by Abdar Rahman Koya (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 7, Sha'ban, 1427)
The international arms trade is one of the largest and most profitable in the world, with developing countries spending vast amounts on Western arms. ABDAR RAHMAN KOYA discusses how the West abuses its power in this unequal and exploitative relationship.
On August 19 the zionists were exposed in a botched-up ‘commando' operation to "stop arms transfer from Iran" to Hizbullah. One small question that arises is why a similar panic was not felt in Tel Aviv when the Saudis acquired $10 billion dollars' worth of sophisticated Eurofighter aircraft from Britain. Many who are familiar with the subservient nature of the Saudi regime would argue that the Saudis are trusted allies of the US and therefore pose no threat, but the reality is that the kingdom was built on sand, and political power might be transferred to the increasingly vocal anti-US Islamic opposition. The other answer is probably that the Israelis have already got a higher-end missile to intercept such aircraft in the extremely unlikely event of a war between the Saudis and Israel. Recall the first Gulf war, when Saddam Hussein fired Scuds into Israel: he was stupid enough to ignore the truth about the weapons that he had; its neutraliser, the ‘Patriot', had been shipped to Israel before he got the Scuds.
On June 1, Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, giving his trademark "frank views", urged Muslims to build their own weaponry and to manufacture fighter aircraft, rockets, tanks and cannon instead of purchasing those designed and manufactured by others. His words echoed an earlier speech he gave to Muslim scholars at a conference in Malaysiathree years ago, a few days before he stepped down from office.
On June 20, speaking at an anti-war forum of which he is the patron, the former Malaysian strongman let out a confession that confirmed what many had pointed out before. He recalled how, when he was prime minister, officials from Europe and the US, representing arms manufacturers, would visit now and then, marketing their latest destructive toys. Their marketing strategy was often thinly-veiled blackmail: "if you are not interested in the purchase of our latest weapons, perhaps your neighbours might be." The government was then left with little choice but to part with billions of dollars.
In response to a question from a participant, Mahathir, who ruled Malaysia for more than two decades, also revealed how the same people would return a few months later to market another "latest invention": a weapon able to neutralise the weapons purchased earlier. The same blackmail was used, that the neighbours were also keen. This time, it was riskier to not buy again. Eventually yet another multibillion-dollar ‘defence' contract had to be signed.
Despite his current anti-government vitriol, the revelation by a man who was at the helm of power for so long goes to prove how the West, through its multitrillion-dollar arms industry, blackmails ‘third world' and Muslim governments. When such arms purchases are made by a Muslim country, the chances of subsequent purchases are wide open, by employing the tactics of selling what can be termed "counter-arms".
Mahathir's revelation sheds light on why Malaysia has been locked in an arms race with neighbouring southeast Asian countries. His tenure was the time of some of the biggest arms purchases from Western arms manufacturers. In 2002 and 2003, Malaysia's defence shopping-bill came to more than RM16 billion (US$4.5 billion), the bulk of the contracts going to theUS, France, Britain and Russia, in that order. In 2004, post-Mahathir, RM1.6 billion were set aside to purchase arms. Even shortage of cash did not deter the government from committing billions of dollars for arms purchases. In May last year, the Asian Wall Street Journal reported that Malaysia was engaging in an arms deal worth US$1billion in which Malaysia would commit its gold reserves to help finance the purchase of warships and other equipment. Under the deal, British defence contractor BAE Systems PLC arranged financing for the purchases with a loan secured by gold certificates issued by the Malaysian government.
It has been argued repeatedly that ‘third world' and Muslim countries spend more money on arms and weapons than on social needs, but that is another story. The more immediate question is how Muslim countries could have been manufacturing their own weapons, tanks and aircraft, instead of taking the risk of toying with borrowed technology that is imitation-proof. That the West continues to sell arms to Muslim countries, even to unstable regimes such as Saudi Arabia, and therefore risks the arms landing in the "wrong hands" (i.e. ‘Islamists', if political power changes hands) underlines the fact that the use of these arms against it or its allies is not much of a worry. The West would be more worried if the technologies could be adapted and imitated locally, or even developed locally. The big players of the modern weapons industry, as in the software industry controlled by the likes of Microsoft and Sun, stand to lose much if such codes and techniques are deciphered and open to imitation.
Many of the weapons and aircraft sold by the West – for instance the sale of Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft worth $10 billion to the Saudis last month – come with their own expiry dates and computer encryption, in much the same way that car-manufacturers nowadays increasingly prefer to use the electronic control unit (ECU), so that major engine-breakdowns can only be diagnosed and treated at the car-makers' own service centres, where the relevant software programs are available. Similarly, these hitech weapons need expensive upgrades now and again. Usually the ‘upgrade' means doing away with the weapon and buying newer counter-weapons before potential enemies buy them.
It is these realities that form the basis of Western frenzy at Iran's locally-developed nuclear technology. It is not that the West is concerned that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons; the fact is that these weapons could fall outside the specifications and manufacturing expertise of Western companies, and therefore be difficult to counter by invention of a new weapon, for instance.
How have Muslim countries fared in responding to this situation? In the Arab world the situation remains hopeless, with the Gulf states at the top of the league of purchasers of arms that will be of little use to them when war breaks out. Almost all Muslim countries do not export weapons, which in turn could mean their weapons technology is for local consumption and cannot match the West's. As a result, almost all Muslim countries turn to the US (the world's foremost arms exporter), France, Britain, Russia and China. Even Pakistan, with all its bravado about having nuclear missiles, has failed to come up with an alternative arms-manufacturing industry to offer other Muslim states. This is neither shocking nor surprising, considering the quality of the Pakistani regime.
But recent developments may alter the scenario somewhat. Some Muslim countries, notably Iran, have been making progress on building their own missiles. On August 20 Iransuccessfully test-fired the Sagheh ("lightning"), a surface-to-surface short-range locally-developed missile that has a range of up to 250 kilometres (150 miles). Iran is already equipped with the Shahab-3 missile, which Western defence experts claim is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Another upgraded version of the ballistic missile has a range of more than 2,000 kilometres and is able to strike Israel and American forces in the Middle East. Since 1992 Iran has produced its own tanks, armoured carriers, missiles and a fighter plane. Early last year it announced that it had begun to produce torpedoes.
In April Malaysia announced that its first prototype unmanned aerial vehicle, or "drone", developed by three local companies, would be ready for trials in a few months' time. Drones, long used by Israel in its war against Hizbullah to carry out assassination operations, are pilotless aircraft that can perform the same functions as manned aircraft, including penetrating enemy air defences and demolishing targets with precision-guided weapons.
Whether or not these inventions will cut down imports of weapons from Western countries it is too early to tell. Nonetheless, it shows there is some hope for Muslim countries who want to defend themselves in a time when military conflicts can be set off and called off with a mouse-click. While Muslims should in no way pride themselves on their destructive machinery, such a development is welcome news to counter the West's lucrative arms industry. It is even more crucial when one takes into account the fact that no amount of imported hi-tech weaponry will help to protect Muslims whenever there is military conflict, for as long as they do not originate from Muslim minds.