[Not the breaking news but a good mapping of the arms trade behind the regional conflicts]
by Gideon Burrows
Unsurprisingly, the West dominates the world arms market in terms of sales. Over the last six or so years, the US has towered over the other countries in weapons sales, clocking up $49,271 million worth of sales (at 1990 prices) between 1996 and 2000. Its nearest competitor, Russia, made $15,690 million worth in the same period, but a large majority of these were of second hand weapons.
According to SIPRI, just under half of all transfers (movements) of major conventional weapons between 1996 and 2000 came from the US, Russia and France each accounted for 10 per cent, and Britain and Germany each accounted for between five and 10 per cent. The seven following biggest sellers – the Netherlands, Ukraine, Italy, China, Belarus, Spain and Israel – accounted for around 15 per cent of the world total transfers between them.
So it is clear that the global arms market is controlled by just a few players. The six biggest arms selling countries – four of whom, ironically, are permanent members of the UN Security Council – accounted for almost 85 per cent of all arms transfers | over the last six years.
The top 7 largest arms companies, in terms of military sales. The figures in italics represent the percentage of arms in total sales for each company. Figures for arms sales are in US $ billions at constant (1998) prices and exchange rates.
Company total % of total total % of total
arms sales sales of arms sales sales of
US billions corporation US billions corporation
Lockheed Martin (US) $15.9 63% $17.6 70%
BAE Systems (UK) $ 9.1 62% $15.7 77%
Boeing (US) $4.5 18% $15.3 27%
Raytheon (US) $3.9 35% $11.3 58%
Northrop Grumman (US) $6.2 85% $7.0 79%
General Dynamics (US) $3.2 94% $5.5 62%
Thomson-CSF (France) $4.2 65% $4.1 56%
Selection of top arms-purchasing countries between 1996 and 2000. Figures are trend-indicator’ values expressed in US $ millions, at constant (1990) prices.
Recipient country total amount in US $ millions
1996 1998 2000 1996 to
Taiwan $1,313 $4,022 $445 $12,281
Saudi Arabia $1,728 $2,529 $92 $8,362
Turkey $1,143 $1,766 $704 $5,664
South Korea $1,566 $870 $708 $5.334
China $1.047 $88 $2.085 $5,231
India $804 $547 $429 $4,228
Egypt $918 $515 $580 $3.619
Israel $75 $1,300 $270 $2,890
Pakistan $476 $579 $206 $2,626
Kuwait $1,240 $191 $104 $2,063
UK $235 $379 $866 $1,694
Malaysia $49 $37 $52 $1,445
Brazil $453 $145 $244 $1,346
The global small arms market
Small arms require a special mention in any assessment of the global trade in armaments, simply because they are so prolific, the trade in them is so difficult to control and the devastation caused by them is so severe.
Taking the definition of the UN panel of government experts on small arms, the category includes all of the following military, police and domestic weapons: revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, assault rifles, sub-machine guns and light machine guns, heavy machine guns, hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, recoilless rifles, portable launchers of anti-tank and antiaircraft systems, and mortars of less than 100 mm caliber.
So there are plenty of them, and they are everywhere. They are used by police and security patrols, by national armies and by guerrilla and revolutionary groups, they are carried by civilians legally in a number of countries, for sport in many more, and illegally in every country. They feature in practically every armed conflict between nation-states, in internal and civil wars, in gang fighting and as status symbols.
They are so prolific because they are small and relatively cheap, easy to pass on, smuggle, hide, steal, capture from an enemy or buy over the counter. But, they are ubiquitous because of the sheer numbers they are produced in: millions of them, every day, all over the world. It is a myth that the trade in small arms is only one of recycling second- and third-hand weapons. New production merely creates more second- and third-hand guns. In 1999, 45 different countries reported to the UN that firearms, components and ammunition were legally produced in their territories for domestic or export markets. Many more countries didn’t respond to the requests for information.
The main producers of these little killers are China, Russia and the US. Another 20 or so countries, mainly in Europe and Asia, produce most of the rest of the world’s supply. A further 29 countries produce nominal quantities mainly to meet their domestic never be accurate data on which countries have the most of them. Even if there were, accurate figures for exactly which of these were legal, illegal, military or civilian would be impossible to determine.
‘The total number and global distribution of small arms remains one of the greatest enigmas in the field of international peace and security’, says the Small Arms Survey.
The Survey is a project of the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, which has attempted to profile and estimate the proliferation of firearms (hand-held guns and rifles, rather than hand-held missile launchers and the like), based on rough estimates and incomplete reporting by countries.
Their research estimates that there are at least 550 million legally-held firearms in the world today- at least one gun for every 11 of the world’s people. Over half of all of these are privately owned. The group was unable, not surprisingly, to estimate the number of illegally-held arms in the world.
The 20th century was the most violent one in human history. Not only did it witness two world wars, and 30 years of major arms-fuelled tension between the world’s superpowers, it also featured hundreds of localized conflicts, armed border disputes, civil wars, military coups and counter coups, revolutionary struggles and armed invasions.
According to the Armed Conflicts Report 2000 and the State of the World Report 1999, there were 40 armed conflicts underway in 36 different countries as the 21st century was born. Even in the short time since the millennium, the world has witnessed a new ‘war on terror’ waged by the US and its allies against Afghanistan, with the threat of extension to Somalia, and the possibility of intensified attacks on Iraq.
Earth is a planet at war, and to a large extent this is a consequence of the legal and illicit sale of arms. In crude but plain terms, without weaponry, combat would be more limited in scale.
