I suspect that commanders-in-chief with huge arms stockpiles rock themselves to sleep with dreams of simple wars where they can use their military toys (without personal risk to themselves and their families). Most of these arsenals are decades old and due for decommissioning anyway. Must be traumatizing to spend billions of Third World dollars on bombs and then have to retire the lot without exploding a single firecracker outside the playground of training exercises. Despite the doom and gloom of TV news, real wars are not democratically distributed. (No wonder so many leaders, Gadaffi inclusive, indulge proxy wars.) It is probably for lack of a suitable war that Nigeria’s rotting arsenal exploded in a Lagos armory back in January 2002, killing over a thousand innocents (and I have to count my mother in that number) and traumatizing the Peace Generation with the explosive remnants of the Biafran war. After all, arms stockpiles are not the same as grain stockpiles. A rotting silo of beans can raise quite a stink. An arsenal of rusting missiles is a different matter entirely. Not quite as dangerous as a coastline of overheating Japanese nuclear stations, true, but close.
Yet, arms stockpiles are indispensable to the modern state, according to the sales reps of leading democracies. One imagines the average third world leader obediently buying the new, improved armaments hawked by Prime Minister David Cameron on his recent marketing blitz of the Middle East. Perhaps this is how the marketing went:
-Why should I buy these extortionate guns and bombs and missile systems of yours, when I haven’t sorted out the hungry and jobless in my land?
-For security reasons, your Highness, to protect your state and defend your government and people. You have to secure the country first before you can govern it. Security is always the first consideration…
Which is why the Ghaddafi Incident is so dangerous for the future of the arms trade. Much has been made of the callous manner in which Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi turned the military might of his country against his own citizens! This was eeirily reminiscent of the manner in which Saddam Hussien unleashed US-manufactured, Donald Rumsfeld-brokered Iran-Iraq-war weapons against his own citizens! But one can imagine the head-scratching going on in the many state houses occupied (as they usually are) by dim-witted customers of the arms industry. One can almost hear them wondering:
So when can these bloody bombs be safely used?(Translation: When can human beings be legitimately slaughtered without UN Security Councilors convening like a rage of sanctimonious bats to pass resolutions to bomb the slaughterers into smithereens?)
So this clarification is critical to the future of the arms trade among the R.U.N. (Rich but Undemocratic Nations) segment, which forms a critical proportion of the Defence Industries market worldwide. After all, there is no sense in stockpiling American-made armaments if US warships are going to carpet-bomb your palace when you finally get around to using them.
Barrack Obama is of course the appropriate agency to make this clarification. Not only is he – by office – the most powerful man in the world, he is the illustrious leader of the largest Arms manufacturing, utilising and exporting nation in the world, and a Nobel Peace Laureate to boot, so his pronouncements on war and peace will be tinged with both gravity and irony. However, he is in all probability too busy right now trying to ensure that Libya does not become to him what Iraq was to George Bush, and that Gaddafi does not have the nine lives of a Bin Laden, so I shall attempt to propound on his behalf – on a purely tentative basis, mark – the Obama Patriotic Theory on the Acceptable Slaughter of Humans. It is really simple:
The use by governments of military armaments for the wholesale slaughter of humans is legitimate and defensible, and will not attract the hysterical and punitive police action of the united world, unless such slaughtered humans are subjects, or citizens of the slaughtering governments.
The above formulation rationalises the Libyan action… so far (only God knows what further permutations will be necessary to conclude the regime change)… but it does raise unrealistic expectations, which is why the following exceptions are essential (there’s nothing underhand going on here; as every lawyer knows, there are exceptions to every rule):
• if the slaughtering government involved is the state of Israel, North Korea (or other strategic allies or inconvenient enemies to be added from time to time);
• if the slaughtering government involved does not possess significant reserves of oil;
• if the slaughter happened a long time ago;
So there is really no point in Palestinians bellyaching that technically they are (in the absence of their own state) subjects of Isreal. Neither should other African producers of mere beverages, who would otherwise have qualified for intervention, expect hysterical and punitive police action on the scale and with the dispatch appropriate to producers of strategic fossil fuels. Ivory Coast take note. As for future Rwanda-wannabes, machetes do not qualify as military armaments, so even if casualties hit the million mark, on this formulation of the theory, you are all on your own. Finally, litigious Native Americans (and other aboriginals around the world) should note the strategic retrospective clause. Whatever genocidal fate may have overtaken your ancestors hundreds of years ago is ancient history; this clause is not the foundation for a billion-dollar lawsuit.
This is a fitting opportunity of course for African countries to reevaluate the place of armaments in their national security. History suggests that the most significant threat to African governments is internal, and the best defence against that threat is good governance, rather than arms stockpiles. A government that builds a 100-mile road network, 100 new boreholes and 100 new medical centres will likely be more secure from internal ‘rebellions’ than one that buys a multi-billion dollar missile defence system or a fleet of fighter aircrafts with the same budget. (Actually spending the money on development projects rather than secret Swiss accounts also helps.) Hopefully the developments in Libya will encourage other oil despots to scale down their defence and slush fund budgets in favour of their social and economic budgets.
Besides, no matter what proportion of their GDP they dedicate to defence, no African country can conceivably defend itself against a NATO invasion – or the aggression of a pawn state of, say, the USA (which are a dime-a-dozen these days). So why bother? This should be a new dawn for cunning – even prostrate – diplomacy. This will naturally be dismissed as air-headed idealism by hard-headed realists, but one looks around at the recent theatres of war… and has to reiterate the same view. Now, more than ever, an Arms free Africa makes common sense. National defence is too serious a matter to leave to soldiers and hawks. Considering the cost of war, a permanent and virile budget must be dedicated – locally, regionally, and internationally – to the seduction and retention of Peace.
As a public service, I repeat beneath a poem, Overheard at a War Crimes Tribunal. Methinks it may be useful to any head of state who – despite a scrupulous observation of the above theory, is nonetheless, charged to the War Crimes tribunal merely for ordering the wholesale slaughter of human beings. I regret that beyond this poem, I am unable to offer any further legal services.
Overheard at a War Crimes Tribunal
Satan expects every president to
do his duty to his own nation –
in the wars that follow,
the Devil himself won’t have to do a thing
these new laws of genocide are strange
and I am innocent
it was not murder when they died.
lawyers like to tag a death sentence
to every dead soldier
but it was a busy parliament that year
that changed the laws of war between
my order and the killing fusillade
one needs a law degree these days
to stay guiltless!
I was elected commander-in-chief,
I am a war president, not a criminal.
were not the turrets of my cannons pointing out?
my voters gave me the hero’s Iron Cross!
I may be hated by your alien court,
but they feted me on the streets of my capital,
for I bombed the enemy
not my citizens
savannahs witness daily deaths as well
& I see no big cats in the dock with me.
we are what we are,
inspired by nature’s law
I may be loathed by the world,
but I’ll be re-elected again, you’ll see.
the expectations of parched plantations,
and the destination of swollen clouds of rain
are two different things
I rained my bounties on my voters,
and bombs on all the rest.
Postscript: As I write this, thousands are marching in London against the British government, echoing sentiments of the marchers in the US state of Wisconsin. These sentiments are beginning to sound almost middle-eastern in rhetoric – almost like Bahraini marchers for instance, protesting the US$3 sale of prize property to the King’s uncle. To head off calls for the resignation of US and UK governments ala Mubarak, and the institution of a more people-friendly leadership that will not sell plebians up Shit Creek to rescue ban , I suppose I shall have to devise a new Theory on How to Identify Legitimate Street Revolutions.