This trade is not insignificant at more than $400 billion.2 When we consider that this amount of money is thirteen times the amount required to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation,3 it is readily apparent that our priorities are skewed.
The two largest profiteers from arms manufacturing (Lockhead Martin and Boeing – both based in the US) had sales of over $30 billion each in 2013. Six of the ten largest arms manufacturers are based in the US, with combined sales of $106.7 billion in 2013. That is a huge figure – greater than the GDP of more than half the nations of the world.
Where do these arms sales end up? Developing nations are the recipients of 84% of arms deals4 - the very nations whose people are those without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. This fact beggars two questions. First, why do these nations buy arms? Second, why do the rich nations, mostly in the form of transnational corporations sell armaments to them?
The answer to these two questions comes down to just two P words: Profit and Power. The two are inextricably linked. Profit = Power = Profit = Power… ad nauseum. We all know it. We’ve all seen it. We have seen it in numerous guises over the years. Western nations selling off their dangerous, toxic and murderous commodities to those in developing nations. We’ve seen it with powdered milk products for babies.5 We’ve seen it in harmful insecticides and pesticide sales to India and African nations.
The arms trade is a nasty, vicious and utterly immoral trade. And, it is those very nations who have the responsibility for peace and security who are the major suppliers, and who gain to benefit most from the selling of death and destruction. Certainly, there are those who are prepared to buy and they have to take their own responsibility for that. But, we who live in the richer nations have a responsibility to call our governments and businesses to task.
The arms trade, like the slave trade earlier, is an economic activity that should be relegated to the history books and not part of our future stories.
1. SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) Yearbook 2015.
2. This figure does not include China’s state-owned arms manufacturers.
3. Costing MDG Target 10 on Water Supply and Sanitation, World Water Council, March 2006. p vi
4. Richard Grimmett & Paul Kerr, Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2004-11, Congressional Research Service, August 24, 2012
5. In the 1970s, following a damning issue of New Internationalist, a boycott of Nestle was launched because of it’s aggressive marketing of baby formula within developing nations. The campaign is coordinated now by International Nestlé Boycott Committee.