In most conflict zones in the world, war is a way of life. Waging war is a means of generating money, exerting political power, and providing employment. In some areas of the developing world, children grow up knowing nothing else but bloodshed, dead, injured or maimed relatives, the daily risk of landmines; even bearing arms themselves. If they survive long enough to procreate, their own children will know only the same.
Despite tension between India and Pakistan, the future stability of the world is probably now less at risk from an all-out nuclear catastrophe – as was thought during the Cold War era – than from a slow, insidious, systematic proliferation of small wars and local strife in mainly smaller nations, many of them in Africa. In 1998, Africa suffered 11 major armed conflicts. It is now the most war-torn region in the world.
Those small wars are created and sustained in a constant battle to control territory, plunder resources and wield power. William Hartung, of the World Policy Institute, illustrates the problem. When the current Liberian president Charles Taylor invaded Liberia on Christmas Eve in 1989, he did so with just 100 irregular soldiers, armed with AK47 rifles. Within months they had seized mineral and timber resources and used the profits to purchase more light weapons: the first few turns in an ongoing vicious cycle.
According to Hartung: ‘This pattern of war as plunder has been repeated with local variations in Sierra Leone, where the Liberian-backed Revolutionary United Front (RUF) has used diamond sales to fuel its campaign of terror; in Colombia, where government forces, right-wing paramilitaries and anti-government rebels have skimmed off profits, fees and bribes from the cocaine trade; in Angola, where UNITA rebel forces have raised billions of dollars through diamond sales and the Angolan Government has countered by stocking its arsenal with revenues drawn from its large offshore oil deposits.”
The seizure or trafficking of drugs, diamonds and other valuable commodities produces profits for warring factions. Profits are spent not on peace, reconciliation or education, but on more weapons – bought on the illicit market, and through more ‘legitimate’ channels.
The weapons suppliers to the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda included brokers and shippers in Britain, South Africa and France, working with collaborators in Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Egypt, Italy, the Seychelles and the former Zaire (now DR Congo/DRC). Arms and military training are also supplied to warring or revolutionary factions, both openly and secretly, by Western nations to serve their own political ambitions.
But the arms trade also has a role in sustaining larger, more ‘official’ tensions and conflicts between states. The deadly dealing increases strains and thereby fuels wars between established nations.
Here are some examples. From 1989 to 1998, the US provided over $227 million in weapons and training to African military forces. Of this, over $111 million went to governments that have been directly or indirectly involved in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Angola, Burundi, Chad Namibia, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
The big seven arms-selling countries in the world – the US, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, China and Italy have all sold arms to states currently involved in conflict including Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Israel, China, Taiwan, India and Pakistan. And they usually show their deadly wares at arms fairs.
Military training Military training is an aspect of the industry often overlooked by campaigners and politicians working towards arms control. Yet the provision of training to foreign armies, or warring factions, is commonplace and was clearly illustrated with the allied forces’ training and assistance given to the Afghan United Front forces during their reclaiming of Afghanistan at the end of 2001.
Just as with the hardware, military training is used by governments to further their strategic and political objectives, as well as being a tool in international relations. But like arms sales, military training of foreign fighters can also bounce back.
Since the US armed forces are among the most highly trained and best financially supported in the world, it is no surprise that the US is a major provider of military training. Here’s an example.
Towards the end of his presidency, Bill Clinton took a special interest in Africa. His proposed ‘new partnership’ was not to supply aid or help build civil society as was hoped, but apparently to establish a wide program of troop training. In 1998, the US provided $45.8 million in international military education training (IMET) for over 400 African soldiers.
Under the Pentagon’s Joint Combined Exchange
Training (JCET) program, US Special Forces have trained military personnel from at least 34 of Africa’s 53 nations. That includes troops fighting on both sides of the DRC’s ‘civil’ war – from Rwanda and Uganda (supporting the rebels) to Zimbabwe and Namibia (supporting DRC’s Kabila regime).
The main suppliers of small arms include the same dozen governments that dominate the trade. The main government suppliers include the US, Russia, China, France and Britain, along with Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Israel, Italy and South Africa. Innumerable independent arms dealers, criminals, brokers and middlemen control the illicit trade.
Some governments and campaigners draw a distinction between legally transferred small arms, and the illegal trade. The vast majority of small arms which infest southern Africa were originally supplied legitimately’ by the USSR to ‘liberation movements’ there. Ukraine, Belarus and Bulgaria remain large suppliers to the region.
Worldwide, the ‘legal’ trade makes up by far the majority of small arms sales. Transfers from established companies, within established nations, make up nearly 90 per cent of the total annual value of the trade. The annual legal global trade in small arms and light weapons is estimated at $4-6 billion.
War in the Congo
The ongoing bloody conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), formerly Zaire, has been called Africa’s ‘first world war’.
In 1965 Mobutu Sese Seko became president of Zaire with the backing of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who needed a strategic friend in Africa. Mobutu quickly became one of the continent’s most brutal dictators, but was nevertheless supported by the US in weapons sales and military training. Even after the Cold War, the United States continued to supply military support to the Mobutu regime. In 1991, more than $4.5 million of military equipment was delivered to Zaire.
In 1996 and 1997, Laurent Kabila and his Alliance of Democratic Forces fought running battles with the Mobutu dictatorship, eventually ousting the despot. The US immediately offered the Kabila regime military training, even as the new president suspended human rights and banned opposition political parties. On 2 August 1998, DR Congo’s current brutal conflict began, with nine African nations siding with either the Mobutu faction or Kabila regime in a fight for DR Congo’s rich mineral and diamond resources.
