go toward arms research and manufacturing, and as technology advances, its procurement demands greater sums of money.

Robotic weapons serve as one example of such technological advances. These robotic weapons would possess the capacity to select and fire on targets autonomously, without any human intervention. Just a few of the countries currently investing in the development of robotic weapons technology include China, Israel, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

If these robots exercise autonomy, will their design take into account the ability to understand operational contexts, humanitarian protection of civilians, and carry out complex decision-making such as evaluating proportionality of attacks? In addition, would replacing human troops with machines ease the guilt of making the decision to go to war? Who would be legally responsible for the actions of the robots? Where would the accountability lie?

When asked, What can civil society do to end war? Jody Williams answered: Join the International Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, and call for a moratorium on robotic weapons. According to her line of reasoning, robotic weapons pose a greater threat than even nuclear weapons because they can be commandeered by outside forces. In essence, if other countries can hack into the United States Pentagon (as has happened in the past), then certainly other countries or entities can hack into the robotic weapons of opposing factions.

Ultimately, the creation and utilization of “killer robots” (or “lethal autonomous robotics”) will mean increased armament spending—money that could generate appreciable positive change if redirected toward worthy global development initiatives. As Catholics, we are called to protect the life and dignity of the human person and to protect the rights of the vulnerable and those living in poverty (often these are the groups most greatly affected by war). Accordingly, we must strive to end war, to end unnecessary killing and loss of life. We also need to find a way to reroute our energies and resources toward taking care of our brothers and sisters around the world. The time is now to take action and assert that our financial resources are better spent on initiatives such as feeding the hungry, providing vaccinations, procuring housing for the displaced, and caring for the environment—not on war!

To learn more about the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and actions that you can take right now (choose to be a courageous champion of peace and engage in politics) visit www.stopkillerrobots.org

*For additional insight on armament spending and how those funds may be redirected toward development efforts, such as achieving the Millennium Development Goals, please watch this short video from the UN briefing (warning: contains graphic images)

By Kati Garrison, Dominican Volunteer

(13 June 2013)