1990s >> 1995 >> no-1085-january-1995

Arming the world for profit

Socialists never need to be reminded that there is an insane logic to capitalism, that capitalism continues to throw up obscene contradictions that appear to consign the human species to a downward spiral towards oblivion. The world arms trade for instance.

Britain is the world’s second biggest arms supplier. There are 145,000 workers in this country employed directly or indirectly in the arms trade. If we add to this figure the number of Britain’s armed forces, regulars and reserves, the figure jumps to 750,000 people gaining an income from the maiming and killing business. Which means for every two employed in hospitals and clinics, etc saving lives and helping people, there is one employed in doing the exact opposite, albeit unwittingly.

Most of us are familiar with the hackneyed justifications for Britain’s share (20 percent) of the world arms trade. It goes something like: “If ’we’ didn’t sell arms, someone else would.” The reality is that arms sales generate profit, and for capitalists where there is the potential for profits, then morals and principles go out of the window.

Arms dividend
We were led to believe that the end of the Cold War would initiate a “peace dividend”. Money hitherto spent on arms would be rechannelled into social programmes such as health, welfare and education. Capitalism was finally going to put on the humanistic guise that the threat of “communism” had prevented it doing in the past. If anything, however, the post-Cold War set-up now means that the West can sell arms anywhere, even to countries that had previously been dependent on Russia.

While it is true that “Third World” countries now only purchase one-third of the arms they did in 1988. the vacuum is being filled with arms sales to newly-developing countries like Brazil. Pakistan. Indonesia and China. Hence, mid-November saw the US Defence Secretary, William Perry, “opening the door to a possible sale of advanced fighter jets to Latin America at the start of a six-day trip to improve military ties with Brazil and Argentina”. (Guardian, 17 November).

Days previously, the Observer (13 November) ran a headline about a secret UK arms deal with Indonesia worth £2 billion, inclusive of military hardware and military training for the Indonesian army.

Between May and November this year, the UN Security Council and the EU lifted arms embargoes on three countries famous for aggression and repression — Israel. Syria and South Africa. That these countries already possess the wherewithal to defend themselves against potential enemies — both South Africa and Israel have a nuclear capability — matters little to Western governments. The profit motive comes first.

And such is the thirst for profit that Western governments are prepared to sell arms to both sides in a conflict. During the Iran/lraq war some 26 countries were arming both sides, fuelling a war that lasted 8 years, killed 1.000,000 people and cost $600 billion. During Pakistan’s and India’s most recent stand-off and General Zhia’s intimidating sabre-rattling that threatened to pitch Hindu against Moslem, it was Britain that saw to it that both countries were armed to the teeth should insults come to blows. Furthermore, Britain is currently arming five countries with internal conflicts.

In November 1991, Douglas Hurd was telling Europe to stop aiding foreign countries with repressive regimes, declaring that “governments who persist with repressive policies should not expect us to support their folly with scarce resources”. Two months later, the Guardian would prove Hurd a hypocrite when they reported that “Britain provides military training for 110 countries . . . Training in Cambodia includes sabotage and mine-laying courses” (15 January 1992).


When asked whether it is still government policy to export landmines in spite of a UN resolution banning their export, Roger Freeman, Minister for Defence Procurement replied: “We are not going to export them . . . except in certain circumstances when we’re dealing with a friendly nation”. Douglas Hurd expressed similar sentiments, believing “there is nothing wrong with selling arms to friendly countries to allow them to defend themselves” (Observer, 13 November 1994).


These absurd statements pose the question: if there are so many “friendly” countries, how come there is so much war in the world? Again, why does Britain have a defence procurement programme for 1994-5 totalling £9,363 million? And on what basis can Britain justify its £12 billion contribution to the £32 billion Eurofighter 2000 project?


Sales drive
In recent months. President Clinton has launched an overseas arms drive in an attempt to bolster the sagging US arms industry, if it was ever sagging in the first place. The US government had previously insisted that arms exports are only sanctioned when they serve US interests or help US allies.


Any war or potential conflict now has huge spin-offs for the arms-dealing governments of the West. No sooner had the Gulf War ended when Middle East orders for arms worth $28 billion were secured by the US. Since the end of the Gulf War, world arms sales to the Middle East have totalled $55 billion, $14 billion of which has been supplied by Britain. British sales include 88 Blackhawk helicopters, 94 Hawk and 48 Tornado aircraft and 18 Challenger 2 tanks.


In the Middle East, the very fact that Saddam is still in power is being used by the US as a ploy. With an unpredictable “madman” in the Middle East, having fought two wars in ten years and having already lobbed missiles at Iran, Israel, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the existence of Saddam serves US interests. So long as he remains in power he scares his neighbours, who are only too happy to turn to Western arms dealers for the arms with which to defend themselves. Recall also Clinton’s recent attempt to portray North Korea as the new Asian bogey man, prompting neighbouring countries to put in huge orders for Western state-of-the-art defence systems.


“A war on poverty,” wrote Tory MP Alan Howarth in the Guardian (17 November), “would be a more cost effective strategy than stacking up arms against imaginary enemies or selling them to regimes which have no commitment to peace.” Maybe, but rechannelling money spent on arms into social programmes is not going to happen. Capitalism, by its very nature, breeds competition and conflict, and consequently, nationalism, jingoism and war. Arms sales are endemic to this process. That is the insane logic of capitalism.


John Bissett