Foreign troops from Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Namibia, Sudan, Chad and Zimbabwe have all been drawn into the fight, along with irregular and guerrilla movements from surrounding African states. US, Britain, China, Russia, South Africa and other weapons-selling giants have gathered like vultures, gladly supplying the factions with weapons of death. Even after six of the governments involved were drawn together to sign the Lusaka peace accords in July 2000, the battling continues, supported by Western countries and their arms companies.
Despite not sharing a border with the DRC, Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe has played a major part in the tensions since the mid-1990s in support of the Kabila regime. It is widely known that Zimbabwe sent a steady supply of North Korean weapons to Kabila’s rebels before they came to power. In 2000, Zimbabwe had an estimated 13,000 troops fighting in the DR Congo. The Government then estimated its involvement in the DRC cost $3 million a month – though leaked documents have put the figure closer to $27 million, a price the country can ill afford with unemployment at more than 50 per cent, huge debts and massive inflation.
Britain has been a good friend to Zimbabwe in terms of arms sales, continuing to supply even after a June 1999 call by the Presidency of the European Union (EU) for states to observe a ‘rigorous application’ of the EU Code of Conduct on arms sales regarding the region.
In February 2000, the British Guardian newspaper revealed that the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had pushed through licenses for Hawk fighter jet spare parts to Zimbabwe even though there was evidence that Hawks had been used in the Congo conflict. Only three months later was Robin Cook, the embattled ‘ethical foreign policy’ British Foreign Secretary, able to announce a full arms embargo on the country – after Zimbabwean white farmers had been attacked by Mugabe supporters. But by that time, many of the Hawk parts had already been exported.
Impact on human rights
‘No security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. ‘
Section 502B, US Foreign Assistance Act.
‘The President shall consider the following criteria. .. The government of the country… was chosen by and permits free and fair elections… respects human rights… does not persistently engage in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including extra judicial or arbitrary executions, disappearances, torture or severe mistreatment, prolonged arbitrary imprisonment…’
US International Arms Sales Code of Conduct Act 1999.
‘Member States will not issue an export license if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression. . . [including] torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, summary or arbitrary executions, disappearances, arbitrary detentions and other major violations of human rights. ‘
EU Code of Conduct for Arms Exports 1998
… human rights have not been a major barrier to weapons sales at any time in history. The world’s worst dictators, despots, human rights abusers and anti-democratic regimes have been the customers of all of the major arms supplying countries in the world – and continue to be so.
According to the Center for International Policy, during the fiscal year 1998 around 54 per cent of US arms transfers to the developing world went to undemocratic regimes. Between 1991 and 1994, 85 per cent of all US arms transfers were to undemocratic states.
According to one calculation by William Hartung of the World Policy Institute, during the 1999 fiscal year, the US delivered roughly $6.8 billion in armaments to nations which violate the basic standards set out in the US’s own International Code of Conduct on Arms Sales.
Worst human rights abusers:
Despite its membership of NATO, and its close relationship with the European Union (EU), to which it aspires for membership, Turkey is the worst human rights abusing state in the European region. There are ongoing tensions between Turkey and Greece, especially over the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus, but the brutality has been reserved mainly for the ethnic Kurds in the southeast of the country. Since 1984, the Turkish military has been at war against the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant Kurdish independent group.
The PKK’s tactics have hardly been mild. They include bombings, kidnapping and extortion, but the Turkish response has been the systematic repression of the Kurdish people – some 28 million of whom reside in Turkey. Since the outbreak of the war, more than 37,000 people have been killed, mostly Kurds, and 3 million have been displaced.
Turkey is determined not to allow the Kurdish people to live as Kurds in Turkey. Their political parties are suppressed and their leaders summarily arrested or executed. The ban on speaking their own language has only just been revoked. Journalists expressing sympathy for Kurdish rights have been arrested. More than 3,000 Kurdish villages have been destroyed.
The Turkish military has carried out its repression using weapons supplied by the US and Europe. The next biggest supplier is Germany, which has delayed and blocked some arms deals because of Turkey’s human rights situation.
For their weapons deals, Turkey demands licensed production and joint production deals in order to boost its own weapons manufacturing industry. The weapons are thus produced in Turkey, away from prying eyes, maintaining jobs there rather than for employees of the licensing company.
Despite current financial crisis, the country is embarking on an 8-year military modernization plan, including the purchase of helicopters, battle tanks, small arms and communication systems. The Turkish Ministry of Defense receives 10 per cent of the national budget, a larger proportion than any other government department.
The latest EU progress report on Turkey, published in November 2001, states that the country has not improved ‘the situation as regards torture and mistreatment’.
Indonesia is the classic example of an anti-democratic, repressive state, sustained in military might by friends in the West hoping to get their hands on rich oil and logging reserves. Since 1965, the country has been led by an autocratic military regime, the father of which was the infamous General Suharto, who ruled for 32 years and oversaw murder, corruption and repression on an unprecedented scale. Following his resignation after the 1997 Asian economic crisis, a string of short ruling presidents replaced him until the current president, Megawati Sukarnoputri took over on 23 July 2001.
While the Indonesian people themselves suffered horribly under the Suharto regime, it was the people of East Timor who were systematically repressed and murdered after Indonesia invaded in December 1975. More than 200,000 people – a third of the population – died during the occupation, which only came to a fragile close following East Timor’s referendum for independence in 1999. Even then, Indonesian-backed and armed militia refused to accept the result, and rampaged through the country murdering civilians. The UN estimates 1,500 to 2,000 people were killed, and 75 per cent of the population were forced into hiding. Today, 60,000 to 80,000 people remain in refugee camps in West Timor.
