It's now clear that the pretext for the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq was a sham. That Saddam Hussein-admittedly one of the nastiest fellows on the planet-had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) primed and ready to blow away Western civilisation was widely proclaimed by the leadership in both Britain and the United States. We heard of nuclear missiles, an array of diseases more deadly than SARS and nerve agents that could decimate a modern city in a matter of seconds. All in freezers and bunkers in Saddam's Iraq.
These quite simply do not exist, whatever President Bush or Prime Minister Blair may still say. The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, made a welcome admission in a recent BBC interview. In a moment of rare candour from a Western leader, he allowed that such was the level of scepticism around the world, few people would believe that the Americans or the British hadn't planted any weapons they may find in the coming weeks and months. I for one doubt that they would do that, but you never know.
Anyway, it's also tempting to conclude that the whole emphasis by the Anglo American alliance on non-proliferation and WMDs-as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are known-is misleading and capricious.WMDs are indeed scary things. The only country ever to use a nuclear device, the United States, knows this only too well. So do the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the hundreds of thousands of civilians who were vapourised so further American casualties could be avoided in forcing the surrender of Japan in 1945. As for chemical weapons, let us ask the British about them. They are the last Western power to use them-against Iraq in 1918 and 1919 to put down a troublesome tribal uprising in a once and future colony. Saddam infamously used poison gas against Kurds and Iranians in the 1980s and for that he is to be vilified. Never mind that at the time, he was backed by the same Anglo-American axis that recently dethroned him.
Britain and the United States, it seems to me, make such a fuss about WMDs for a variety of reasons, and concern for the world's safety is not first among them. The two countries together dominate the world market in conventional arms and military equipment, and they aim to keep it that way. A recent BBC documentary even pondered whether or not British governments were addicted to arms sales, like a drunkard to the bottle. It's not much of a leap to say that America too finds military spending to be a panacea for many social challenges, and that in itself is a form of addiction. A country that is steadily dismantling policies that overtly redistribute wealth and directly create jobs, uses a bloated and obscene defence budget to prime the economic pump, and to provide work for the poor. And exports are increasingly important.
As for mass destruction, what does the most harm-a putative nuclear bomb or the millions of land mines produced and legally sold around the world by firms from Italy, Bulgaria and even the United States? Sarin gas, as horrible as it is, threatens far fewer people than the submachine guns and pistols produced in vast and profitable quantities by Colt, Hechler and Koch and the good people of the Kalashnikov empire in Russia. Anthrax wreaked havoc in America in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks. Less than a dozen people died-each a tragedy and an outrage-yet in the same period of weeks, some 800 Americans were killed or wounded by firearms. And as that was going on, countless anonymous Africans died in conflicts fuelled by small arms and material sales, largely from Western companies. No mass destruction this, just business as usual for British Aerospace, Armscor of South Africa, Israel's Uzi company and FN of Belgium.
Anti-arms campaigners, who are the most tireless and globalised of international protesters, say the American and British governments in particular, but many other Western governments besides, have become little more than extensions of their arms industries. Hundreds and thousands of domestic jobs and, crucially, votes depend on military exports to the world's poor countries, where conflicts rage unabated. At the same time, Western taxpayers fund development strategies based on conflict resolution and peacemaking. A plane flies in from the West with a cargo of weapons. Upstairs in Business Class sit well compensated conflict resolution and human rights specialists ready to dispense advice.
How about a new concept: Weapons of Mass Deception.