Health care, education and the CBC have all been subject to belt-tightening, but for one sector of the Canadian state “the checkbook is always open,” said Matthew Behrens, coordinator of Homes Not Bombs.
Coming in at over $20 billion in annual spending, the military is currently the “single largest use of discretionary federal funding” in Canada, he added. The federal government will spend almost $55 million per day on the military during this fiscal year.
In the media, the military-industrial complex is lauded for providing jobs. A $10 billion contract to supply Saudi Arabia with arms in 2014 was called an “Olympic win for Canada and for Canadian manufacturers” by Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters president Jayson Myer. And with the retreat of Canada’s military in Afghanistan, the federal government has been actively looking for new buyers in developing countries for Canadian-made military goods to help “bolster Canadian jobs and prosperity.”
But while billions pour into military spending, Canadians aren’t seeing the benefits.
According to Richard Sanders of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, weapons manufacturing isn’t the best economic strategy. “Military production is one of the least efficient ways of creating jobs ever conceived,” he explained in an email exchange with the Media Co-op. “It is a very capital-intensive sector, and anything but labour-intensive.”
Research published by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies demonstrates that for every $1 billion of federal spending in the military industry 11,200 jobs are created. By comparison, the same investment would create an estimated 16,800 jobs if invested in clean energy, 17,200 jobs in health care, and 26,700 jobs in the education sector. These have “the added benefit of actually providing a useful social service,” said Sanders.
In addition to being spent in sectors that won’t benefit the population, military spending is used to target vulnerable communities. Studies have shown that those most likely to enroll in the military are men, under 25, unemployed or underemployed, or from Indigenous communities. As well, veterans and Canadian soldiers do not benefit from these billions of dollars being spent on the military. In 2015, spending for Veterans Affairs will decrease by $54 million, while the budget for the Department of National Defence will increase by $280 million.
So why is military spending going up while other sectors suffer from cuts?
The inevitable consequence of persistently boosting Canada’s military industry is, of course, war. This is why Behrens believes that Canada should pull out of military operations abroad. “The minute you have an institution whose sole purpose is to kill people, and you put $20 billion into it, you’re going to look for a raison d’être,” Behrens said. “And if there are no wars, you’re going to come up with enemies.”
Online investigative publication The Intercept recently reported that Marillyn Hewson, the CEO of military contractor Lockheed Martin, was asked during a conference call with investors whether a peaceful resolution to the US–Iran nuclear negotiations could impede foreign military sales.
Here is Hewson’s response: there is “volatility all around the region” such as in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific, which makes them both “growth areas.” In other words, instability is profitable for arms dealers.
Canada’s foreign policy will remain unchanged as long as the war industry continues to be massively subsidized. By April next year, Canada’s military intervention in Iraq and Syria will have cost Canadian taxpayers $528 million. The emphasis on Canada’s mission in Iraq and Syria has been to “resist ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] with force.”
But Behrens points out that Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development released internal memos that in fact stated “the best weapon against ISIL is good governance and inclusiveness” for a lasting political solution. With these recommendations unheeded, and with so much money injected into military industries, the government’s single-minded strategy in Iraq and Syria serves to perpetuate weapons spending.
According to Behrens, a primary function of military spending is to facilitate the access to resources that Canadian businesses have abroad. By making arms deals with regimes that have abysmal human rights records across the globe and by setting up military bases in other countries, Canada maintains its role as a geopolitical power. “On the one hand Canada is battering down doors with free trade agreements; on the other, it is selling weapons to regimes that are then being used to repress the populations who are protesting against the role of largely Canadian mining firms in their countries,” he said.
Kevin Skerrett, a senior researcher at the Canadian Union of Public Employees, observed this during Canada’s military intervention in Haiti in 2004, which was portrayed as a peacekeeping operation. “A few wealthy powerful northern country governments including Canada, the US, and France, overthrew [the elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide’s] popular and elected government of Haiti and destabilized the country,” said Skerrett. “Military forces moved in to occupy and repress the population.” The RCMP trained the Haitian National Police, who were involved in killing unarmed civilians. Although the media sold the idea that it was for reasons of human rights, Canada acted strategically to benefit from Haiti’s mineral wealth. In an interview with the Financial Post in 2012, Majescor Resources CEO Dan Hachey talked about how he was excited to work with the new president due to seeing “big opportunities in tourism and mining.” Aristide, on the other hand, not only made efforts to double the minimum wage, which slashed profits for Montreal-based company Gildan Activewear, but he also planned to nationalize Haiti’s resources, which would have had an impact on profits for multinational corporations. After the coup, Aristide was asked in an interview with Naomi Klein what was really behind the severed relationship with Washington. He gave three explanations: “privatization, privatization, and privatization”.
Skerrett says the situation in Haiti, like those in Ukraine and Greece, are about imposing an economic order based on austerity that ends up benefitting the “proverbial one percent”. When a country’s government tries to resist austerity policies dictated by a small number of institutions, he said, “they can be overthrown, they can be pressured, they can be threatened and bullied”.
Canada will spend almost $55 million per day on the military during this fiscal year in the name of national security, but Behrens believes that investing in infrastructure and social programs is the real key to security. “We live in a militaristic society and, if we want to develop a more caring and compassionate economy, we have to get rid of militarism,” said Behrens.