The arms trade is a major cause of human rights abuses. Some governments spend more on military expenditure than on social development, communications infrastructure and health combined. While every nation has the right and the need to ensure its security, in these changing times, arms requirements and procurement processes may need to change too.
World military spending had reduced since the Cold War ended, but a few nations such as the US retain high level spending.
In recent years, global military expenditure has increased again and is now comparable to Cold War levels. Recent data shows global spending at over $1.7 trillion. 2012 saw the first dip in spending — only slightly —since 1998, in an otherwise rising trend.
The highest military spender is the US accounting for almost two-fifths of the world’s spending, more than the rest of the G7 (most economically advanced countries) combined, and more than all its potential enemies, combined.
A US military training school, the School of the Americas, has trained many of the worst human rights violators and dictators in various Latin American countries.
Some of the worst dictators and human rights abusers in the developing world have passed through the school's doors, including people like Roberto D’Aubisson from El Salvador and Manuel Noriega of Panama.
The US Army maintain that the school was set up to preserve democracy.
The arms trade is one of the most corrupt trades in the world, fueling conflict and poverty. Since the early 1990s there has been efforts to review and develop arms-transfer principles and codes of conduct to ensure that arms are not sold to human rights violators. The US, EU and others have developed some codes, but they are fraught with problems, loopholes, lack of transparency and are open to corruption. There is a proposed international arms trade treaty to overcome these limitations. However, for various political and profit reasons, some nations seem unwilling to agree to a code of conduct. Proposals are growing stronger for an arms trade treaty. Will that suffer the same problem?
Throughout the 1990s, a coalition of numerous non-governmental organizations, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), campaigned successfully to prohibit the use of landmines.
This helped to create the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, also known as the Ottawa Treaty. (It also won the ICBL the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.) This treaty came into force in 1999.
Although landmine use in the past decade has been significantly reduced, problems such as clearance and rehabilitation remain. Furthermore, some key countries continue to use landmines, or support the need for them, despite the problems they often cause for civilians long after conflicts have ended.
Iran has had a turbulent history in just its recent past. From a democracy in the 1950s, Iran seems to have moved backwards, from an authoritarian regime (backed by Britain and the US) that overthrew the democratic one, to a religious fundamentalist regime toppling the authoritarian one and taking an anti-US stance.
The US ended its support for Iran and instead supported Iraq in a brutal war through the 1980s against Iran where over 1 million people died. More recently, Iran was described as being part of an “axis of evil” by US President George Bush, as part of his “war on terror.”
The US has also accused Iran of pursuing the development of nuclear weapons, while Iran says it is only pursuing peaceful development. Internally, movements towards moderate policies and democratic values are gaining traction, but not with hardliners in power trying to hold on. This section looks into these and related issues.
The US is planning to develop weapons for and ensure military dominance in space. This goes counter to the United Nations Outer Space Treaty that provides the legal framework for the use of space for peaceful purposes. A risk of an arms race increases when combined with the missile defense plans.
The US is also risking abrogation of the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty by continuing with its Star Wars, or national missile defense system. However, critics point out that the program is very expensive (largely paid for by the public), that the technologies are risky, that the threat rationale isn't very strong and that this will affect international relations, and could lead to an arms race.
There have been over 9 million refugees and internally displaced people from conflicts in Africa. Hundreds and thousands of people have been slaughtered from a number of conflicts and civil wars. If this scale of destruction and fighting was in Europe, then people would be calling it World War III with the entire world rushing to report, provide aid, mediate and otherwise try to diffuse the situation. This article explores why Africa has been largely ignored and what some of the root causes of the problems are.
Democracy is a valued principle, so much so that some people have sacrificed their lives to fight for it. While no system is perfect, it seems that democracy is once again under assault. What are the challenges posed in a democratic system and are established safeguards helping to strengthen democracy or are their forces successfully weakening it?
At the start of June 2013, a large number of documents detailing surveillance by intelligence agencies such as the US’s NSA and UK’s GCHQ started to be revealed, based on information supplied by NSA whistle blower, Edward Snowden.
