Stop international trading in arms
The trading in arms and its impact on social conditions was missing at the "World Summit Meeting on Social Development" in Copenhagen in March 1995.
By Judith Winther
With the holding of the "World Summit Meeting on Social Development" in Copenhagen in March 1995 the social problems of the world are now being placed on the agenda of world society. Good! During its first 50 years, the UN has had great difficulties as regards ensuring that the world lived up to the objective of the UN Charter: to promote social progress and improve conditions of life in greater freedom. Indeed, just preventing things from growing worse instead of better has been difficult. So if the world would now really make an effort in the social field this should be very welcome.
A topic that got lost
Unfortunately, one topic that is highly relevant in connection with social conditions in the world is conspicuous by its absence. That is the trading in arms and its impact on social conditions. Among other factors, this trade is responsible for the debt crisis which so many Third World countries are facing and, consequently, indirectly also for the poor social conditions in these countries. It helps dictators and military elites to oppress their own citizens while letting them pay off the loans for which the arms were bought; and finally, the constant and abundant supply of arms results in prolonged wars and creates streams of refugees numbering thousands.
Admittedly, in the UN Information it says, "In a world spending 800,000 million dollars - an amount corresponding to nearly half the income of this world's population - on rearmament, one thousand million persons are without any basic health service, one adult out of four cannot read or write, and one fifth of all people go to bed hungry every day."
But the UN Information also offers reassurance saying, "Since 1987 the world's military expenses have gone down by 3.6 per cent per year. This has yielded a cumulative theoretical 'peace dividend' of 935,000 million dollars during the period 1987-1994." So we are on the right track - an opinion more or less general in our societies today. With the termination of the cold war we are now in a position to cut down military expenses and we have the possibility of building up a sensible world order with less war, less economic distress, and more democracy - that is, if the unfortunate, new nationalism in Eastern Europe and the fundamentalism in the Islamic countries does not ruin everything.
Is it as simple as that? During the period 1987-1994 when everybody thought things would improve, distress in the world did in fact increase and we saw a number of cruel wars. And, by the way, What has become of this peace dividend? The 935,000 millions saved are real enough, but just in the sense of "peace dividend" they were apparently merely "theoretical".
Expenses for the military and for the purchase of arms
What is not being told, however, is that although military expenses on a global basis have been reduced the reduction is not equally distributed. In his "Human Development Report" just published, Mahbub ul-Haq from the UN says, "since 1987, global military expenses have gone down - but not in the Third World. The two regions in which they have gone up belong to the poorest in the world, Southern Asia and Africa south of the Sahara." Pakistan and India, e.g. where people have to sleep in the street spend 20,000 million dollars on purchases of arms every year.
And even if the OECD did calculate that the developing countries all together spent only 3.8 per cent of their gross national products in 1991 against 5 per cent in 1985 it is, in the first place, just an average and, in the second place, GNP is a very unreliable concept to describe the conditions in a country. In 1990, e.g., military expenses taken as a percentage of a country's total governmental expenses, fluctuated between 1 in Mexico and 26-30 in a number of countries such as El Salvador and Pakistan.
Certainly, there is a certain reduction of the total military expenses, but during the seventies and eighties these expenses increased explosively in industrial as well as developing countries
On this background a reduction by three or five per cent does not count much in comparison with the amounts actually spent. According to the OECD, the developing countries in 1990 spent 150,000 million dollars on purchases of arms, and that in countries that in many cases are not able to provide their own inhabitants with foodstuffs.
Thus, military expenses and, especially, purchases of arms represent a serious obstacle to a necessary social development in the Third World countries.
Who is paying?
Governments and military elites spend large amounts purchasing arms that very often are intended to keep down their own inhabitants and their demands for an improvement of social conditions. Consequently, export of arms contributes to the wrecking of possibilities of a democratic development.
A very large part of these purchases, at least one fifth, was financed by loans from the West. The trade in arms has thus contributed to the increasing debt crisis in the Third World countries. From 1960 to 1987 those in power in the Third World countries borrowed nearly 400,000 million dollars solely for the purchase of arms.
The inhabitants are the ones who, with their conditions of life, have to pay for these loans. The governments have two possibilities: either they pay interest and repayment of the debt, or they spend their money improving the social standard of their countries. But, in reality this choice does not exist. Even countries, as e.g. the Philippines, that feel real desires to improve the conditions of life have only one possibility. Debts come before everything else, so world society demands. The result is that the social conditions deteriorate, unrest arises, and the governments respond with oppression that calls for more military expenses.
The combination of liabilities and military expenses creates conditions that impede the possibilities of developments. It may make it almost impossible for a government to develop programmes for alleviating on a short view the situation of its citizens - and creating on the long view a basis of an economic development. The dividing line is estimated to lie at 40 per cent. If liabilities and military expenses together exceed 40 per cent a country will not have many possibilities of struggling through its difficulties.
