The Costa Rica Lesson

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Above Photo: Flickr/ Kevin Dooley

I recently returned from a holiday in Costa Rica, a country I’d wanted to visit for some years. I bought two T-shirts there. One has an image of an automatic rifle with a flower sticking out its barrel and the words “NO ARMY” written across it in the colour of blood. The other T-shirt has an image of an artillery piece, with the words “No army since 1948” on it.

Just after Costa Rica had its revolution in 1948, one of the first things its new visionary leader Jose Figueres Ferrer did was scrap its army. Contrary to what one might think, this immediately increased Costa Rica’s security, rather than weakening it, and it’s the only country in an otherwise war-torn part of the world to have had sustained peace and prosperity ever since.

Ferrer’s action suggests that he realised that, counterintuitively, armies are more of a threat to freedom and national security than providers of it. Costa Rica has a lightly armed police force which is quite enough for its security needs. Scrapping their army has allowed Costa Rica to spend billions of dollars providing standards of health, education and pensions for all its citizens that are unknown in that part of the world. It provides almost carbon-neutral energy supplies, and protects and preserves huge swathes of its natural environment from the wanton destruction of property developers. Much of this is paid for with the money it doesn’t spend on keeping an army. Switzerland also has no standing army, yet has remained secure for almost two hundred years – even when completely surrounded by war, twice.

The world doesn’t need armies – especially today. They’re a curse, not a blessing. The primary use of armies has always been to loot and plunder others – and it’s still their primary use today. It can be argued that through most of our history armies have sometimes provided security. But in 1948 the continued need for armies was dispensed with by the creation of the United Nations. The UN scrapped the need for armies by creating an international law instead, a law that states that it’s illegal for any country to be the first to attack another. Costa Rica immediately recognised the significance of that and scrapped its army. The fact that the UN has been singularly unsuccessful in policing this law is not the fault of the UN. It’s the fault of the biggest military machine on the planet which simply refuses to obey or support the law whenever it wants to ignore it. Why? Because war is big business. It makes lots and lots of money for super-rich Americans – no matter the cost in human suffering and environmental catastrophe.

Like Costa Rica, Britain hasn’t needed an army since 1948. Imagine the good that could have been done if the trillions of pounds that have been wasted since then on our armed forces and their affiliates (such as pointless spying organisations) had been used instead on health services and education, public housing and transport, renewable green energy systems. Instead of being seen as the allies of international war criminals we could instead have been true champions and ambassadors of global peace – as Costa Rica is. All we have to do is insist our government and others, such as the US government, obey the law. It’s not too much to ask.

  • rgaura

    Armies are a stupid waste of money, yes. Looking a little bit deeper, though, both Switzerland and Costa Rica owe much of their prosperity to being major money laundering sites. This is often money from drug and arms dealing, human trafficking, and outright theft. As much warmongering has to do with illicit profits, money laundering countries (including the US) are in the loop of violence and destruction. A tangled web indeed.

  • mwildfire

    “All we have to do is insist that our government and others, such as the US government, obey the law.” Really? Damn, we should have thought of that! If only the peace movements of every country throughout the past century had thought of insisting that governments obey the law, we could have ended war!

  • Deborah Andrew

    When I think of not only the monetary expense of funding the US military, but the number of veterans (we are at war around the world as I write) who commit suicide, the intrusion of our military bases in foreign countries, the good that could come of a redirection of the budget to single payer health care, free college education, repair of infrastructure, retrofitting of all state/federal/ government buildings, libraries to reduce energy use, planting of trees, making of green spaces, supporting the arts, re-envisioning our public education and modeling it on the Danish model … so many possibilities … constructive rather than destructive … no military has great appeal for me.

  • chetdude

    Looking even more deeply, it’s the USAmerican phony “war on drugs” that provides most of the cause of those profits that need laundering…

    I’m not too sure that a “much” of the prosperity and Peace in Costa Rica and Switzerland are due to being “major money laundering” sites.

    I suspect much more of their Peace and prosperity has to do with sharing what wealth they have much more equally than USAmerica does (ever will?)…AND no army…

  • rgaura

    Yes, I think The US of A is number one in arms sales and money laundering.

  • alwaysright21