Arms, Ambivalence and Answers: where is the triple A?

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 Share of world military spending 2012head 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 Arms sales agreementsget 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.


An opportunity today, for a greater impact tomorrow

Today, nations have the opportunity to have an impact on tomorrow. If this sentence is true for every day, nations’ impact today can be quantified. Indeed, the first internationally-binding agreement to regulate the $85bn annual trade in arms and ammunition could be ratified.

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) was adopted by the U.N. in April and opens for country signature on the 3rd of June 2013. This Treaty already passed with just three “no” votes, from Iran, North Korea and Syria and will require the ratification of 50 countries to come into effect.

These images speak for themselves…



Chinese Mare Nostrum

Following the article about China’s naval military expansion, this map clearly points out the different dimensions of the topic at hand: economic challenges, military expansion, spheres of influence, international presence (mainly from the US).


This map comes after the accusation by US officials concerniing cyber-attacks on the US, including the latest allegation that Chinese hackers gained access to more than two dozen of America’s most advanced weapons systems. More to come on this topic…

Chinese naval military expansion and maritime threats: troubled waters ahead?

Recent events between China and Japan as well North Korea and its Asian counterparts have put the spotlight of the international community on this region. Strategic trade routes, new fishing grounds and oil reserves has led to increasing military naval capabilities and an incremental rise of tensions on the seas, especially for the Asian dragon. The international community can only hope that water will put out its flames and that economic interest will continue to supersede its military ambitions.

Underlying regional tensions and military surge

Naval military expansion is no news for South East Asia, but recent political divergences and symbolic events have attracted the eyes of the international community on this part of the world’s waters. In terms of political tensions, the Senkaku islands have been the latest squabble between Chinese and Japanese officials. The archipelago has been controlled by Japan since 1895 but China disputed the proposed US handover of authority to Japan in 1971 and has asserted its claims to the islands since that time. The territory is close to key shipping lanes and rich fishing grounds, and there might be oil reserves in the area. But in September 2012 the Japanese government purchased three of the disputed islands from their private owners, prompting large-scale protests in China and a rise of political tensions since. These tensions culminated in the Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera revealing that a Chinese frigate had locked weapons-targeting radar onto a Japanese destroyer and helicopter on two occasions in January 2013. Furthermore, 8 Chinese maritime surveillance vessels entered Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku islands on the 23rd of April. This incursion comes after several other incursions by a smaller number of boats, as well as fishing boats. One can thus see the incremental steps in rising tensions, at first political through various declarations, and then materializing through incursions.

In parallel to the Senkaku island squabble, China symbolically commissioned its first aircraft carrier on September 25, 2012, the Liaoning, which is a Soviet-era carrier bought from the Ukraine and then refitted. Even though this vessel is considered by military experts to be decades behind US carrier technology, it is a symbolic move shedding light on a constant process of military build-up, especially in terms of naval capabilities. Chinese naval capabilities have been growing from 172 ships in 2005 to an estimated 221 vessels in 2012. According to an article published on ‘The Diplomat’, “China’s military shipbuilding technical capabilities can likely become as good as Russia’s are now by China military spending2020 and will near current U.S. shipbuilding technical proficiency levels by 2030.” According to the World Bank, Chinese military expenditure represents 2% of its GDP and the country spent over 100 billion dollars in its military budget in 2012. This military expansion is played with a fine political strategy by Chinese officials, who often send mixed signals about their intentions. Officials first said the Liaoning was bought to serve as a floating casino and then said it will be used primarily for training purposes, but these are only mirage declarations for the pursuit of Chinese naval hegemony of the China Sea. Furthermore, China recently announced that it will build a second, larger aircraft carrier that will be able to carry more fighter jets.

Economic and Geopolitial impact

One of the underlying questions concerning the current topic is whether economic interests will tame or rather encourage tensions. On a geopolitical level, the rise in Chinese naval capabilities poses questions for its neighbors in terms of balance of power and security. This might pose a threat and this rise in military power might trigger an arms race or the decision of preemptive strikes. China has also been building port infrastructure for the past decade and has formed a “pearl necklace” that represents a sphere of influence. The “String of Pearls” theory developed by Christopher J. Pehrson, a lieutenant colonel in the U. S. Air Force clearly highlights increasing Chinese influence and geopolitical expansion in South-East and south Asia as well as in Indian Ocean. This theory is interesting since it links at its core the economic and military expansion of China. This blurs the real intentions of China, as seen previously. Hence another factor resides in truly understanding China’s real objectives in the region.