These leaks revealed a massive surveillance program that included interception of email and other Internet communications and phone call tapping. Some of it appears illegal, while other revelations show the US spying on friendly nations during various international summits.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of furor. While some countries are no doubt using this to win some diplomatic points, there has been an increase in tension with the US and other regions around the world.
Much of the US surveillance programs came from the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the US in 2001. Concerns about a crackdown on civil rights in the wake of the so-called war on terror have been expressed for a long time, and these revelations seem to be confirming some of those fears.
Given the widespread collection of information, apparently from central servers of major Internet companies and from other core servers that form part of the Internet backbone, activities of millions (if not billions) of citizens have been caught up in a dragnet style surveillance problem called PRISM, even when the communication has nothing to do with terrorism.
What impacts would such secretive mass surveillance have on democracy?
Energy security is a growing concern for rich and emerging nations alike. The past drive for fossil fuel energy has led to wars, overthrow of democratically elected leaders, and puppet governments and dictatorships.
Leading nations admit we are addicted to oil, but investment into alternatives has been lacking, or little in comparison to fossil fuel investments.
As the global financial crisis takes hold and awareness of climate change increases, more nations and companies are trying to invest in alternatives. But will the geopolitics remain the same?
The global illicit drugs market is enormous, estimated at some $320 billion. This makes it one of the largest businesses in the world. Some believe in strong prohibition enforcement. Others argue for decriminalization to minimize the crime and health effects associated with the market being controlled by criminals. Are there merits to each approach?
There has been considerable (and a mostly successful) effort to set up an International Criminal Court (ICC). The purpose is to have a body that can prosecute serious crimes against humanity no matter who committed them and to try people for gross violations of human rights, such as those committed during military conflicts. Why have some nations, such as the United States, feared a loss of sovereignty even when that would not happen, and thus sought to undermine the ICC?
With kind permission from J.W. Smith and the Institute for Economic Democracy, part of chapter 14 from the book, The World’s Wasted Wealth II, (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994) has been reproduced here. It looks back at the last 1300 years of struggle over control of resources in the Middle East to give some context to various events in recent history.
A wave of protests has erupted throughout the Middle East and North Africa. A combination of the global financial crisis, rising costs of living, high unemployment — especially of educated youth, frustration from decades of living under authoritarian and corrupt regimes, various document leaks revealing more details about how governments around the world are dealing and viewing each other, have all combined in different ways in various countries, leading to a wave of rising anger.
Some protests have become revolutions as governments such as those in Tunisia and Egypt have been overthrown. Others have not got that far but have sometimes been peaceful, other times met with very brutal repression.
Is this a wave of democracy that cannot be stopped, and will forever change the region, and the global power politics?
After the Second World War, with former Imperial Europe weakened, countries around the world had a chance to break for their freedom away from colonial rule. This struggle for freedom and the Cold War had a geopolitical impact on the Middle East. Control of resources and access to oil became paramount, to the extent that dictators and human rights abusers were supported. Within this backdrop, we see another complex reason for the rise of terrorism and extremism.
The crisis in Libya comes in the context of wider unrest throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The surge of what looks like spontaneous and ground up pro-democracy protests has been spreading throughout a region long controlled by authoritarian regimes from left and right of the political spectrum, and both pro and anti-West.
Peaceful protests against the long-running oppressive Qadhafi regime in February resulted in a violent crackdown. As the situation quickly escalated ordinary citizens took up arms to help free themselves from Qadhafi’s brutal regime. Despite some military defections, the opposition has generally been a disorganized and out-gunned rebel force.
As Qadhafi’s forces increasingly targeted civilians the opposition appealed to the international community for a no-fly zone to limit or prevent the bloodbath that Qadhafi threatened.
The West appears to have responded with what looks like a genuine humanitarian intervention attempt. Yet, when looked at a bit more deeply, there are many murky — often contradictory — issues coming to the fore that complicate the picture.
These mixed messages make the future for Libya uncertain. Civil war is how some commentators have already started to describe the conflict, which would imply a long drawn out conflict, not a quick fix that the West hoped for.
