Stopping the arms trade: The $8.5 billion dollar question

“Global military expenditure is estimated to have totalled $1.75 trillion in 2015 – that is $250 for every person on the planet.”

No apologies for quoting verbatim from a speech given by Andrew Feinstein, executive director of Corruption Watch UK and author of The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade. Feinstein was speaking at a meeting on how to stop the war in Syria and Iraq held at the United Nations in Geneva on 17 September 2015.

“The small arms trade is worth at least $8.5 billion. Around 4.5/5m firearms are sold in a year and every year about 526,000 violent deaths occur through warfare and murder.

The United States buys and sells almost as many weapons as the rest of the world combined. Other major producers of weaponry include Germany, the UK, France, Russia, Israel and China. These countries sell weapons through their large, government subsidised defence companies.

In 2014, the biggest buyer of weapons was Saudi Arabia. With the UAE, Turkey, Israel and India also increasing their purchases significantly.

Arms deals stretch across a continuum of legality and ethics from the official or formal trade to the black market or illicit trade. Grey markets are a combination of the two.

In practice, the boundaries between these three markets are fuzzy. They are often intertwined and dependent on each other. With bribery and corruption commonplace, there are very few arms transactions that do not involve illegality, most often through middlemen or agents.

Global-armsMany arms dealers who provide services to large defence companies and governments, continue to operate in the black and grey markets. Also arms dealers can see embargoes as a chance to leverage even greater profits.

The arms trade is hard-wired for corruption. It is built into its structure, into its very DNA. You have contracts worth a vast amount, being decided on by a very small number of people behind a national security imposed veil of secrecy. Perfect conditions for rampant corruption and other illegality.

Those involved in the trade wield enormous political influence through the phenomenon of the revolving door: the movement of people between positions in government, politics, the military, intelligence agencies and defence companies. The consequences of this are a distortion of policy making – not just in the ascendancy of war-making over diplomacy, but also in foreign and economic policy decisions.

A key dimension of these arrangements is the link between defence companies, arms dealers and political parties – the trade plays a crucial role in party political funding around the world.”

Addressing the US Congress on 24 September, Pope Francis was not playing to the gallery when he voiced the genuine concern of millions of people the world over: “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”


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