The “string of pearls” leads to another key question for the region, namely the reaction of the US to this trend towards militarization and economic expansion. So far, a naval response has also been privileged, with the US launching their first drone which has the size of a fighter jet and which can take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. The X-47B is the first drone designed to take off and land on a carrier, meaning the US military would not need permission from other countries to use their bases and also showing that their naval strategy is predominant. Developed by Northrop Grumman under a 2007 contract at a cost of $1.4bn, the X-47B is capable of carrying weapons and providing around-the-clock intelligence, surveillance and targeting, according to the navy, which has been giving updates on the project over the past few years. Also, the US just revealed that it will deploy a new vessel with the latest technological advances, The USS Freedom, which will form part of a more nimble and efficient US naval force in the Asia-Pacific region, a move China views with suspicion.

Action stations?

There are signs of an eruption in the China Sea, and so far no military conflict has occurred between the protagonists, and no event has truly raised the question of military intervention, but one can observe the incremental process of diplomatic tensions, belligerent statements and actual military provocations between countries of the East China Sea. Questions arise concerning what will come next. Will there be a real military clash between some of the countries in the region? What would be the implications of such an event? Would there be a domino effect resulting in a regional conflict? Economic interests remains the key factor in the region’s future, will it be taming the dragon or unleash its flames?

The EU’s development policy: from rubble to flowers

In the midst of the EU’s economic crisis, one light is shining on the bleak picture ahead. The EU’s development policy might be the salvation for European countries – as ironic as this may sound, the EU’s development policy might be the answer to its own economic difficulties.

The EU’s burgeoning development policy

In order to understand what the EU aims to do in the future in terms of its development policies, it is important to understand what the EU has done so far. The EU is the world’s largest aid donor in terms of humanitarian and development aid and here are some figures that can help understand its actions a bit better (sources: European Commission):

  • The EU collectively gave 56% (around €50 billion) of global aid in 2009;
  • The European Commission gave 12.6% of global aid in 2009 (around €12 billion), making it the second largest donor after the USA;
  • The EU helps 24 million of the world’s poorest people get food;
  • The EU enables 9 million children to enrol in primary school;
  • The EU helps 31 million households gain access to better drinking water;
  • The EU builds and / or maintains 36,000 kilometres of road in developing countries.

Not only does the EU promote development through its economic means, but the political weight of its Members and their combined policies is its main strength. The whole political endeavour started with the aim to promote peace and reduce poverty in the aftermath of the Second World War. This rationale is deeply anchored in the EU’s political identity, which it now promotes beyond its borders. It wants to spread its norms, values and beliefs in Human Rights, the Rule of Law and Peace. This political culture culminated with the EU having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2012. In a short amount of time, the EU rose from rubble and developed a political rationale that wants to help other countries in need to be able to do the same.

Recently, the EU’s development policy has been given a boost. As often in the history of European integration, the action and leadership of one of its Members initiated more political integration and power for the EU and by proxy to all its Members. France’s leadership in Mali has created an impetus for the EU’s development policy and for other EU Members to shine in the foreign policy sphere.

This operation triggered the EU Aid ministers to agree to unblock €250 million in development aid to Mali that was put on hold after the March 2012 coup and an ensuing advance by Islamist rebels across the northern part of the country. This event was coupled by the initiative to fight poverty and environmental protection into a single framework, giving the EU more power and more weight internationally. The Commissioner for development Andris Piebalgs also announced the release of a communication which entails the EU taking responsibility for the aftermath of the 2015 United Nations Millennium Goals, some of which will not be achieved. This communication entails a “plan that commits to helping finance poverty reduction through sustainable growth, despite deep economic and financial troubles at home”. All this aims to promote the EU as a ‘Role Model’ for its international counterparts.

The road ahead: a flower in bloom?

