CONVERSION

What it is: Changing the armed forces and arms industry to peaceful use.

What it means: War has been part of life for a long time, and so have the preparations for it: training professional armies, inventing and manufacturing weapons and equipment, building armed transporters, and devising new techniques for making war. If war is to be abolished, preparations must be made for peace. So what should become of the trained soldiers, the weapons, the whole arms industry? People have already begun to work out how demobilised armies can be given civilian employment, how arms factories can be adapted to make useful non-military products, and how weapons and equipment can be dismantled or converted most efficiently and usefully. (For example, the American Center of Economic Conversion was founded in 1975 to work on ways 'to reinvest resources to meet human needs and preserve and restore the environment'. The European Union, too, has set up a fund to help organisations who are converting.)  People working on conversion have been able to learn from the past. What has happened to returning armies when wars are over? How have agreements to cut down armaments been successfully carried out? What has happened to arms manufacturers, and their staff, whose products have fallen out of use? How can scientists working on weapons be redirected to work on socially useful research? How can military budgets be quickly reallocated? There are organisations working on these and many other questions, and conversion has been tried out already in some places. For example, it has been reported that in the mid-1990s the military factories in Siberia, redundant after the Cold War crisis ended, had already managed to convert so that they were producing 85% of Siberia's consumer goods. The UK Ministry of Defence has itself confirmed that if people lost jobs in the arms business because of cuts in arms exports, not only could money be invested in new civilian jobs, there would be enough to create additional non-military jobs and help reduce unemployment. (see also arms trade)

Think about it: The world hasn't turned pacifist yet. A lot of conversion has been happening because of changes in the arms industry and ways of making war. But at least it shows that conversion can be done. In any case, is it right that citizens should be employed in manufacturing and assembling parts for weapons and other equipment used for killing citizens somewhere else? Couldn't their technical skills be more humanely used (in, say, the health service)? Some armaments workers have been asked what they think about it. Some have said, 'I don't think about what we're manufacturing: it's having a job that matters.' Others have said, 'Someone's got to do it'. How might arguments for conversion be put to them?