#3 Saudi Arabia
The Saudi state is illiberal and intolerant, governed by an autocratic and repressive royal family. The practice of any religion except Islam is forbidden and dissent of any kind is heavily punished with the full rigor of shari’a (Islamic law). In 1996, Amnesty International noted a sharp increase in executions, at least 192 having been carried out in the preceding year, as well as many floggings and amputations. In 1998, at least 29 people were executed after grossly unfair and secretive trials. Over 80 executions were carried out in the first 8 months of 1999. In late 2001, three men were executed there for being homosexual.
The Saudi regime is a huge arms customer from western nations, and was on the receiving end of the biggest-ever British arms deals. Britain won the Saudis’ favor in arms sales following the reluctance of the US Congress to allow large arms deals to the country. The US had been a major supplier, and the UK exploited Congress’ reticence. Saudi has extraordinary levels of . military spending, funded by rich oil reserves, but also beholden to them.
Statement by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in 1994
“It is not possible for the community of nations to achieve any of its major goals – not peace, not environmental protection, not human rights or democratization, not fertility reduction nor social integration – except in the context of sustainable development that leads to human security.”
Arms sales, conflict and world poverty are so intimately connected as to be almost indistinct. Those same world leaders who shed a tear for the poor and starving in Africa also help sustain the conflict and poverty which infect the continent.
The new European Code of Conduct on Arms Sales annual income of $370. In 1997, the average per capita income across Africa was $350 a year, and of course that does not mean that each person actually receives such a sum: the World Bank’s figure is an average.
The poorest countries in the world are so poor largely because of huge debts owed to the developed world, much as repayments for past arms sales. Many of the most heavily indebted countries are currently engaged in, or emerging from, conflict of some kind.
Arms sales fuel a never-ending vicious cycle of poverty and debt. During the Cold War, developing nations found themselves filing in behind one or the other of the major world powers, buying or receiving free arms to strengthen their position. This in turn fuelled local arms races.
At the same time, dictators and corrupt governments were making large-scale arms purchases, both to bolster their own power and to line their pockets with generous kickbacks and bribes from each sale. High military spending reduced outlay on development and increased the occurrence of cross-border and internal conflicts. This created a need for more arms, which were bought using Western loans, thereby adding to the country’s debt.
Post Cold War, the cycle continues in many parts of Africa and Asia. In some regions, nations are suffering the economic effects of decades of borrowing, crushed under the weight of debts that do not really belong to them, which they have no hope of ever paying off.
Debt, the Cold War legacy
At the height of the Cold War in the 1970s and 1980s, the world’s poorest regions were caught up in an arms race that is, arguably, the foundation for their poverty today. Central America, the Horn of Africa, southern Africa and Indo-China were drawn into the tensions, which exacerbated regional arms races and localized conflicts. In 1985, Nicaragua allocated 26.2 per cent of government spending to the military, Mozambique spent 38 per cent, El Salvador 29.1 per cent, Ethiopia 28.9 per cent and Iran 34.1 per cent. In most cases, arms purchases meant military expenditure had to be increased and budgets for development were tightened. In other cases, the countries borrowed hard currency from international lenders to fund their arms purchases, or simply went into debt with the arms supplying nation.
According to a report by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), ‘With the end of the Cold War, the Southern African region has witnessed the withdrawal of superpower intervention, the end of apartheid, the termination of conflict in Namibia and Mozambique, a 30 per cent decline in regional military expenditure and the demobilization of tens of thousands of soldiers. However, the debts and costs of destruction that accumulated during the Cold War will remain a burden for generations to come. Children not yet born will have to pay the price of debt for wars they did not fight, for ideas they do not hold, for a regional and global system that no longer exists and for decisions made by regional and world leaders no longer in power.
According to a Jubilee 2000 report, one-fifth of all developing country debt consists of loans given to dictators. The report says the lenders, not the countries currently crushed by former regimes’ debts, should be held responsible. CAAT’s excellent report on the arms trade and development, cited earlier, reveals that countries which are poverty stricken because of the military spending of their former dictators include Bolivia, Central African Republic, Chad, DRC (Zaire), Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Myanmar (Burma), Uganda and Zambia.
Current military spending and arms sales
Despite their being locked into this poverty trap, poorer nations are still regarded as legitimate and profitable arms customers for Western states which helped create their situation.
According to a report for the US congress, arms sales to developing countries together far outweigh arms sales to developed countries. According to their definition, countries of the South accounted for 66 per cent of the value of all international arms deliveries in 2000.
Social impacts of conflict
The servicing of debt for arms sales obviously affects health and education, and has other social impacts in the developing world. Money spent on arms, or money spent servicing debts, means less money is spent in social and developmental programs within the country.
Arms deliveries to the world, 1993 – 2000: leading suppliers in US$ millions
Country value of arms delivered
United States 124,206
United Kingdom 42,400
Countries are prevented by international trade rules from unfairly supporting their own industries above the industries of other nations. Caribbean countries are not allowed to give financial aid to their banana industry on which the region depends, because it is unfair competition for the American-owned banana
industry in Central and South America. The Global Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), which is currently being pushed through the WTO, intends to extend these kinds of rules to other areas such as water, healthcare and education provision.
But at the WTO, and in all other global agreements, the military is specifically excluded from the rules governing global trade. The main WTO governing document, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), states that a country cannot be prevented from taking any action ‘it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests… relating to the traffic in arms, ammunition and implements of war and such traffic in other goods and materials as is carried on directly for the purpose of supplying a military establishment.’