The recent economic difficulties that the EU is experiencing reduce the scope of action that European countries have in terms of development aid and development policies. The EU has reached a momentum in terms of international aid and international influence. A slow-down in this process will lead to vicious circle adding to the many problems it is experiencing. The solution is to keep this momentum going, and not lose faith in the international weight that the EU and its members have reached. This might lead to more opportunities and help the EU solve its own economic and political problems. Unity is missing, and international partners are missing. Giving to others is the key to enabling the EU to build new partnerships and new political allies, in order to strengthen its unity at home. Economic hardship often implies inward-looking behaviour. The development policies of the EU are the key to prevent this from happening.

Winston Churchill who initiated the idea of peace achieved through political and economic unity also coined that “it is more agreeable to have the power to give than to receive”. Following this phrase, member states and EU actors now have a political role to play and more ambitions to follow. The EU has stated it wants to do more for development: now is the time to put words into action, and this could be the response to its own problems.

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The French intervention in Mali – context and prospects

Unilateral action and incremental steps towards multilateralism

On 11th of January 2013, France decided to intervene in Mali after a desperate call for help from the Malian government to the international community. It was the only country to respond by deploying its troops, backed by the UN Security Council resolution 2085 passed in December 2012 allowing for a 3000-strong African-led mission to intervene in Mali. France’s forces went alone, sporadically helped by the underequipped and undertrained Malian army which had been stripped by the jihadists they are fighting.

This unilateral decision made by France’s President François Hollande was not only a good political move to divert attention on problems at home with rising unemployment and sluggish economic growth, but also a way to assert France’s power in West Africa. It also goes to show that the French army is one of the only armies in the world that can deploy such a force so rapidly and with such intensity combining airstrikes, troop deployment, intelligence-gathering and coordinating logistical supply. Only the US, Israel and Britain could also possibly have the capacity to react in such a way. To date, France has sent about 3,000 troops on the ground.


International support was unconditional with regards to the necessity of France’s intervention in Mali. However, military and logistical support from allies came slowly and in a very limited capacity. Consequently questions about multilateral action following this response quickly came to the fore, concerning their future involvement and the following steps of the operation. The African mission initially planned within the UN mandate slowly got itself organised. The French intervention most likely triggered the assembly of this force. The intervention gave neighbouring African countries the possibility to assert their influence and put together the force needed, as stipulated in the UN resolution. African countries such as Nigeria, Senegal, Togo and Burkina Faso are participating in this mission, which will involve around 3500 troops in total. The EU has also decided to send a team to train Malian soldiers. So far, US involvement has been limited to logistical support for French troops, with military transport aircrafts being lent to the French Army. The US has also given its support in terms of intelligence-sharing. The use of military drones and possible agents or Special Forces on the ground cannot be confirmed but is most likely. This relates to the US interest in containing militant Islamist movements wherever they sprout in the world.

The French and Malian troops, along with the combined African forces have successfully freed the major cities in Mali by pushing jihadists out to remote parts of the Sahara deserts and into the northern mountainous part of the country. The question of international presence in the form of a possible UN presence on the ground is still to be determined in the aftermath of the fighting. France’s involvement, on the other hand, will have to be long term.

What next?

As demonstrated by this operation in Mali, the incremental move towards a multilateral response is a positive evolution in response to an international crisis. Material support is still limited, but the international community will now push Mali to accelerate its political transition. The military situation on the ground has changed from a swift operation to a military presence. The jihadists have now withdrawn from the conventional combat scenes and entered into guerrilla warfare. A recent comparison of the intervention in Mali to the NATO mission to fight the Talibans in Afghanistan is much ado about nothing. The modus operandi of the jihadists in sub-Saharan Africa has been of drug and weapon trafficking as well as taking people hostage, as seen in the attack on the oil plant in Algeria shortly after the operation in Mali.

This operation has reached a turning point whereby the major Malian towns have now been seized, and combat will presumably shift to guerrilla warfare. This situation brings forward new questions for the weeks and months to come. Namely, how will the guerrilla warfare affect the strategy of the operation? With regards to duration, how long will this operation last, and what will be the international community’s involvement in the long run? And perhaps most critical is the question about the long-term considerations:  what will the impact of this operation be for the future of Mali and that of its neighbours?

