The arms trade

By Thabet
No surprises that the US remains the biggest supplier and spender of arms to other governments. With the Chinese and Russians closing the spending gap on the US, global military spending reached a record in 2008, despite the financial and economic crises (though, at this stage, this is probably due to a lag in record keeping and the completion of pre-existing agreements). Interestingly, three Arab countries, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and (oddly) Moroccowere some of the biggest spenders on arms outside the OECD. Saudi Arabia and the UAE make sense given the geopolitical significance of the area and the stand off with Iran. Morocco seems harder to contextualise. As far as I can see, its main military efforts are in its ongoing occupation of Western Sahara, or combatting the emergence of the North African version of al-Qaida. Anyone have any ideas?
The data above, however, refers only to government-to-government sales. Commercial deals are not tracked with the same rigour. Global monitoring of the arms trade remains secretive or poor. Efforts at a global arms controls or proposals to tax the arms industry (taxation helps monitor the movement of goods) have often come unstuck and rejected by powerful governments. This shouldn’t be surprising: the G8 accounts for 85% of arms sales, and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are also some of the world’s biggest arms dealers — who said realpolitik needn’t be financially rewarding? (There is, however, a serious moral hazard to consider with taxing the industry too.) But it’s not just the rich and powerful countries that have objected; a number of Arab League members, including Saudi Arabia, dislike the idea that human rights abuses should be linked to the purchase of weapons — again this comes as no surprise.
This summer saw another commitment to draw up a treaty aimed at controlling the global movement of arms. It remains to be seen how effective such a treaty will be, and how it will take into account power disparities (what if a group of people take up arms to defend themselves from state abuses?).
In the UK, the arms industry continues to receive generous government support (in the form of our taxes or other dubious activities). This makes the lack of monitoring in the UK all the more troubling. If only for selfish reasons, we should press our government for transparency in how our taxes and state resources are spent in supporting the arms industry (Whitehall is notoriously secretive).
The arms trade is controversial not only amongst leftists and anti-arms trade campaigners, who cite the flood of these smaller scale weapons of mass destruction in war torn regions (notably Africa) as reason to regulate the industry much more heavily. Professional Engineering, the dry and often boring magazine of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (think about those guest publications on Have I Got News for You), becomes rather lively when the arms trade is under discussion, with many engineers voicing their disapproval of the institute’s promotion of the British arms trade in anyway. The arguments usually boil down to national interest, security and job creation versus the professional code of conduct (pdf) and ethics of selling arms to states with dubious human rights records and a history of dubious wars — which would include the Britishgovernment
Source : Technorati

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