As world trade globalizes, so does the trade in arms
Control Arms16 is a campaign jointly run by Amnesty International, International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and Oxfam. In a detailed report titled, Shattered Lives17, they highlight that arms are fueling poverty and suffering, and is also out of control. In addition,
The top five countries profiting from the arms trade are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China.
In order to make up for a lack of sales from domestic and traditional markets for military equipment, newer markets22 are being created or sought after. This is vital for the arms corporations and contractors in order to stay afloat.
Respect for human rights is often overlooked as arms are sold to known human rights violators.
Heavy militarization of a region increases the risk of oppression on local people. Consequently reactions and uprisings from those oppressed may also be violent. The Middle East is a current example, while Latin America is an example from previous decades, where in both cases, democracies or popular regimes have (or had) been overthrown with foreign assistance, and replaced with corrupt dictators or monarchs. Oppression (often violent) and authoritarianism rule has resulted. Sometimes this also itself results in terrorist reactions23 that lash out at other innocent people.
A deeper cycle of violence results. The arms trade may not always be a root cause, because there are often various geopolitical interests24 etc. However, the sale of arms can be a significant contributor to problems because of the enormous impact of the weapons involved. Furthermore, some oppressive regimes are only too willing purchase more arms under the pretext of their own war against terrorism.
In quoting a major international body, six basic points harshly criticizing the practices and impacts of the arms industry are listed below, by J.W. Smith:
But, this was not of the arms industry of today. Smith was quoting the League of Nations after World War I, when Stung by the horrors of World War I, world leaders realized that arms merchants had a hand in creating both the climate of fear and the resulting disaster itself.. And unfortunately, it also summarizes some of the problems of today, too. Justification for arms and creating the market for arms expenditure is not a new concept. The call to war and fear-mongering is an old tradition.
Hidden Corporate Welfare?
Vast government subsidies27 are sought after in the pursuit of arms trading.
US and European corporations receive enormous tax breaks28 and even lend money to other countries to purchase weapons from them. Therefore tax payers from these countries end up often unknowingly subsidizing arms sales.
While there are countless examples, a recent one that made a few news headlines was how
Lockheed managed to get US subsidies to help sell a lot of fighter planes to Poland
29 at the end of 2002/beginning of 2003. This was described as the biggest deal ever in Europe at that time.
Arms Trade Post September 11, 2001
To counter the horrific act of terrorism in the United States, on September 11, 2001, George Bush has started a War on Terrorism. However, Human Rights Watch has argued30 that in the pursuit of military policies which include selling arms or providing assistance to other countries, the U.S. has expressed minimal concern about the potential side effects. That is, the increase in militarism itself is risking both the restriction of people’s rights, and the entrenching of power of those who violate human rights.
In addition, the Federation of American Scientists also raise the issue that U.S. military aid has been justified around the world on the grounds of the war on terror, even though that has at times been a dubious reason. In addition, previous restrictions or conditions for military aid are being jettisoned:
Furthermore, Lip Magazine highlights33 that the U.S. has sold weapons or training to almost 90% of the countries it has identified as harboring terrorists.
As mentioned above, the War on Terror has seen the U.S. selling weapons or training to almost 90% of the countries it has identified as harboring terrorists. Yet, for decades, a lot of the arms that the West has sold has gone into the hands of military dictatorships or corrupt governments. This can have the additional intention or effect of hampering any form of democracy35 in those countries.
Sometimes, these arms sales are made secretly36 and sometimes, arms are sold to human rights violators37 (such as one third of all sales by the US, in 1998, as the previous link notes).
According to a report38, from the Council for a Livable World’s Arms Trade Oversight Project, [s]ince the end of the Cold War, the United States has been the world’s largest arms dealer … Consequently, governments with some of the worst human rights records [have] received American weapons and training.
In November 2001, The Center for Defense Information, a military watch-dog in Washington D.C., provided a detailed list of the 18 countries and 28 terrorist groups cited by the U.S. State Department as hotbeds of terrorist activity39. Included in the list is a chronology of U.S. arms sales and training from 1990-1999 and information on use of child soldiers by governments and non-state actors in each country. The U.S. supplied arms to a number of these nations:
With the arms trade, governments and corporations can cooperate to meet their different political and economic agendas. The military industrial complexes of the powerful countries also help influence and shape foreign and military policies44 in a way that enhances their bottom line of profits. For governments though, selling arms can help other geopolitical and strategic interests. Consider, for example, the following:
A number of years ago, the United States had agreed to sell45 80 advanced F16s to the United Arab Emirates. The deal was estimated to be around $15 billion. In return, the US was to be able to build military bases there with improved access to the only deep-water port capable of housing carriers in the Persian Gulf. This led to concerns about the resulting stability46 in the region and the possibility of an arms race this could start with neighbors. It is of course hard to know if subsequent arms purchases in the region has been precisely because of this.
Many US weapons are also sold to Turkey. These have been used against the Kurds, in what some have described as the worst human rights violations47 and ethnic cleansing since the second World War. The US turns a blind eye to these atrocities because they are able to set up bases in such a key geopolitical location, giving access to places in the Middle East, and because Turkey could be one of the main receivers of oil headed to Western countries, from the Caspian sea.
