Killing is Big Business– Thriving U.S.$-Trillion International Arms Trade: Shadow World of Big Deals, Corruption…

Global arms, weapons, military expenditure is estimated to have totalled $1.77 trillion in 2014, that is more than $250 for every person on the planet. This was a fall of 0.4% on the previous year and is about 2.3% of global GDP…

Even during global financial crisis from 2007 to 2012, weapons spending increased by 24%… The small arms trade is worth at least $8.5 billion a year, but its deadly impact is far greater than the dollar sums suggests… More than 1,000 companies from nearly 100 countries produce small arms, light weapons.

The global arms market can be split into three sectors: 1.) legal sales where governments buy arms from corporations… 2.) sales on the black market… 3.) legal gray area where governments, military, intelligence agencies, terrorists… rub shoulders with shady and corrupt dealers in order to carry out covert agendas…

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Ironically, there are more laws governing the international trade of bananas and coffee than of arms, despite the fact that thousands of people are killed daily from armed violence,and six out of 10 human rights abuses involve weapons… International arms trade is global business which manufactures weapons, military technology, equipment…  An issue that the defense industry is constantly tackling is ever-increasing sophistication of products and their dual use: The same technology that might have been developed for military purposes might find wide application in civilian field, or other way round…

The latest additions to the normative framework to regulate the international trade in conventional arms is the UN ‘Arms Trade Treaty’ (ATT)… Adopted by the UN in 2013 and in force from December 2014, it establishes common criteria and international minimum standards to govern the trade in conventional arms to be applied by countries as part of their national export control systems, mainly for the purpose of avoiding the misuse and diversion of arms to illicit markets.

A major driving force behind the treaty is the need to improve international controls of arms transfers to prevent them from ending up in places where they might be used to commit violations of human rights, or where they could fuel violence and unrest instead of bringing stability and peace that the arms trade is meant to serve…

According to Alex Ward and Morgan Timme; the ‘Arms Trade Treaty’ is just a feel-good regulation without much substance… it fails to take into account that very seldom is there purely benevolent actors. Trying to remove ‘bad options’ takes ‘least bad options’ with it, assuming a world of only ‘good’ and ‘bad’ options do not exist. While intentions of the ATT are well-disposed, the real world is rarely so Manichean…

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Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Report: SIPRI is independent international institute in Sweden, dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control, disarmament… They manages a database on international transfers of major weapons to countries, international organizations and armed non-state groups going back to 1950… The group publishes a report summarizing the weapons trade in 2010-2014, and how it has changed from its previous reporting period of 2005-2009… Here are a few of the most interesting takeaways:

  • China is becoming a much more powerful player: China surpassed Germany as world’s third largest arms supplier, supplying 5% of international arms exports in 2010-2014. This was a precipitous climb from ninth place in 2005-2009, accounting for 3% of international arms exports. China’s largest customer is Pakistan, which buys 41% of Chinese arms followed by Bangladesh, Myanmar… China also exported arms to 18 African states, Venezuela and Indonesia, as well as drones to Nigeria to use against Boko Haram rebels… China is one of world’s largest arms ‘importers’, though arms imports actually fell 42% between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014 due to the rapid development of its own domestic arms industry. Today, China produces many advanced weapons from; British-, French- and German-designed engines for aircraft, naval ships, armored vehicles…
  • Russia’s exports are also growing rapidly: Russian weapons exports rose 37% between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014… That is mostly due to India, which purchased nearly 40% of Russia’s exports in that period. Russia’s three biggest customers are;  India, China, Algeria… accounted for almost 60% of its exports… This may come as surprise to some in U.S. who think of India as U.S.’s democratic ally, but Russia and India have been close since the Cold War… According to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; Russia is India’s closest friend, preferred strategic partner… However, U.S. arms exports to India have increased since two countries established tighter ties in mid-2000s; U.S. now supplies 12% of India’s arms compared to Russia’s 70%…
  • U.S. is world’s largest arms dealer: U.S. remains the world’s largest arms supplier, accounting for 31% of international arms exports compared with Russia’s 27%. U.S. exports of major weapons grew by 23% in 2010-2014 from 2005-2009. Together, U.S. and Russia account for 58% of all exports… Adding in China, Germany, France… these five countries accounted for almost 74% of all arms exports between 2000 and 2014…The U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of drones, mostly unmanned reconnaissance vehicles… also, U.S. sold ship-based anti-ballistic missile defense systems to– Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates in 2010-2014…
  • Europe is getting out of war business: Due in part to Europe’s struggling economy, both imports and exports from European countries were down in 2010-2014 from 2005-2009, the only region to see this trend… UK fell from top five countries in terms of arms exports, but UK is still largest weapons ‘importer’ in Europe, receiving 14% of deliveries… Germany’s biggest customer was U.S., while France and UK both send most weapons to former colonies– Morocco and Saudi Arabia, respectively…