In other words, the WTO GATT and other trade agreements do not apply to the arms trade. There are no international restrictions on what munitions a country can buy or sell, how much these should cost, how much a country can spend, who they buy weapons from or to what extent they subsidize their own arms industry. This process has contributed to the pattern of rich countries becoming richer, and poorer nations staying poor, or becoming poorer.
Western nations are not prevented by WTO rules from subsidizing their own arms industries, and so are able to acquire military equipment at artificially low knock-down prices, while keeping the finance within the country. Moreover, the exclusion from WTO regulations means they can buy arms domestically, even when other countries are offering better products more cheaply.
Developing nations rarely have established arms industries and so buy their weaponry from abroad at a cost often way above what the equipment is worth, draining yet more money out of the country. Even when there is a local arms industry, this is usually so small that buying abroad remains cheaper. Developing nations pump cash into their own arms industries too, in attempts to improve their economies, because it is the only industry they can legally support in this way.
When seeing how trade rules benefit the rich countries, especially in the arms arena, it is not surprising that airplane and arms manufacturer Boeing was the prime sponsor of the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999.
Global agreements to break down barriers to trade are having the effect of preventing developing and middle income countries from exploiting the resources they do have to trade on the world market, keeping those countries financially subordinate to the rich West.
The argument that the arms trade creates or sustains jobs, or brings money into the national economy, is one of the most difficult arguments campaigners face. These arguments have strong political currency – people don’t vote for governments that threaten their livelihood – but they are based on a fallacy which is only now becoming fully apparent.
The arms trade is an immoral business that cause death, maiming, human rights abuses and suffering around the world. It is also a business that does not bring huge economic or employment benefits to the biggest arms-exporting countries. In many cases, high government subsidies, tax breaks, insurance schemes and promotion for arms manufacturers cost governments more money than weapons producers generate for them.
Countries are artificially propping up their arms industries while refusing to explore fully the potential for diversification into areas that are not only more productive and socially positive but also economically viable.
The extent of government subsidies
Governments subsidize their arms sector in a number of ways. The difficult job for campaigners and academics is to show by how much, and why it is a bad thing.
Information, such as how much a government spends on its own armed forces, what procurement decisions it makes, how much it spends on military research and development and how much export credit insurance it provides for arms companies, is usually secret or difficult to obtain.
Strong, well-informed estimates based on obtainable information are usually the best that campaigners can muster before issuing the challenge to governments: if we are wrong, it falls to you to prove how wrong. After all, if arms exports are big earners for state economies, wouldn’t politicians be shouting it from the roof tops?
With that proviso in mind, valiant attempts to look at this issue have been made.
In the US, the defense and foreign aid budgets are the largest single source of federal funding to private corporations. According to the World Policy Institute, more than half of all US weapons sales are financed by taxpayers instead of by foreign arms purchasers. During the fiscal year of 1996 (the last year for which figures were available) the US Government spent more than $7.9 billion to help companies secure just over $12 billion in agreements for new international arms sales.
Governments’ direct financial support for their arms exports can be roughly placed into a few distinct categories. Each of these subsidies results in taxpayers’ money being spent, or risked, helping foreign governments to buy arms.
Export promotion – The major arms-exporting countries each year spend huge amounts of money all over the world promoting and marketing their domestic arms companies’ products. Export promotion ranges from diplomatic visits by politicians to the provision of advice and support for companies marketing their systems, to regular attendance and promotion at arms exhibitions and conferences.
At the US Pentagon, nearly 6,000 people were employed in 1996 to promote, broker, administer and finance arms sales abroad, at a cost of $378.2 million. In the State Department a further 75 personnel were employed, part of a defense export promotion budget of $3.7 million. And the US commerce department also plays a role, publishing ‘defense market assessments’ such as How to do business in Indonesia, and mounting US presence at foreign arms exhibitions. During 1996, the US Government sent equipment and personnel to 19 overseas weapons shows, at a cost of more than $5.1 million.
Export credits – Government insurance schemes to compensate arms companies when their foreign clients default on payment generally make up the bulk of the government direct subsidies. They also provide financing support for deals. Governments then attempt to recoup the cost from the defaulting nations, with usually only limited success. Often the companies insist on some kind of insurance or guarantee from their home government before embarking on large weaponry export deals. Arms sales make up, large proportions of the export credits extended in many major arms exporting countries.
The US Export-Import Credit Bank, which could be seen as the equivalent of an export credit organization, is usually prohibited from guaranteeing arms deals (though not always – Congress occasionally makes exceptions). However the US more than makes up for it in other loans and funding programs which subsidize US arms exporters.
The US Foreign Military Financing Program (FMF) received $3.35 billion in 1999 to support grants and loans for the provision of US military equipment and services to more than 24 countries. Recipients of FMF grants in recent years have included Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Turkey and the Ukraine. More funds were allocated for Africa. Another $16 million of subsidy is granted through the US Defense Export Loan Guarantee fund.
* [The G8 are the world’s wealthiest countries: US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, plus Russia.]
Spending distortions – governments also artificially support their arms industries by distorting their own spending on domestic military purchases. They buy more arms from domestic suppliers than really needed, they pay more than these ought to cost, and they choose domestic arms suppliers even if foreign-made equipment is cheaper and better. In any other industry, World Trade Organization rules and other free-trade legislation would prevent such spending distortions as unfair competition. But as we have seen earlier, the military is exempt from international agreements on trade.
