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MLK Day: Dismantling MLK’s Triple Evils – Let’s Transform Defence for Sustainable Human Safety

Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church – then and now.

As the confederate flag was held aloft by white supremacist Trump supporters inside the smashed up heart of USA democracy, it’s clear that America is not turning the corner away from Trumpism. Rather, it seems even darker times are ahead as Biden takes office and the battle between progress and regression takes a terrible new turn for American society.

In all this chaos was the bittersweet win for both the democratic candidates in the Georgia State elections – bittersweet because their win was both the final straw for Trump and those intent on ‘insurrection’ and also a crystal clear rejection of racism as Jon Ossoff, Jewish, and Raphael Warnock, African American, became Georgia’s new senators-in-waiting.

And it was all the more poignant a win since Raphael Warnock is the pastor of Martin Luther King’s church – the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, a church with a longstanding history of fighting racial and social justice struggles and the church where Dr. King’s funeral service was held.

Since 2005, the Reverend Warnock has served as the Senior Pastor of the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, spiritual home of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The son of two Pentecostal pastors, Dr. Warnock responded to the call of ministry at a very early age, and at age 35, became the fifth and the youngest person ever called to the senior pastorate of Ebenezer Baptist Church, founded in 1886. 

As we watch the USA implode with racism at the heart of this conflagration; as millions die from a preventable disease; as the world faces another economic crisis post the pandemic, global military spending reaches its highest ever annual sum – $1.9trillion. All this combined with the ever-increasing militarisation of police forces, MLK’s 1960s analysis is as relevant now as ever.

 ‘The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.

The fact is that MLK’s ‘triple evils’ – poverty, racism and militarism – remain an interconnected ‘nexus’ that civil society has yet to fully address. What Dr.King says below of the USA in 1967 could apply to most nations on earth and most certainly the top 20 military spenders who in 2019 accounted for 85% of $1.9 trillion annual military total spend.

“The American people must have an opportunity to vote into oblivion those who cannot detach themselves from militarism, and those that lead us. So we are here because we believe, we hope, we pray that something new might emerge in the political life of this nation which will produce a new man, new structures and new institutions and a new life for mankind. I am convinced that this new life will not emerge until our nation undergoes a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people the giant triplets of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A civilization can flounder as readily in the face of moral bankruptcy as it can through financial bankruptcy… A nation that continues year after year, to spend more money on military defense then on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. So what we must all see is that these are revolutionary times…Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism…”     

Martin Luther King, National Conference for a New Politics, 1967

Martin Luther King understood that foreign policy and military budgets are every bit implicated in the struggle for a transformed society as economic and social considerations. The utter disgrace of an ever-inflated Vietnam war budget while tens of millions of black and white Americans lived in extreme poverty, was more than King could stand. To those in the civil rights movement who urged him not to get involved with the anti-war movement (a largely white-led movement) his answer was that he had spent his life fighting segregation – he was not now going to segregate his mind by artificially separating one justice idea from another when in reality, they were linked.

This made him enemies on all sides – most especially the USA media. He went from being the civil rights hero of 1963 to a pariah in 1967, after his ‘Beyond Vietnam’ speech, where he called out the failure of US foreign and domestic policy.

But who stands the test of time? MLK.

Dismantling  MLK’s triple evils – Transform Defence for Sustainable Human Safety

One way to start to dismantle MLK’s triple evils is to call time on out of date foreign policymaking that leads to massively wasteful defence budgets that not only fail to defend but also divert billions away from social protection.

Transform Defence for Sustainable Human Safety describes a paradigm shift we need for all defence, security​, foreign and international development​ policies​ in a climate changed, post-pandemic world. Transform Defence challenges NGOs and policy-makers alike to undertake a practical, imaginative, brave discussion about redefining and re-making foreign and defence policy such that it is truly fit-for-purpose, understanding its role in climate change, pandemic, economic, racial and gender injustice and why all these issues must be part of any system change process.

Address the real threats and resource them fully: climate, pandemic, instability, poverty

Tipping Point North South’s Transform Defence for Sustainable Human Safety initiative launched in December with the publication of two reports detailing the staggering cost of military spending to people and the planet.

The first reportIndefensible: The true cost of the global military to our climate and human security assesses the impact of the global military on climate change, human security and development. It shows that if the world’s militaries were combined together as a single country, they would be the 29th biggest oil consumer in the world, just ahead of Belgium or South Africa. To put it another way, this is half the oil consumption of the world’s 5th biggest economy, the UK. A carbon-neutral world demands we fully decarbonise our militaries.

“[This report] is an important addition to the growing evidence on the significant role of military emissions in causing climate change. Using a novel methodology, it widens the analysis to all the world’s militaries… it connects the dots between military fuel use, military spending, war, and the burden of climate change on development… it [also] offers important solutions. It is essential reading for all those concerned with climate change and the path to a sustainable and secure future.”

Neta C. Crawford, Professor and Chair of Political Science Boston University and Co-Director of the Costs of War Project

The second reportGlobal military spending, sustainable human safety and value for money makes the case for modernising defence and security thinking and spending in order to effectively deal with the biggest threats to our collective safety: climate change and pandemic; instability and poverty.

A case in point: the F35 vs everything else

Global military spending, sustainable human safety and value for money report uses the F35 fighter jet as a case study to illustrate this imbalance. Had the US$2 trillion estimated global total lifetime cost of F-35 programme been applied to the activities/areas/agencies below this is what the global community would be receiving instead:

  • Climate finance for 20 years
  • UN disaster response for the next 400 years
  • UN disaster risk reduction for the next 4,000 years
  • Global biodiversity conservation at US$100bn per annum for the next 20 years
  • WHO at US$2bn per annum for the next 1,000 years
  • WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for 2,963 years
  • Global pandemic surveillance and control at US$8bn per annum for the next 250 years
  • Funding for 4 years to lift the poorest people in the world above extreme poverty (UBI for the 700 million poorest)
  • UN peacekeeping operations at current US$5bn per annum for the next 444 years
  • UN peacekeeping at US$15bn per annum for the next 133 years

MLK connected the dots – race, poverty & war machine. He was assassinated for this. We must re-connect these dots.

It’s important to remember that Dr. King was murdered not just for his civil rights work but for expanding the reach of his work – he led on drawing all races coming together for the Poor People’s Campaign (1968); he had formed his Economic Bill of Rights; he was looking at forming a new political movement; and he was damning of US war and foreign policy, instead backing the new independence movements of the global south.

This was posing an ever greater threat to the political, economic, policing and foreign policy establishments.

Finally, on this MLK Day, we explore in this essay the damage done by the longstanding, deliberate media and political sidelining of MLK’s radical activism and how this led to the masking of the full facts of his murder. 

Deborah Burton & Dionne Gravesande

TPNS / Transform Defence