Following the trend throughout the Middle East, the so-called Arab Spring appears to have spread to Syria. The government crackdown on anti-government demonstrators in Homs and other provincial cities began over a year ago and is thought to have claimed thousands of lives. Attempts at brokering ceasefires have predictably failed.
This page provides coverage of recent events via Inter Press Service’s news feed.
In 2003, the US and UK invaded Iraq under false pretenses (that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction ready for deployment within minutes and posed a great threat to the world, etc.), without the backing of the international community and even with large domestic opposition to war in both those countries.
Since the bombing campaign ended and Saddam Hussein was overthrown, the expected quick democracy, peace, and gratitude to the US quickly became a nightmare and disaster as major religious and ethnic factions started fighting each other and the US/UK occupation forces. The civilian death toll has been immense, with 2006 seeing almost 100 deaths a day.
This section looks into issues during the sanctions following the first Gulf War when the US forced Saddam Hussein to get out of Kuwait, which he invaded, as well as the propaganda build-up to the 2003 invasion and issues since.
Regardless of international opinion and their failure to secure a second UN resolution authorizing war, the U.S. and U.K. decided to invade Iraq anyway. The Iraqi regime was hardly able to resist and the war ended quickly. However, numerous issues turned up, including,
Media reporting of the war once again proving controversial as did the intelligence used by US/UK governments;
That even though democratic transition has been attempted, it has not worked out;
That religious and ethnic factions have turned on the occupation forces, and on each other as the power vacuum was not fully filled by the coalition-backed new democratic government. Into 2006, for example, some 100 people per day have been dying from suicide bombings, roadside attacks, and other aspects of sectarian violence, and what looks increasingly like civil war;
The geopolitical aftermath of the attacks, which will have a long lasting effect, especially as Iran and Syria start to gain more influence.
The collection of articles in this section looks at these issues.
The build-up to the war on Iraq up to 2003 led to immense media coverage and propaganda. This section looks at the way the US/UK tried to make the case for war based on controversial, often misleading or incorrect messages that the mainstream media often failed to cover adequately, even amidst the immense opposition to the war.
This section provides a series of articles looking at issues during the period of UN-sanctions that were mostly enforced by the US and UK. Issues during this period included the immense civilian death toll due to sanctions. Other issues looked at include various bombing campaigns by coalition forces during the sanctions, and the impact on the environment.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or Arab-Israeli conflict, or whatever name it goes by, is perhaps one of the more sensitive issues that is discussed. The introduction section talks about the western involvement in the Middle East in general, that forms a backdrop to the situation between Palestine and Israel.
The history of the Middle East region in the past 100 or so years has been violent. Due to the importance of the region primarily due to the natural resources, geopolitical interests have seen immense power-play at work affecting local populations. This section gives a brief time line of the events that have affected the Jewish and Palestinian people from the creation of the modern state of Israel to the conflicts of today. Maps are also provided.
The Israeli offensive on Hamas in the Gaza Strip on 27th December, 2008 ended on January 17, 2009 when both Hamas and Israel announced separate ceasefires, which have turned out to be quite fragile. The 3 week offensive claimed some 1,300 Palestinian lives, 400 of which were children. Another 5,000 were injured including some 1,800 children and 800 women. 13 Israelis were also killed. How did this crisis come about and what were some of the issues raised?
According to most mainstream media outlets, the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Hezbollah in mid 2006 sparked off the crisis in Lebanon. While Hezbollah has been firing many, many rockets at civilian targets in northern Israel, Israel has retaliated with air strikes at Beirut and elsewhere, bombing civilian infrastructure. The UN has described both sides as committing war crimes. Thousands have become refugees in Lebanon and Israel, as innocent civilians attempt to flee bombardment. Bush and Blair’s stance give the appearance of a green light to Israel to continue its wave of attacks in order to route out Hezbollah, but they too have received criticism from around the world for this. But there were a number of incidents before the kidnapping that contributed to this latest crisis.
The end of September and October, 2000, has seen a series of violent events unfold that probably unofficially mark the end of the Oslo accords. The 1993 Oslo Accord, whereby Israel recognized the PLO and gave them limited autonomy in return for peace and an end to Palestinian claims on Israeli territory, has been largely criticized as a one-sided accord, that benefits only Israel, not the Palestinian people.