In a report by the World Policy Institute, William Hartung decries this kind of spending in the US, which he calls ‘defense pork’. He argues that politicians add unnecessary and expensive military equipment purchases to the Pentagon’s budget in order to please arms companies, secure or create jobs and so gain campaign donations and votes. In 1998, $3.8 billion was added by senators and officials to the amount that the Pentagon had said it needed to meet its own defense plans. While most ‘defense pork’ is US-bought – so not an arms export subsidy – the example shows how political pressure distorts procurement decisions.
The above are just three direct financial subsidies which governments provide for their arms industries. But there are many different ways that governments indirectly financially support their arms industries, and while it is more difficult to quantify this kind of support in concrete terms, the benefits to arms companies can be quite considerable.
Research and development (R&D) – Governments spend large portions of their defense budgets on research and development of new weapons systems, which they contract arms companies to carry out on their behalf.
In 1998/99, the three big US weapons manufacturers received over $8 billion in R&D funding.
Commissions and bribes – According to one World l Bank estimate, the sums distributed worldwide each year as pay-offs and bribes total $80 billion. Campaign group Transparency International (TI) has surveyed attitudes to corruption in business, and found that arms and construction companies were perceived to be the most likely to pay bribes.
Jobs in the arms industry
Off-set deals and joint procurement aside, a further argument – that the weapons business is a thriving employer – is also false.
… the global arms industry has been gradually shrinking since the end of the Cold War. Linked to this, the number of people employed in the sector has also fallen.
Moreover, the argument that a government should spend huge amounts of money propping up an industry to safeguard a relatively small number jobs is one that only has so much credibility. Governments should no more subsidize their arms business than any other industry to safeguard jobs. Sir Samuel Brittan, the British economist and journalist, has written extensively on the weakness of the employment argument.
He says the argument is based on the myth that there is a ‘lump of labor’ that is engaged in making specific products, that cannot be deployed elsewhere. If defense orders are lost, those people become unemployed and unemployable, runs the line.
Brittan points out that millions of people change jobs, find jobs or leave jobs every year. ‘Indeed, it is almost certainly easier for arms workers, many of whom have a wide range of valued skills, to find new jobs… Where will the new jobs come from to replace those lost in exporting weapons? Other jobs, on a much greater scale, arose to take the place of handloom weavers [and] drivers of horse-drawn carts.
A report by the British Ministry of Defence and York University, published in 2001, revealed that 40,000 arms export jobs would be replaced by 67,000 civilian posts if arms exports were cut in half, albeit at a lower average salary per job.
Mercenaries: the dogs of war
Selling arms is one side; purchasing people to use them is another. The use of privately hired might is nothing new. The Romans used mercenaries, and the practice probably went back even before them. Italian merchants in the 16th century hired muscle to protect their assets and control trade routes. Colonial explorers were accompanied by hired fighters. From the mid-20th century, Western firms setting up mines and oil exploration in Africa, Asia and Latin America protected their assets by hiring armed heavies.
Mercenaries come under a number of guises, but all include the provision of military might or advice for a profit. Under the guise of ‘security’ for example, private military companies, consultants, advisors or training outfits, all manner of services to both governments and companies are supplied, including full participation in conflicts, the provision of arms, and armed protection of royal families and industrial plants.
Former members of security services often run modern mercenary companies, exploiting their contacts in the arms and political world. They hire disaffected, unemployed former soldiers wherever they win contracts, and source second-hand weapons and equipment for them to fight with. They will often provide whatever services are required, in exchange for hard currency or interests in mining and oil exploration.
UN Special Rapporteur Bernales Ballesteros was appointed by the UN General Assembly in 1996 to report on ‘the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of peoples to self-determination’.
At least mercenaries can usually make their own l choices; it is different for children. There are more than half a million children (under 18s) serving in armed forces, in more than 87 countries. At least 300,000 children are actively fighting in 41 countries, including Colombia, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Chechnya.; In some countries, very young children are used as messengers, spies and equipment carriers, but by the age of 10 they are given rifles, or rapid repeating machine-guns and set to fight in conflicts they cannot possibly understand.
As members of armed forces, children become lawful targets for attack, but the use of child soldiers also increases the danger faced by civilian children who come under suspicion from warring parties. Within armed forces, children are often treated brutally, suffering physical, emotional and even sexual abuse.
But it is not only faraway nations mired in internal conflicts that use child soldiers. The US is the country most opposed to setting 18 as the minimum age limit for recruiting and participation in armed forces. One in every 200 of its armed personnel is 17, while many more become temporary members as part of youth military training programs.
The UK continues to recruit 16-year-olds leaving school, and the recruitment process begins even while they are still at school. British soldiers under the age of 18 fought- and died – in both the Falklands/Malvinas conflict and the Gulf War. Other countries that recruit under-18s to the armed forces, via conscription or voluntary enlistment include: Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Burundi, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cuba, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Libya, Luxembourg, Mexico, Namibia, Netherlands, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Sudan, Switzerland, Uganda and Yugoslavia.
A number of factors lead to the use of children as soldiers. Technological advances have made semi-automatic rifles light enough to be used and simple enough to be operated by a child, while rabid proliferation has made them cheap and easily obtainable. The longer a conflict goes on, the more likely children are to be ‘recruited’ as manpower becomes short- both young girls and boys are recruited – and new soldiers are needed to replaced the killed and injured.
Children are perceived to make obedient soldiers, they are cheap and are easy to manipulate. Children ‘volunteer’ or are coerced to join-up in order to survive, to prove their ‘adulthood’ or because it is a natural step in a culture of violence. In the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone, children are held and trained for two or three months, threatened with death if they disobey orders or attempt to escape. In the Kamajors militias, they are initiated into secret societies and told they will gain magical powers and be immune to bullets if they join military forces.
