Observing data – looking more closely at facts, figures, and numbers – can sometimes lead to unexpected realisations. When one looks at countries’ military expenditure for instance, one can automatically observe incredible results: 12 billion bullets are produced every year- enough to kill everyone on earth twice. Every minute, one person is killed by armed violence. There are almost 1 billion guns in the world, one for every 7 person. Guns or other light weapons are involved in roughly 60% of all human rights violations. Three quarters of all the weapons in the world – light and heavy – are supplied by the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. These numbers may make your head spin like a bullet, but they are a reality in today’s world. Why do countries spend so much on their military budgets? Why do countries sell weapons to countries they do not have true diplomatic ties to? Why do countries spend on defence and also on development and the promotion of peace? These are questions that drive our world today. This article gives a short account of some of the major trends of military expenditure and arms trade. It raises many questions, brings forward data and empirical examples, but answers with regards to arms trade are difficult to find.
Arms vs Aid
The figures outlined above alone already speak for themselves, but if we compare them to other data, one can find some astounding contrasts. For example, the United Nations, all its agencies and funds spend about $30 billion each year or about $4 for each of the world’s inhabitants. In parallel, Global military spending amounts to 2.5% of world gross domestic product (GDP) and more than $200 for each person in the world. Yet the UN has faced financial difficulties and it has been forced to cut back on important programs in all areas, even as new mandates have arisen. Many member states have not paid their full dues and have cut their donations to the UN’s voluntary funds. The developed countries’ objective of dedicating 0.7% of their GDP to development cooperation will not be met by 2015, although this was pledged as one of the 8 Millennium Development Goals. Indeed, if aid budgets increased until 2010 – representing up to 0.32% of donors’ GDPs – the financial crisis brutally reversed this positive trend. For example, in 2012, bilateral official development assistance dropped by 13%. This decrease in financial assistance affects first and foremost the most vulnerable populations in the least developed countries.
In parallel to this curious paradigm, a recent trend has been the increase of weapons sold to developing countries. Of course a realist might say it is to protect the freedom of the freshly democratically elected government. But why are weapons sold and armies rebuilt after a country just rises from a civil war or an armed conflict?
Economy vs peace
Arms trade is a massive industry. The world order is recently experiencing a shift in world economic activity, and large countries like China, India or Brazil are buying more weapons, acquiring technology and expanding their military capabilities. They in turn boost the defence industry. Realists and liberals once more might say that this industry represents millions of jobs, provides security for thousands of families. But this industry needs more transparency and it should be less driven by mere greed.
It is hard to get information about arms deals, as they are often undisclosed and agreed through confidential tracks. But some information leaks and once again shows the amount of astounding differences between what one expects of a country’s military strategy and what it actually sells around the world in terms of arms and weapons. For example, according to a Parliamentary report of 17th of July 2013, England sells military equipment to nearly all countries that are on its own list of sensitive regimes, including Syria or Iran. Thus, from the 27 countries that Great Britain lists as sensitive in terms of Human Rights, only 2 – North Korea and South Sudan – do not have an arms contract with Great Britain.
An ambivalent world
We all know arms trade will not stop. Men will continue to acquire means to defend their resources and populations. There will still be wars, violence and weapons. In this context, it is worth noting what Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared in a speech in 1953: “The 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 cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” He spoke as a man who experienced the greatest war mankind ever saw, and a looming cold war that never used all the killing machines it developed but saw all the potential destruction it could incur. He also spoke as the President of the country that exceeds by far military spending and arms trade. This just goes to show how this issue is so ambivalent and full of incoherencies. Since this speech, the mass of weapons and the constant flow of new technologies aggregated have not been used and are piling up, hanging like the sword of Damoclès over our heads. Let us hope that it will not be used and just feed an economic system that is ever so greedy. This article has merely shown some of the great discrepancies that exist within the arms trade business. It encompasses all aspects of our society and all actors are involved: industry, politics, economic actors, public institutions and more importantly mankind.