A former Israeli military general, Ariel Sharon, (accompanied by 1000 soldiers) visited a holy Muslim site, called the Temple Mount by the Israelis, and Haram al Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) by the Muslims and proclaimed it as eternal Israeli territory. Sharon had been accused of massacres in his military days and is well known to all. He is very right wing and against the peace process. This infuriated Palestinians, and led to a series of protests and violence.
Around the world, countries have condemned Israel's excessive violence. Human Rights groups have likewise criticized the Israeli forces.
This article looks at the rising violence, and also introduces other articles looking at media reporting, how Palestinian, Israeli, US, and UN leadership reacted, and at the quality of the media reporting.
Often when Islam is mentioned negative impressions of fundamentalists, intolerance and terrorism is conjured up; Islamist movements and organizations are automatically linked with terrorism and is blamed for the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process. Islam is stereotyped as a threat to democracy without distinguishing it from terrorism or corrupt leaders who use the ideals of Islam to their own ends.
It was with disbelief and shock that people around the world saw footage of the terrorist attacks in the US on on September 11, 2001 when the planes-turned-missiles slammed into the World Trade Center towers and damaged the Pentagon.
This ultimately resulted in the US declaring and waging a war on terror. Osama Bin Laden was eventually tracked down and killed some 10 years later. But the way the war on terror has been conducted has led to many voicing concerns about the impact on civil liberties, the cost of the additional security focused changes, the implications of the invasions and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more.
This section explores how the purpose of the military of powerful nations has typically been to aid economic and imperial objectives. As seen throughout history, empires have sought to expand territorially, politically, economically and even culturally. This leads to conflicts and wars, many of which ultimately have to do with power and economics. In the modern era, this has led to the current form of globalization, which many perceive around the world to be unequal and influenced by the more powerful countries who benefit from it the most. Whether it has been the Roman Empire in the past, or what many consider to be the American Empire and its allies today, many empires also seem to exhibit similar features of power, dominance and the pursuit of policies to attempt to maintain that.
This section explores how the U.S. administration of George Bush Jr. has begun to push a foreign policy that reveals a desire for further expansion to project U.S. power and dominance given its position as the sole superpower in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Organizations, some quite extreme, such as The Project for a New American Century, who have a lot of influence with the Bush Administration provide a lot of the ideas and ideology. These range from suggesting the use of nuclear weapons, to increasing and using military power, even unilaterally, regardless of international opinion. For much of the world, the nature of some of the documents and the extremism of such neo conservative organizations and people that have a lot of influence and high positions in the administration is cause of immense concern. The war on Iraq in 2003 was seen as a first move towards this Global Pax Americana.
The Arctic region has long been considered international territory. Five countries—Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Norway, Russia, and the United States—share a border with the frozen Arctic Ocean. Some of these nations have claimed parts of the region to be their territory.
Underlying the interests in the area are potentially vast oil, gas and other resources, as well as the opening up of lucrative passages for trade and economic activity as climate change reduces the amount of ice in the region. As a result, these nations have been vying for dominance in the Arctic.
Climate change provides an additional threat — not just to the local wildlife and indigenous populations that are already seeing their surroundings change rapidly, but to the rest of the planet, too. While retreating sea ice may open up shipping routes, the regions ability to reflect sunlight back into space would diminish, further increasing climate change effects.
Military aid can be controversial. Its stated aim is usually to help allies or poor countries fight terrorism, counter-insurgencies or to help suppress drug production.
Military aid may even be given to opposition groups to fight nations, which was commonplace during the Cold War where even dictatorships were tolerated or supported in order to achieve geopolitical aims.
The aid may be in the form of training, or even giving credits for foreign militaries to purchase weapons and equipment from the donor country.
It is argued that strengthening military relationships can strengthen relationships between nations and military aid may be a way to achieve that. But it seems some aid goes to oppressive regimes which may help with geopolitical aims but may not necessarily help people of the recipient nation.