One example: In 1992, Pakistan bought 40 Mirage 2000 E fighters and three Tripartite aircraft from France. For the cost of these Pakistan could have supplied 55 million people with clean water for two years, people who have no clean water today, 13 million people with essential medicines, people who have no access to public health today, and 12 million children with elementary education.
The majority of wars seen today are fought between states and their own inhabitants. They are symptoms of a country's disability to secure acceptable conditions of life for their citizens. The economic and social conditions caused by insufficient conditions of existence provide an effective basis for violence and desperation and thus true fuel for a war. If nothing is done, wars in the Third World will aggravate and sooner or later reach us in the West.
War causes debts, debts cause war, and the interdependence existing today between the countries of the world means that a collapse in one place may involve great parts of the rest of the world.
Where do the arms come from?
Are not war lords, mad dictators, and military elites the ones who are responsible? What can we do besides demanding more democracy in the various countries?
It is quite correct that much would be gained if democracy could win through and people were given more influence in Third World countries. Despite an incredibly difficult starting point this might eventually help to turn developments.
But we must look at the conditions on which we have an influence and which might improve the situation if altered. And there are many things to alter, among others the fact that we, despite our subscribing to Liberalism, have not yet opened our countries to a free world trade. However, the largest single obstacle to a positive development is probably the extensive trading in arms.
Arms trading are carried out not only by those normally called merchants of death, 1.e. black-marketeers and gunrunners who through an extensive international network and by means of forged papers and certificates are behind vast arms transactions. Armament manufacturers and governments of the industrialized countries are at the head of the main part of arms trading.
86 per cent of all arms sold today come from five permanent members of the Security Council: USA, UK, France, Russia, and China. Among these, the USA has during recent years become the incomparably biggest. And Germany, which is not a member of the Security Council but may soon become one, has come in a fine second. During late years, Germany has tripled its arms export.
The reason why the flow of arms has turned towards Third World countries is twofold:
i) The termination of the cold war and disarmament agreements have resulted in large surplus stocks of arms in Europe, arms that do no longer belong to the newest technological acquisitions and should be disposed of.
ii) Military reductions in the West cause armament manufacturers great marketing difficulties at home, and consequently they seek to work up new markets. They do not just sit down waiting for customers, so a heavy pressure is put on potential buyers.
A generally acknowledged truth is still valid, namely the one saying that without sufficient sales, armament manufacturers will not be able to meet the governments' demand for a technical development of new arms. And governments have to consider not only technological but also economic interests and interests relating to foreign politics. The result is a very aggressive marketing policy.
Besides arranging big arms fairs in various places round about the world the large exporting countries grant potential buyers cheap loans and price support. This means that it is in actual fact the taxpayers in the arms exporting countries who pay and not the buyers. In the USA it is a matter of up to one third of the price of the arms. In many cases also the development aid is used in support of purchases of arms.
The large arms exporting countries
In the UK a special departmental committee, The Defence Export Services Organization, has been set up with the sole purpose of increasing sales of arms. The government grant loans and allow credits in support of the sales.
The British overseas development fund provides capital for the Pergau dam in Malaysia, a project that arouses much protest because it will cause the submersion of vast territories and displace thousands of people. The UK demands a quid pro quo in the shape of arms contracts.
It was recently disclosed that at the same time as the UK in 1990 sold 80 tanks to Nigeria, the British development aid to Nigeria was increased from 6.3 million pounds to 67.7 million pounds.
From 1988 to 1992 the American production of arms has gone down by one third. But then the USA have increased their share of arms exports from 31.1 per cent in 1989 to 45.8 per cent in 1992. Still grave concern prevails in the USA. During the cold war the American home market bore a great part of the production costs. Now this has to be regained by exports, and in order to hold out against the many competitors, who are all at the same game, arms exports are subsidized by comprehensive export guarantees, cheap loans to the buyers, and remission of old military debts. Furthermore, the Congress recently issued extra grants to the armament industry. These grants were offset by cuts in social budgets. If the USA continues along this line they will soon be in charge of more than half of all sales of arms in the world.
In France, the State office DGA, Direction Generale pour l'Armement, is responsible for planning, research, development, and production of armament systems and for arms industry and export control. For reasons relating to foreign policy and to economy, the arms export has always had a high priority in France. Therefore, the State gives export guarantees to arms export through COFACE, Compagnie Francaise d'Assurance pour le Commerce Exterieur, while a commission under the Ministry of Finance is responsible for credit guarantees.
During the period 1976-1990, credit guarantees for military export contracts to an amount of 440 million French francs were given. In comparison, during the same period credit guarantees for civil goods were given to an amount of 970 million French francs, 1.e. a little more than the double. 85 per cent of the military export went to countries in the South. According to SIPRI however, French arms trade has now declined by 40 per cent. This applies only to large weapons, however, these being the only ones registered by SIPRI.