In the article Arms Trade– Major Cause of Suffering by Anup Shah writes: The arms trade is a major cause of human rights abuses. Some governments spend more on– military expenditure than on social development, or communications infrastructure, or health… combined. While every nation has the right and the need to ensure its security, in these changing times, arms requirements and procurements may need to change too…

The arms trade is one of the most corrupt trades in the world, fueling conflict and poverty. Since 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 U.S., EU, and others… have developed some codes but they are fraught with problems, loopholes, lack of transparency, open to corruption…

Also ‘military aid’ can be very problematic; its stated aim is usually to help– allies, poor countries fight terrorism, counter-insurgencies, or to help suppress drug production… Military aid may be given to opposition groups to fight nations, which was common- place 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 military to purchase weapons and equipment from the donor country…

It’s 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…

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In the article Shadow World: Corruption and the Arms Trade by Andrew Feinstein writes: Arms deals stretch across a continuum of legality and ethics from the– official or formal trade, to the grey and black markets… In practice, boundaries between these markets are fuzzy; they are often intertwined and dependent on each other. With bribery, corruption commonplace, there are very few arms transactions that do not involve illegality, most often through middlemen or agents…

Many arms dealers who provide services to defense companies and governments, continue to operate in the black and grey markets… According to Joe Roeber; trade in weapons accounts for almost 40% of all corruption in global trade;  arms trade is hardwired for corruption, and very structure of arms trade explains the prevalence and nature of the corruption that characterizes it…

These arms trade deals are worth ‘million or even billions of dollars’, and they are being decided by very small groups of people, behind a national security imposed veil of secrecy; these are perfect conditions for rampant corruption. Those involved in arms trade wield enormous political influence through phenomenon of ‘revolving doors’, e.g.; movement of people between positions in– government, politics, military, intelligence agencies, defense companies…

The consequences are distortion of policy making– and not just in ascendancy of war-making over diplomacy, but also in foreign and economic policies… A crucial dimension of these arrangements is the link between– defense companies, arms dealers, governments…

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However, countries do have the right to purchase arms, to defend themselves and their citizens, as well as; the right to engage in– research and development and production of arms as a legitimate business venture… Hence, it’s importance to differentiate between legitimate and illicit arms trade… Unfortunately a universal and false perception is that governmental actions, multilateral coordination and stricter laws would bring an end to the illicit arms trade…

Black and grey markets survives on simple rules of economics, where market forces dominate the game… And bad people, i.e.; terrorists, rebel groups, dictators of all sorts will do anything and pay anything to get the weapons they need to do destructive things… It’s a simple matter of supply and demand…

Hence, even with stricter laws, embargoes… the demand for arms, weapons… remains high even though it means greater risk, which implies paying higher prices… According to Aaron Karp; short of world governments, powerful system of collective security– countries and groups will continue to engage in illicit arms trade… Hence reality is that the control of the flow and widespread use of arms–  black and grey arms trade– is highly dependent on countries of the world working collaboratively together in the best interest of humanity…

But since the ‘world’ has failed to stop or even control illicit– ‘drugs’ trade, or ‘humans’ trade, or ‘animals’ parts trade… and list goes-on. There is no reason to believe that it can succeed to– stop or even cripple illicit ‘arms’ trade to any significant degree: How depressing; quest for– profit, power, greed… endangers very existence of humankind…