After the Second World War, the normal cycle of war preparation followed by disarmament was broken as the two post-war superpowers committed themselves to a new cold war arms race. Many private companies that had converted their operations to supply the world war now found it more lucrative to sidestep the return to civilian production and begin supplying the escalating demands of the cold war. Some 75 years later, the private interests thriving on continuous war preparation are still thwarting progress towards a less militarized world.
While most high-level considerations of military requirements and disarmament focus mainly on demand-side considerations of national security, the supply-siders – that is, those profiting from escalating arms expenditures – can have a decisive impact on the world’s military posture. Most obviously, sowing the world with exported weapons increases the chances of armed conflict.
During the 1980s, the biblical injunction to turn swords into ploughshares became part of an international movement. The prospect of a nuclear nightmare galvanized mass resistance, particularly in Western Europe and the United States of America. That resistance came to focus on the first-step goal of a “nuclear freeze” – that is, a mutually-agreed pause by the two superpowers in the stockpiling of nuclear weapons. The best strategists of that movement realized that the case for nuclear disarmament would need to include a strategy for reorienting the economies that had come to depend on the nuclear build-up.