“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
(Dwight D. Eisenhower, speech, American Society of Newspaper Editors, 16 April 1953)
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 procurements may need to change too. Each year, around $45-60 billion worth of arms sales are agreed. Corruption often accompanies arms sales due to the large sums of money involved. The international trade in weapons is big business. In fact, it is currently worth in excess of $25 billion per year. This trade covers all manner of conventional weapons from small machine guns to tanks, planes and ships. (Note that the trade in nuclear, chemical and biological weapons is already banned under existing treaties.)
According to the latest study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the five biggest suppliers of major conventional weapons in 2006–10 were the United States ($6.8 billion), Russia ($4.5 billion), Germany ($2.5 billion), France ($1.9 billion) and the United Kingdom ($1.0 billion). The USA and Russia remained by far the largest exporters, accounting for 30 per cent and 23 per cent of all exports, respectively. The top five suppliers accounted for 75 per cent of all exports of major conventional weapons in 2006–10.
All major arms exporting countries claimed they already regulate arms exports tightly (typically by a system of licensing) in order to ensure that arms do not end up in undesirable hands. Although it is true that the overwhelming majority of arms sales are to countries which are not considered rogue states, foreign-made arms do seem to have a habit of ending up being used by brutal regimes to oppressive their own people or attack their neighbours. It is not even unknown for these arms to be used against the country that supplied them in the first place.
The courage displayed in the popular uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa over the last month has been fascinating and inspiring. But the shocking retaliatory brutality, especially of the Libyan government, has rightly provoked outrage across the globe, and it is a difficult idea to stomach that for years the previous Untied States government sold defence equipment, like teargas and crowd control ammunition, to an unsuitable regime like Gaddafi’s.
European Union nations approved sales of $470 million in weapons to Gadhafi’s military in 2009 alone — a rush of Italian military aircraft, Maltese small arms and British munitions, according to a January EU arms control report. By comparison, the U.S. peak was $46 million in approved defense sales in the final year of the Bush administration in 2008 — up from $5 million in Libyan defense sales the year before. The $46 million included $1 million in explosives and incendiary agents.
To regulate and monitor arms trades, international community is working on Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), to be clear, it will not be a trade treaty nor is an arms control treaty, as commonly understood, to ban or prohibit the international sale of weapons. The ATT will be a treaty to regulate and legitimize arms sales – to set legally binding parameters and criteria that states must take into consideration when making their sovereign decisions to export defence materiel. It is on preliminary stages of development.
United Nations, General Assembly has decided to convene a Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty in 2012 “to elaborate a legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms”. An Open-ended Working Group of United Nations also held two meetings on an arms trade treaty, which allowed all States to contribute to the debate. A total of six sessions of this Group were planned. The General Assembly also indicated that the remaining four sessions of the Open-ended Working Group should be considered as sessions of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for this Conference.
The first PrepCom took place in July 2010, second round was held on 28 February – 4 March. This round of negotiations was focused on the scope and criteria of the treaty – the weapons included and the activities it should cover, like importing, exporting, trans-shipment and leasing. The third round is scheduled in on 11-15 July 2011. Ideally, a treaty is needed with the highest possible standards and greatest scope, but also one that many of the 192 UN member states can support and implement. As one can imagine, there are multiple countries that remain sceptical about the ATT and, interestingly, Egypt acted as one of their lead spokesmen in earlier negotiation rounds.
There are different schools of thought on export of arms, one deal with the nexus of military industrial complex. Primarily, states supply arms to other nations in order to buy political leverage and for nourishing their own domestic industry. Arms exports boost the economy of a state and used politically as a stick in case of their withdrawal, or a carrot as extra arm sales. Other thought opposed the use of arms as a political leverage and believed that states export arms because it is in their interests to do so. The US supports Israel because a strong Israel is in the US’s long-term strategic interest. Israel is not swayed by the threat of removing those sales since Israel knows it is a bluff.
On the other hand the recipients of arms are spending more on weapons than butter. Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day on the contrary, the world is spending approximately $1531 billion on military expenditure as estimated in SIPRI 2010 year book. This enormous amount tops a decade of continuous growth of military budgets around the world: since 2000, military spending increased by 49% to an all time high in 2009. At the same time, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) remains in doubt, in large part because promised funding, which is only a fraction of global military expenditures, has not materialised.
The September 2010, UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals stressed the fact that additional funding is essential to achieving the MDGs by 2015. In 2009, the extra annual investment needed to meet the MDGs was calculated at $ 329 billion. This amount is 20% of the global military spending or the equivalent of the military expenditure in Western and Central Europe in 2009.
In an order to create awareness on the issue, Global Day of Action against Military Spending (GDAMS) is also observed, where people in many countries joined to focus the attention of public, politicians and press on the costs of military spending and the need for a renewal of priorities. In an era of crisis, where resources are scarce, spending $1531 billion to build militaries and weaponry means omitting essential resources to meet the basic needs of people all over the world.
Every government needs to consider its national security, promotion of human rights and support for business. The ATT will bring us another step closer to realizing this aspiration of a more secure world and help to limit the prospects of a recurrence of the brutality suffered by peaceful protesters in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere where repression lingers.