Prevailing international law at the United Nations sets 15 as the minimum age for military recruitment and participation in armed conflict, though there is widespread agreement that this age is too low.
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers is an international movement of organizations seeking the adoption and implementation of an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) setting the minimum age for all forms of military recruitment and use in hostilities at 18 years of age.
By the end of 2001, a total of 92 countries had signed or ratified the Optional Protocol, but implementation will take many years and a great deal of effort. Programs to prevent child recruitment, including monitoring, providing alternatives, and establishing proper procedures, as well as programs to ensure safe demobilization and integration of former child soldiers are particularly needed.
Landmines: the legacy
Children, whether child soldiers or not, are often the main victims of landmines, perhaps the most vicious weapons brokered by the arms dealers. In the words of the International Campaign to Ban landmines, Put simply, anything that landmines can do to an enemy’s army, they can do to a civilian population. What they cannot do is discriminate between the soldier and the civilian. Their impact cannot be confined to the duration of the battle. Thus, under the laws of war, they are an illegal weapon.’
More than any other weapon of war, landmines have received much public and legislative attention over recent decades. They are horrific because their effects on civilian communities, after battles have ended, are so long-term and devastating.
Under internationally recognized definitions, landmines fall into two broad categories:
* Anti-personnel (AP) landmine – ‘A mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons’.
* Anti-tank (AT) landmine – A device designed to detonate by more than 100 kilograms of pressure.
Whether anti-tank or anti-personnel, the effect of landmines on civilian communities is the same. They kill and maim indiscriminately, taking children just as easily as heads of households. Families are devastated not only because of the loss of a loved one, but also because their means of income or a future generation is destroyed.
In the same way, those who are not killed when a landmine explodes are maimed or permanently disabled, becoming a long-term financial and emotional burden on families. Some landmines are designed to scatter thousands of shards of metal up to 50 meters, specifically to injure rather than kill.
Landmines also have devastating effects when they don’t kill or maim, rendering thousands of acres of land unusable for farming or livestock. Families are forced to make a terrible choice between starvation or risking their lives on mined fields.
In Cambodia alone there are over 35,000 amputees as a result of landmines, and they are just the survivors. Mine deaths and injuries in the past few decades amount to hundreds of thousands. They are a daily threat in Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia, Chechnya, Croatia, Iraq, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Somalia and dozens of other countries.
In December 1997, following decades of pressure from campaigners, a total of 122 governments signed the Ottawa convention, officially titled ‘The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of AntiPersonnel Mines and on their Destruction’. Less than one year later the treaty became international law when Burkina Faso became the 40th country to ratify.
It is the most comprehensive international treaty of its kind, and became law quicker than any other treaty of its kind in history.
But despite worldwide support, and condemnation of the use, sale and stockpiling of anti-personnel landmines, a total of 53 countries still refuse to sign including China, Egypt, Finland, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the US. The US’s refusal has a devastating political influence, giving credence to other countries’ refusal. The campaign continues to demand that these countries drop their opposition to the treaty, and to expand it to cover anti-tank mines and other ‘area denial weapons’ – a euphemism meaning they blow you up if you stray where you ‘should not’ – like cluster munitions and unexploded ordnance.
The ‘trade’ in landmines, as traditionally defined at least, is all but non-existent. Cuba, the United States, Russia, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Burma, China, India, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Singapore and Vietnam are still classified as producers of the weapons by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, though some of them have only failed to prove written attestation to the contrary.
Military monitor Jane’s Mines and Mine Clearance 2000-2001 revealed there has been a ‘virtual absence of mines – legitimate or otherwise – at arms shows and military equipment exhibitions this year’ (though see chapter 7 on the DSEi arms fair). Thirty-four countries are known to have exported anti-personnel landmines in the past. All but Iraq have attested that they no longer do so. The trade in anti-personnel landmines has been confirmed to exist only in a relatively small amount of illicit trafficking.
For a book on the arms trade, it could be argued the issue should stop there – the trade in anti-personnel landmines no longer exists, and the manufacture is nominal. Unfortunately, the step is not so easily taken.
The Ottawa treaty covers only certain types of antipersonnel landmines, leaving vast loopholes where area denial weapons, including anti-tank weapons, remain available and traded.
The campaign against landmines concentrates now on encouraging the states who have so far failed to sign and ratify the Ottawa treaty to do so, but it has also broadened its outlook to the new and next generations of landmines and weapons that are landmines by any other name.
The weapon causing most concern for campaigners is the cluster bomb. Usually dropped from a plane, it explodes just above the ground, scattering hundreds of miniature ‘bomblets’ over a wide area. Many of these bomblets fail to explode, remaining in the ground, just like anti-personnel landmines, until disturbed.
Like landmines, unexploded ordnance (UXO) poses a serious threat to lives and livelihoods. Between 1964 and 1973 the US dropped a huge number of cluster bombs over Laos. It is estimated that millions of unexploded bomblets remain. Cluster munitions were used in Kosovo and Vietnam, during the Gulf War, in the Falklands/Malvinas conflict, and during the recent attacks on Afghanistan. NATO admits to a failure rate of between 8 and 12 per cent in Kosovo, leaving as many as 35,000 live bomblets on the ground.
