Nobel Intent, September 20, 2006
War, described as “the total failure of the human spirit,” is not a pretty business. Now, more so than at any previous time in history, the impact of warfare is examined and analyzed by the public with an expectation that it should minimize the destruction caused. The days of carpet bombing cities, when only about three percent of bombs would hit their intended targets have given way to more accurate systems involving GPS guidance, and the modern military have done their part to foster this impression, using euphemisms like collateral damage to suggest that warfare can be conducted alongside a civilian population with relatively minor inconveniences.
Of course, this isn’t really the case. High explosive is still high explosive, and shrapnel does not discriminate. And the aftermath of warfare is no less kind. From beaches and fields littered with unmarked land mines and battlefields strewn with unexploded cluster munitions to the environmental impact of chemicals such as Agent Orange, depleted uranium and other toxic heavy metals, the survivors and inhabitants of war zones have much to worry about.
Now, BAE Systems, the UK’s largest arms manufacturer, has announced plans to help ameliorate this problem , by developing environmentally friendly weapons. The suggestions include bullets with a lower lead content, more environmentally friendly rocket fuels, reducing carbon emissions from fighting vehicles and using sustainable resources for artillery. According to BAE’s director of corporate reponsibility, Dr Debbie Allen:
“Weapons are going to be used and when they are, we try to make them as safe for the user as possible, to limit the collateral damage and to impact as little as possible on the environment,”
Not everyone is as convinced:
“This is laughable,” said Symon Hill of Campaign Against Arms Trade. “BAE is determined to try to make itself look ethical, but they make weapons to kill people and it’s utterly ridiculous to suggest they are environmentally friendly.”
For those of us out there who realise that warfare, however abhorrent, is a fact of human life, these moves have to be viewed in some positive light. BAE Systems isn’t going to stop making weapons anytime soon, and given that, then any steps they can take to minimise the environmental impact of those weapons must surely be a step in the right direction. There is, however, a certain absurd humor in statements such as “lead used in ammunition can harm the environment and pose a risk to people”.