Some preliminary positive conclusions can already been drawn. Firstly, the jihadist threat has been stopped in Mali, and terrorist organisations in the region have suffered from the operation, limiting their geographical scope and material capabilities. Secondly, Mali has now entered a new political phase, which gives hope to its people as well as its neighbouring countries. Thirdly, the economic impact of this operation is undeniable. Mali and its neighbouring countries will benefit from a more stable situation in terms of foreign direct investment, domestic economic security and stability and lack of volatility in commodity markets. The international community and the states involved in this operation will also benefit from this stability economically. Maybe this will be a good enough incentive for more action to follow.

The EU Mission against Piracy in Somalia, a positive evolution

EU reaction to piracy

In light of the EU being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 12th 2012, the EU Mission against piracy in Somalia reflects the EU’s normative power, and a uniquely dynamic way of carrying out foreign policy.

PiratesThe EU has often been depicted as ‘a force for good’ in the international system, as a way to characterise its foreign policy. This definition has become ever more focused since the creation of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) which entails the development of capabilities for the EU to act in the international system. This step indeed signified the EU coming of age and becoming a ‘mature player in international politics.’

The Atalanta mission in the Gulf of Aden conducted under ESDP reflects this same theoretical framework. When the mission started in December 2008, the waters of the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia witnessed a rise of acts of piracy with attacks of cruise-liners, merchant ships and private yachts. In 2008, the pirates held around 40 ships in the Gulf of Aden, with more than 200 crew members in captivity and ransoms worth above $45 million had been paid out to recover vessels and crew from Somali hands. These events highlighted the need for an integrated strategy to cope with the increase of piracy activities. The term “integrated strategy”  underlines the need not only to tackle the problem of piracy by sending ships to counter their attacks, but also to offer a comprehensive response that would deal with the roots of the problem.

The international community has reacted to this recurrent and rising problem of piracy in Somalia. Firstly, The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed a US/France resolution 1816 on 2 June 2008 to give foreign warships the legal right to enter Somali waters ‘for the purposes of repressing acts of piracy and armed robbery.’ Another multilateral reaction under US leadership provided a ‘general approach’ with the Combined Taskforce 150 whose main aim is to tackle war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq and only had the piracy problem as a secondary task. Other missions were launched under the NATO framework in late 2008 and in 2009 to protect World Food Programme (WFP) ships while the current Operation Open Shield was launched afterwards to tackle piracy and secure the trade route in the Gulf of Aden.

At the end of 2008, after the Council had publicly condemned acts of piracy and the general situation in Somalia, the EU launched EUNAVFOR and declared the Atalanta operation had two main objectives. Firstly, the protection of vessels of the WFP delivering food aid to displaced persons in Somalia. Secondly, the protection of vulnerable vessels cruising off the Somali coast, and the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast in accordance with the mandate laid down in UNSC Resolution 1816.

Since the deployment of this force, the International Maritime Bureau has reported a drop in Somali piracy and ‘the number of ships signalling attacks by Somali pirates has fallen in 2012 to its lowest since 2009’.

The EU’s multilateral and normative footprint

The way the operation has been conducted reflects the normative nature of the EU’s foreign policy. Indeed, aspects such as the attachment to multilateralism and the different norms and values that it traditionally upholds can also be found in the operational record of the Atalanta mission. A press release by the Council of the European Union declared that the implementation of the operation ‘should be firmly committed to the Rule of Law, respect for Human Rights and the principles of good governance and accountability.’

The deployment of the member states’ forces under a single command within ESDP has been successful and demonstrates multilateral cooperation in action. Pirate attacks have been prevented and Somali pirates have been killed or captured. The success rate for pirates to board a ship was one in three in 2008 and dropped to one in thirteen in 2009. Between the launching of the operation and July 2010, the operation successfully escorted WFP ships.