The campaign against landmines is far from won. Many countries, having signed Ottawa, pour money and research into mine clearance programs – an expensive and time-consuming business. But while taking mines away with one hand, the landmines of the future are being created and delivered across war zones all over the world. The arms companies which are earning millions from developing mine clearance equipment are also at the forefront of developing new generations of weapons, laying the foundation of devastation in the future.
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines is calling for a moratorium, banning the use of cluster weapons because of their devastating and long-lasting effects.
… government ministers, advisers and senior members of the armed forces frequently move into the employment of arms companies and vice versa. The supposed wall between government and the industry has a huge gaping hole in it, in which a constantly revolving door has been established.
In Frank Vogl’s Earth Times article on bribery and | corruption in the arms trade, he outlines how the George W Bush regime in the US takes ‘this game of political pressure to an unprecedented new level’.
‘Rarely before has US business taken such total charge of the Pentagon. Not only does the Secretary of Defense [Donald Rumsfeld] come from big business, but so too do the new heads of the Army, Navy and Air Force… President Bush has nominated James Roche a vice president at military aircraft seller Northrop Grumman, to become Secretary of the Air Force; Gordon England from arms and naval vessel manufacturer General Dynamics to become Secretary of the Navy.
For good measure, US Vice President Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne, serves on Lockheed Martin’s board, a company which is a major contractor to the US Government and its allies.
Donations from private companies to political parties and candidates are nothing new, and have been the foundation of many scandals for governments across the Western world. Not surprisingly, because there are lucrative domestic contracts to be won, and restrictive legislation to be challenged, the arms business is a major player in the cash-for-influence money-go-round.
As Lumpe and Donarski note in The Arms Trade Revealed, ‘Whenever and wherever arms export policy is being made, financially self-interested representatives of the arms corporations are present. Generous campaign contributions from the weaponeer’s political action committees (PACs) open doors, providing access and influence on the policy making process.
According to the World Policy Institute, the 25 leading weapons-exporting companies contributed a record $10.8 million during the 1995-96 general election cycle in the US. Of this, $6.6 million came in regulated PAC donations and $4.2 million in unregulated ‘soft’ money – donations theoretically targeted for party-building activities, but often used to benefit specific candidates. Lockheed Martin was the leading arms corporate donor during this time. The Republican Party, more military-minded than the Democrats, received the bulk of donations.
As one arms industry lobbyist told The Washington Post, the rationale behind his organization’s $5,000 contribution is pretty straightforward: ‘When I call in the future, he [the politician] will know who I am.’
Next to prostitution, the arms business is perhaps the world’s oldest and most ingrained profession.
A US Code of Conduct?
Although the US has relatively strict legislation governing the involvement of its citizens in arms brokering the world’s largest arms-exporting country has comprehensively stalled on drawing up its own code of conduct on arms exports.
Progressive Congress representatives have been attempting for nearly a decade to introduce a Code of Conduct on arms exports into US legislation. In 1995 International Relations Committee member Cynthia McKinney (Democrat) introduced the ‘Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers Act’ into the 104th Congress.
Campaign for an International Code | Finally, the US President has now been instructed by Congress to pursue multilateral steps for controlling and monitoring the arms trade. There is a real possibility that within a generation, perhaps even before, an International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers could be introduced, building on the EU Code. In 2000 the US and the EU signed a declaration to work towards a common vision on the question of arms export controls.
In May 1997, 14 Nobel Laureates met in New York to launch their own International Code as a first step to persuade arms exporting countries to adopt standards: ‘Today, we speak as one to voice our common concern regarding the destructive effects of the unregulated arms trade. Together, we have written an International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers, which, once adopted by all arms-selling nations, will benefit all humanity, nationalities, ethnicity, and religions.
Their proposed Code requires that arms transfers are only granted if transfer would complement and comply with international human rights standards, international humanitarian law, respect for international arms embargoes and military sanctions, promotes peace, security and stability, promotes human development and opposes terrorism. It calls too for public accounting of the Code’s implementation, and transparent international co-operation through the UN and other bodies to improve and adjust the code as appropriate.
While the proposal needs updating to account for recent changes in the international arms trade, it is a bold attempt to set in motion some international moves to curb the arms export business. It is perhaps the best tool arms trade campaigners currently have to effect change on a global scale.
A broader view of campaigning
I think it is no exaggeration to say the world changed significantly in November 1999, when around 50,000 protesters descended on Seattle in the US where the World Trade Organization was holding its assembly. Protesters along with developing nations tired of being taken for a ride all but shut down the meeting, forcing the postponement of exploitative trade talks until a more remote venue could be found.
From Seattle onwards, politicians and executives of the biggest and richest transnational corporations realized that wherever they went, and whatever they did, an inspired, passionate group of united people was watching, criticizing and acting for social justice and equality.
Also for the first time, campaigners on widely diverse issues, from gay rights to third-world poverty, from peace and nuclear disarmament to environmental activists, joined together. They realized their concerns overlapped in many different and complex ways. They discovered that united campaigning, using the concerns they shared as a foundation, was more effective than disparate, isolationist campaigns along strictly issue-based lines.
The campaign against arms trading cannot, and should not, be considered in isolation from other concerns of social justice, except perhaps for convenience’ sake. In almost every area of global injustice, the arms trade plays its deadly role. In earlier chapters it was revealed how the trade exacerbates conflict, promotes human rights abuses and worsens poverty in developing countries. The trade is also intimately connected to environmental destruction, inequality, immigration and asylum, gender and cultural rights, privatization and worker exploitation – in fact, most of the world’s evils have their roots in the fighters, tanks, mines, guns and bullets that corrupt individuals and destroy lives.
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