Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Myths About the Global Arm Trade

As Carol Cohn succinctly puts it in her piece Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals:  "Defense intellectuals are men who use the concept of deterrence to explain why it is safe to have weapons of a kind and number it is not safe to use". Although her analysis focuses on nuclear weapons, the same can be applied to the global arms trade and the myths that are regularly spouted by those who benefit from it. Although there is always some form of opposition to wars, there are even more who are able to rationalize war because they believe the arms industry is necessary in some form (or the arms trade directly benefits them, read: military-industrial complex). As a result, the arms trade has become one powerful component of a geopolitical infrastructure that helps drive global conflict.  A few of these myths are outlined below:

  1. "Higher Defense Spending Means Increased Security"
No where has the military increased security threats so significantly than in the Middle East in the last 15 years. An ill conceived invasion of Iraq and the longest war the US has ever fought, is still continuing in Afghanistan. This was all to fight a "War on Terror", which is really a "War on War" and increases the possibility of slipping into a state of perpetual war. A study done by RAND in 2008 looked at the life cycles of 648 terrorist groups from 1968 to 2006. 46% of terrorist groups ceased to exist because they were incorporated into political structures, while only 7% of terrorist groups were effectively destroyed by military campaigns. As a country that spends 14 times more on the Pentagon than the State Department, and already has a grossly distorted defense budget, the US has made a moral decision that militarization is more important than the well being of the population, and has accepted a situation that is spiraling out of control. To defense companies, it doesn't matter whether a war is being won or lost. They are still making money all the same. 

   2. "National Security Requires Secrecy" 

While it is certainly true that many elements of national security must remain top secret to protect the interests of countries, we live in an age of excessive secrecy that is born out of the Cold War. The defense industry is linked to national security concerns which acts as a cloak in many arms transactions. Tony Blair, one of the most prolific arms salesmen of all time, provides a great example of this. When challenged by the Serious Fraud Office Enquiry about serious corruption in BAE systems involving huge amounts of bribes paid to Saudi officials, Blair simply stopped the enquiry because of endangering Britain's security. A few years earlier, he "convinced" South African president Thabo Mbeki to sign a $10bn deal with BAE systems. This is also the same time Mbeki confessed South Africa did not have enough public funds to treat the disproportionate AIDS epidemic. A study done a few years later showed that $10bn could have provided every South African school with a stocked library and employed a teacher for 20 years. Or put a roof over the head of 2m South Africans, 200,000 less than the ultimate goal of putting a roof over everyone's head. Or, it could have provided anti-retroviral treatment to every afflicted South African for 12 years. But the scarce public funds went to weapons South Africa didn't need. The irony is almost painful. 

    3.  "Corruption is only in Developing Countries and Marginal to the Defense Industry as a      Whole"

Aside from being an inherently ignorant statement in itself, a further look into the arms trade show that developed countries are the ones that stimulate corruption for their own profits. It is not a coincidence that in 2015, 83% of Britain's arms exports went to Saudi Arabia (valued at $800m, who then received $800m worth of oil from the kingdom). A majority of these arms ended up being used on the Saudi population, but even more went to killing civilians in Yemen, to which Britain has continued to turn a blind eye. Many forget that the arms trade itself is hard wired for corruption and buying friends. The highly technical nature of the system means very few people are able to critically evaluate deals, and are more prone to bribery. The revolving door phenomenon is prolific throughout the West (read: Dick Cheney and Halliburton), meaning the same individuals circulate between the government and private sectors to align the interests of the two. 

We have seen Eisenhower devote 1/5 of his farewell address to warning us about the dangers of the military-industrial complex. With President Trump slowly formulating his foreign policy doctrine, we see a new willingness to pump high tech weaponry into global hot spots and fuel lucrative but destabilizing arms races. The situation is dire, and at this point, it seems the only people who are invested in the state are those like Lockheed Martin. 

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