The chief part of German armament industry is private property. Nevertheless, it is highly State-aided by credits, government guaranteed loans, other subsidies, and an increasing improper use of means meant for development aid. From 1985 to 1992, e.g., Germany endowed Turkey with Ristungssonderhilfe (a special aid for armament) to an amount of 3,600 million German marks.
German arms export has grown fast. At the moment every tenth large weapon traded internationally comes from Germany. According to SIPRI, 41 per cent of all armament export come from Germany. This sudden export boom is caused partly by a "generous" gift from the Volksarme of the former East Germany. Many countries now regard Germany as the most important source of conventional arms. And yet, according to Frankfurter Rundschau, the armament industry has lately intensified the pressure to have the existing export restrictions abolished.
For many years, the Soviet Union/Russia competed with the USA for the leading place among the exporting nations, but it lost its share so fast that in 1993 it accounted for only 11 per cent of the world's total arms export. In 1993, however, the Russian export stayed at the same level as in 1992, and comprehensive agreements about arms deliveries to china and Government statements about the necessity of doubling the export of arms in order to get foreign exchange indicate that we shall see a strongly increased export of arms in the years to come.
Since 1991, China has been fourth among the world's arms suppliers and in view of the present political development and growing economic interest in China a reduction of the arms export is hardly to be expected.
And the small exporting countries
A similar development can be seen in most other industrialized countries and in those countries that are at the point of reaching the same level, e.g. the ASEAN countries, Brazil, Argentina, and others, and no holds are barred in the pursuit of shares in the export market. Spain, e.g., that has good export connections with Arab, Latin American, and African countries has now begun to increase its export by means of credits from the humanitarian aid. Argument: otherwise the country would not be able to stand the competition from Egypt and Brazil. Thus Morocco recently received arms to the value of 1.3 million German marks from Spain.
A particular problem is the export of what is designated "dual use"-articles, 1.e. articles with double applicability. They are applicable for civil, including police, as well as for military purposes. This also includes the majority of sub-supplies to firms in the armament industry such as military electronics, etc. It is a question of arms export only where it is not possible unambiguously to prove another application. This is a rule that in practice opens many loopholes. All small countries are exporters of dual use-articles to a smaller or greater extent, as e.g. Denmark that has a comprehensive exports of electronics to armament manufacturers.
Today's trading in arms
"The chance of building a more sensible world, a world with less wars, less distress, and more democracy, which the termination of the cold war made us hope for, has been considerably reduced by the comprehensive export of arms." (Frankfurter Rundschau, February 19th, 1994).
Today's trading in arms is not a deplorable but an inevitable collateral circumstance in the case of wars. Today, this trading rests on aggressive export drives and sales techniques, e.g. large arms fairs all over the world and the sending out of military advisers, and it is promoted by the arms manufacturing countries through export guarantees, loans, credits, direct use of humanitarian aids, and an often most lenient attitude towards the merchants of the black market.
Maybe, the trading in arms does not create war, but the huge quantities of arms accumulating in seats of trouble all over the world do make the possibility of peaceable solutions of conflicts more or less illusory.
The constant flow of munitions that sets in where a war is about to break out or where there is great danger of an outbreak of war leads to prolonged wars. Two thirds of all contemporary wars have been going on for more than ten years.
The often prolonged wars in our time cause the civilian populations to be affected more severely than ever before in world history. They create thousands to millions of refugees and they undermine the social structure of the countries so that rebuilding, when at last possible, takes a long time and gets very costly.
The trading in arms swallows up the sparse means of the poor countries, also when there is no war. It undermines the economy of the countries, destroys the social structure and thus prevents a democratic development. The advanced systems that are now spread by the arms export of the industrialized countries serve to strengthen the prestige of military authorities and elites. The local military authorities become part of the international party that is in possession of highly developed weapons.
An international task
CDU-politician Karl Lamers, who is working for a liberalization of the German export of arms, explains, "I suppose a Kurd does not care whether it is a Russian or a German weapon that kills him" .
Many people say - or anyway think - the same as Karl Lamers. By way of justification of its arms export any country would assert, "If we do not sell the arms, others will".
And they are right. But this cannot serve to justify continuous sales of ever more advanced arms. The world may finally end up destroying itself if the countries go on basing their economies on the sales of arms. At the moment, however, it is illusory to believe that any single country could change developments. This is an international task, maybe it is one of the most urgent tasks in our time, it is a task of crucial social importance for the entire international society.
SIPRI Annual 1994 - Ruth Leger Sivard, World military and social expenditure, several volumes
Dan Smith conflict and war in Susan George, The debt boomerang 1992