There are also many arms trade-related interests in the Middle East. By having pro-US monarchies and other regimes (not necessarily democracies) at the helm and promoting policies that often ignore democracy48 and human rights, arms deals are often lucrative and help continue US foreign policy objectives.
Furthermore, the Middle East is the most militarized region in the world procuring more arms than anywhere else51. When combining authoritarian regimes and dictatorships, with arms sellers willing to sell weapons to those regimes, the people of the regions are often repressed, and this is a partial (not the only) explanation for why there is so much fanaticism and extremism. (That is, severe and extreme measures in governance and religion, etc has resulted in counter reactions that are also extremist. The majority of ordinary people that want neither of these extremities are the ones that pay the real price.)
As mentioned later in this web site’s section on arms trade, selling advanced weapons is often accompanied by the same sellers and the military industrial complex pointing out how the new world is getting more dangerous due to an increase in the sophistication of weapons. As a result, they inevitably recommend more research and development to stay ahead! This is a nice circular argument that also serves to keep the military industry in business, largely paid for by the tax payers. The Council for a Livable World’s Arms Trade project shows an example of this, in an article, where the title alone summarizes this situation quite well: U.S. in arms race with itself54. The article describes how the U.S. Pentagon allows the U.S. Navy to export its newest jets. As a result, they note that:
As another example, consider India. Since September 11, 2001, there has been even more volatility in terms of Muslim/Hindu relations, India/Pakistan/Kashmir tensions and other issues. As a result, India is seeking to increase their military spending, while arms dealers are only too willing to help both India and Pakistan. Furthermore, government officials from major arms dealing nations are major actors in attempting to see deals through, as there are obvious political dimensions.
The Financial Times in UK reported (February 27, 200256), that While the international community calls for restraint on the Indo-Pakistan border, governments led by the UK and the US are jockeying as never before for a bigger slice of India’s growing arms budget. Further, they also reported that, Industry officials were unabashed in admitting that the current regional tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors is a unique selling opportunity. (Emphasis Added).
One could point out that as a business an arms company’s main objective is to make profit so they can remain in business. However, for governments that host these arms industries, it would seem that security issues would be an important part of their foreign policy objective.
In that context then, when even very senior government officials are taking part in procuring contracts, it suggests that while this helps achieve economic objectives of arms firms, it doesn’t really address the issue of achieving political stability or not, or even if it is really a major concern as touted. For sure, it is no easy task for such governments because there can be powerful domestic interests and issues and concerns from related industry and other groups, who can argue that continuing to sell arms will help maintain or even create jobs, etc. (This is discussed in more detail a bit later in this section on propaganda for arms trade).
For example, in reference to India holding so-called talks with various governments on easing India-Pakistan tensions (while pitching for defense contracts), the same Financial Times report also points out that Jack Straw, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, is also expected to use the opportunity to lobby for a Pounds 1bn (Euros 1.6bn, Dollars 1.43bn) deal to sell BAE Systems Hawk jets to India. An official of no less stature than Foreign Secretary (somewhat similar to U.S. Secretary of State) is involved in marketing for a weapons company.
But it can go even higher than that. Yahoo world news quoted (February 22, 200257), Praful Bidwai, an Indian journalist and commentator who specializes on defense issues who commented on British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, It’s disgraceful that Blair should have spent more than half his time in India [during his last visit] urging India to buy the jets. (The sale of jets Bidwai is referring to is 66 British-made hawk jets, at a cost equivalent to US$1.4 billion.)
While public relations departments of such governments can say that their leaders are going on humanitarian or peace missions to urge some nations not to go to war, they are also selling arms at the same time, often to both parties. Geopolitically, this is divide and conquer still at work, while economically, this proves beneficial to the armament firms. Corrupt leaders of recipient governments are only too happy to take part as well.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated occurrence (nor is it usually even reported as sensational or questionable), as for a long time, public officials and leaders have been involved in such issues.
As an example of how long this has been going on, consider J.W. Smith’s research:
And, as J.W. Smith adds,
A cycle of violence is a real concern. Though the arms trade may not always be a root cause, their impacts are of course significant. Some countries resort to oppression as the way to address problems, and are only too willing to accept new arms. But the arms industry is also willing to help, while some governments may often encourage such regimes to purchase weapons from them, rather than from competing nations.
The UN has long called for a creative partnership65 with the arms industry saying that such an arrangement would help promote greater transparency, help curb illicit arms trafficking and ensure legitimate use of the purchased weapons. In some respects, this is would be a welcome step forward (as assuming a transition to a real world peace without arms and weapons etc seems highly unlikely, even though it is probably desired by most people.) The U.N. as well as various public groups are in essence pressuring governments of major arms producing and selling countries, to be more responsible and accountable for who arms are sold to and for what purpose.
However, it could be argued that it is under under such rhetoric, combined with the powerful lobbying of the military industries that governments can intentionally or unintentionally end up aiding military industrial complexes more than other governments. As a result, many are concerned that seeking peace via war is a questionable foreign policy to say the least. Indeed, military expenditure in major countries seem to be rapidly increasing, as we turn to next.