Peace Brigades International co-founder Hans Sinn on disarmament and the social good

Published by Brent Patterson on

On September 4, 1981, Hans Sinn co-founded the global human rights organization Peace Brigades International.

Sinn was born in Hamburg, Germany and his early lifetime experiences, including being draft in the final months of World War II as a 16-year-old child soldier, were formative in him becoming a life-long peace activist.

Now, at 90 years of age, Sinn is focused on the issue of transarmament: the disarmament of Germany and the reallocation of that spending to the social good, including a civilian peace service, a global childcare program, and support services for child soldiers.

Sinn worked on this issue in the 1980s with Gert Bastian, a former NATO general who became a peace activist, and Petra Kelly, a founder of the German Green Party.

They had hoped that a reunified Germany would also be a disarmed Germany. That didn’t come to fruition in 1990 when East and West Germany were reunited. Then Bastian and Kelly died under tragic circumstances in 1992.

Almost thirty years later, Sinn still holds the dream of German disarmament.

Sinn points out that the Bundeswehr, the armed forces of Germany, has a massive budget.

In May 2019, The Telegraph reported, “[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel’s government announced a defence budget of €47.32bn for this year, an increase of ten per cent compared to 2018. It also promised a further increase to €49.67bn next year.”

€49.67bn is about $72.49 billion in Canadian dollars.

Sinn also points to this February 2018 interview with Erich Vad, a former General of the Bundeswehr, who says, “The military, however, is seen more as a necessary evil. What is the great narrative of the Bundeswehr, what are the armed forces for?”

There are reports of equipment shortages, that only four of the country’s 128 Eurofighters are said to be operational, that all six of its submarines are out of commission, and a warning that the country can’t meet its NATO commitments.

As such Vad concludes, “Armed forces are not worth the money if they are not ready for action. And before we keep an unintentional, regularly taunted and out-of-the-box troop alive at 37 billion euros, we’d better abolish it.”

Sinn also highlights that Noam Chomsky’s view that, “There are two huge dangers the human species faces. We’re now in a situation where we now have to decide if the species survives in any decent form.”

Chomsky identifies those two dangers as climate change and nuclear weapons/militarism, which are understood as interrelated.

In December 2015, The Guardian reported, “The Iraq war was responsible for 141m tonnes of carbon releases in its first four years, according to an Oil Change International report. On an annual basis, this was more than the emissions from 139 countries in this period, or about the same as putting an extra 25m cars on to US roads for a year.”

That article then highlights, “The paper found that projected US spending on the Iraq war could cover all global investments in renewable energy needed to halt global warming trends in the period to 2030.”

And as the Transnational Institute has stated, “The responsibility of the military for the climate crisis goes much further than their own use of fossil fuels.”

It notes, “Today whether it is in the Middle East, the Gulf, or the Pacific, modern-day military deployment is about controlling oil-rich regions and defending the key shipping supply routes that carry half the world’s oil and sustain our consumer economy.”

TNI concludes, “The military is not just a prolific user of oil, it is one of the central pillars of the global fossil-fuel economy.”

Sinn remains committed to a different path for humanity.

A path he hopes could start with the disarmament of Germany and the reallocation of its anticipated $72.49 billion annual budget on the social good. He notes that the steps to do this are outlined in Bastian’s 1983 book Frieden schaffen! : Gedanken zur Sicherheitspolitik (Make peace! Thoughts on security policy).

Almost 40 years after the forward-looking Sinn co-founded Peace Brigades International on Grindstone Island just south of Ottawa, he sees the history of PBI as deeply rooted in the peace movement and is charting a new path guided by his life experiences. A path that is both compelling and increasingly necessary.

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