The development of a comprehensive approach in the Horn of Africa is the key to dealing with piracy and the related issues that it entails. Therefore Operation Atalanta and the tackling of piracy with naval vessels is only one of many aspects of the mission in this region bringing a lasting solution. The initiative came on 25 January 2010 to set up EUTM Somalia, another mission related to the mandate of operation Atalanta and reflecting the desire of the EU, with the means available at its disposal, to tackle the problem on Somali land. This mission is taking place in Uganda in order to train Somali security forces. This force would eventually secure areas in Somalia where the TFG has limited control and thus help to restore some form of authority within the country.

The EU also uses all the institutional leverages at its disposal, with the European Commission also funding the salaries of a 5,000-strong police service in Mogadishu. The EU has also shown its will to help the coordination with other international responses in Somalia such as the African Union (AU) whose AMISOM mission involving 6000 troops, aims to stabilise Mogadishu.

With the Atalanta mission, one can observe an evolution where the EU firstly used its hard power in order to tackle piracy and then a desire to truly deal with the root causes of the problem. We can thus begin to understand the potential of the EU’s foreign policy in using its unique system in order to tackle international challenges. In a report by the United Kingdom’s House of Lords, Mr. Jason Alderwick believed that in the context of operation Atalanta, ‘the advantage of the EU was that it had a variety of political instruments; it could enter into political agreements with states in the region, both as a collective entity and through its Member States.’ These instruments offer the EU a number of possibilities to use its normative foreign policy in a beneficial way to tackle complex security challenges and resolve other pressing international crises.

India’s arms deals and the balance of power in Asia

Military escalation

India might be on the verge of signing a contract to buy ‘Rafale’ fighter jets from France, after stating exclusive talks with the French company Dassault Aviation for a 126-plane order. This arms deal brings forth new considerations to the simmering conflict between India and Pakistan that could have immense repercussions in Asia. The spotlight of the international community on recent events in Afghanistan has somewhat shaded the ongoing Indo-Paki tension, and recent events could trigger the escalation of military power between the two Asian neighbours.

India has now become the first importer of weapons globally. New Delhi initially budgeted about 1.93 trillion rupees ($36 billion) for defence spending in this financial year to March, an increase of 17% from 2011-2012 when spending hiked by another 12%. This rise in military spending brings forward a first concern being the balance of power between India and Pakistan. These two countries have already been in conflict in 1947, 1965, 1975 and 1999. A relentless arms race between India and Pakistan is not good news for the region. The terrorist attack in Bombay in 2008, involving terrorists from Pakistan as well as the recent incidents along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir are premises of an ever-growing threat to the region.

By proxy this escalation and underlying arms deal also concerns China.  Pakistan and China have recently started military cooperation with the modernisation of their respective armies in terms of missile capabilities as well as nuclear technology. This cooperation echoes calls from India to reinforce political and economic cooperation with China. In this triumvirate of Asian powers, China is now becoming a central actor. China’s deployment of its first aircraft carrier underlines its military ambitions in the China Seas as well as the Indian Ocean -with its recent rapprochement with the Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh- sparking major concerns for India’s critical economic trade routes.

Several questions in terms of regional security arise. How will the end of the NATO mission in Afghanistan in 2014 affect simmering or historical crises in the region? What will be the implications of a relentless arms race between India, China and Pakistan? At face value, this deal also highlights rapid shifts in geopolitical power-poles.  Who could have imagined just a decade ago that India could be buying French fighter jets?

Make money not war

This rise in military power can also be seen through a different lens, namely a political and economic one. A rise in military spending is also linked to the recent economic boom of the region. The countries in this region need to modernise their armies to match their economic prowess. The contract between France and India for the order of 126 fighter jets is a testament of the rise in economic weight, or buying power, in the region. Therefore, military escalation does not necessarily mean conflict.  It could just be wise investment of excess capital.

The visit of French President François Hollande on the 14th and 15th of February aimed at securing this arms deal, amounting to about $12 billion. His visit also served a political purpose to reinforce ties between the two countries. François Hollande affirmed that selling fighter jets does not mean India will use it to wrong ends, and highlighted the normative aspect of this deal which involves technological transfers between France and India. Indeed, only about 10% of the Rafale fighter jets will be produced in France, while the rest will be built in India, involving around 30 Indian companies.

This deal can be hailed as an Indian political and economic victory. In a context of regional tension, political victories that also allude to economic strength often have more weight than weapons.