As members of the Church of the Brethren, it is easy to forget that there are worldviews other than “peacefully, simply, together.” In our communities of faith, we are much more likely to have discussions about how we can make peace or build relationships with global competitors than we are to have discussions about how to gain coercive economic power over our international peers. As it says in the statement Justice and Nonviolence, “persons who aim to maximize their wealth and power rather than serve human needs deny the sacredness of life.” This lens is not universal, however- something that is made abundantly clear when looking at the United States’ approach to national security in recent years.
The National Security Strategy released earlier this year by the Trump administration lists “Promote American Prosperity” among it’s three main pillars, arguing that “a strong economy protects the American people, supports our way of life, and sustains American power… A growing and innovative economy allows the United States to maintain the world’s most powerful military and protect our homeland.” This view is driven home by presidential advisor Peter Navarro in a New York Times op-ed, where he highlights the administration’s belief that “economic security is national security.”
This focus on American prosperity in relation to national security has begun to impact the global community, as U.S. arms sale policies are adjusted for the express purpose of benefiting the U.S. economically. This economic focus comes at a cost- a decrease in focus on the impacts of U.S. weapons sales on peace efforts, humanitarian situations and human rights.
- In September, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo re-certified support for Saudi Arabia’s military activities in Yemen despite grave human rights and humanitarian concerns, because to do otherwise would be to endanger $2 billion of arms sales to the region. This comes in the midst of thousands of civilian deaths caused by the U.S.-backed Saudi coalition- including a bus full of Yemeni schoolchildren that was hit by a bomb made by U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin.
- The gun manufacturing industry has pushed for rule changes that would loosen oversight of foreign military sales. The proposed change would move the foreign sale of certain semi-automatic weapons under the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce rather than the State Department. This move would make it easier to sell these weapons abroad, and more difficult for human rights actors to track where guns are going and how they are used.
It is ethically problematic to suggest that the economic interests of the American people outweigh the human rights of people impacted by U.S. arms sales. In its statement entitled Call to Peacemaking, the Church called for policies that “convert our national priorities to peaceful and life affirming production.” In its Justice and Nonviolence statement, the church called for the United States to “cease immediately its sales of arms to other countries.”
So what can we do to push back on this economic focus?
We can support legislation that will counteract the proposed rule changes- especially bills like H.R. 4765, which would counteract the shift of semiautomatic weapons to the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce. Let your Representative know that the bill has been introduced, and ask them to add themselves as a co-sponsor.
We can learn from and support coalitions and organizations working to make the arms trade more transparent, and those working to put pressure on defense contractors. Check out organizations like the Forum on the Arms Trade, the Stimson Center, the Divest from the War Machine campaign, and the Security Assistance Monitor to learn more about this issue.
We can recognize the legitimate concerns that those employed in defense-related industries have for their livelihoods. We must restructure the economy in a way that allows for a just transition for these people into jobs that contribute to the well-being of humanity rather than to war.
Most importantly, we must continue view the world through the lens of the Brethren values that have been reiterated time and time again through our discussions and statements at Annual Conferences. This includes self-sacrificing perspectives on the relationship between economic gain, national security and global power, a commitment to non-violent solutions to conflict, and the desire for all of humanity to live with peace and justice.