US, UK lead world arms sales despite claims to ethical constraints

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

M.A. Shaikh

Rabi' al-Thani 28, 1418 1997-09-01

Special Reports

by M.A. Shaikh (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 13, Rabi' al-Thani, 1418)

The US and Britain have increased their shares of the global arms market in 1996 despite claims by Washington and London that they are adopting ethical codes to guide the conduct of foreign policy.

The annual arms survey by the Congressional Research Service in Washington reveals that, for the first time in many years, the world arms market notched up an expansion in 1996 - an increase of 5 percent to $31.8 billion worth of trade which represents a reversal of the steady decline since the end of the cold war.

The US has always led the top league of weapons exporters but Britain did surprisingly well, overtaking both France and Russia, the other two big arms exporters, with $14.8 billion worth of trade.

Britain’s success, announced earleir in the year, coincided with a well-publicised pledge by Robin Cook, the new foreign secretary, to conduct foreign policy on strict moral grounds. As soon as the new Labour government elected in May, took office, Cook swiftly announced a review of British arms sales, leading human rights campaigners to expect that the proposal sale of weapons to Indonesia’s general Suharfu would be suspended.

But when the review’s results were announced on July 28, it became clear that the foreign secretary’s much-vaunted moral fastidiousness would not interfere with the sale to Indonesia of $260 million worth of Hawk fighters as well as water cannon and armoured cars.

Protests by campaigners and members of parliament, including labour MPs, failed to move Cook to change his mind. Blaming the outgoing Conservative government of approving the deal, he said he would apply a strict ethical code to future transactions. But as the London - based Economist magazine commented at the time, ‘Britain is a top arms exporter and Indonesia is a big customer.’ And that must have been Cook’s decisive consideration.

While the issue of morality and arms sales was being debated hotly in the British media, a London tabloid borke the news that Cook was leaving his wife for a younger mistress, who happens to be his parliamentary secretary. The revelations forced him to announce that he would seek divorce from his wife to join his mistress in an open relationship. Mercifully, the incident seems to have persuaded him to drop his high-minded moral posturing.

But the Americans have been just as hypocritical as their British cousins. The US in fact increased its already huge share of the world arms market last year to 35.5 percent-$113 billion worth of trade - while secretary of State Madeleine Albright pledges to introduce emphasis on post cold-war - humanitarian priorities.

The cynicism of the Clinton adminsitration was revealed when the US president announced in August an end to the US ban on the sale of advanced American weapons to Latin American countries - threatening to trigger off a disastrous arms race in the region.

Admittedly, the US figure is a lot lower than during the height of the cold war and after the Gulf war, when the US was selling arms worth more than $20 billion. But according to the Congressional survey, there is still big business in upgrading and maintaining weapons sold during cold war.

The survey results led to strong criticism of the Clinton administration from human rights and peace organizations on August 17. The director for the Centre for Defence Information, retired admiral Eugene Carrol, said the Clinton administration was still intent on putting traditional interests before global stability.

‘To keep the US the number one arms trader is not a way to promote our interests and our leadership’, he said.

Oscar Arias, ex-president of Costa Rica, who is often described as Latin America’s Jimmy Carter, uses even stronger language to condemn Washington’s determination to push defence sales, whatever the moral or humanitarian cost. He sees no difference between pushing arms and pushing drugs. ‘What if Columbia refused to crack down on its trafickers, saying that if they did not meet America’s demand of cocaine, Peruvian ones would?’

The Congressional survey also discusses the problems facing Russia as an arms exporter, explaining why it has dropped to fourth place. The drop is due to the collapse of the traditional Soviet-markets other than China, says the report, with importers worried about the Russian defence companies reliability as ‘suppliers of the spare parts and support systems needed to maintain the weapons systems they sell’.

China emerged in the 1980’s as an arms exporter to developing countries but it still remains dependent, mostly on Russia, on foreign suppliers for a good deal of its armoury.

The prinicipal losers in the global arms market, are the Muslim countries, especially the oil-rich ones, which squander their petro-dollars on weapons they cannot use against strategic enemies such as Israel.

A moratorium on arms purchases by Muslims, even for short periods, could throw the US, Russia and Britain into a frenzy. But then the corrupt Muslim dictators do not buy costly weapons to defend their countries but, rather, to receive the huge commisions and kickbacks they’ve become accustomed to. of $260 million worth of Hawk fighters as well as water cannon and armoured cars.

Muslimedia - September 1-15, 1997

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