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conceptual mapping >  building peace  > Buying arms; selling lives: critical roles in arms control

Chanaa Jane

Buying arms; selling lives: critical roles in arms control

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> id21 communicating development research

The world spends US$ 900 billion on defence each year, but only around US$ 50 billion on development aid. Across Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, an average of US$ 22 billion is spent annually on arms. This sum would enable those regions to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of achieving universal primary education and reducing infant and maternal mortality. Instead one child in five does not complete primary school, more than 10 million children die each year, and half a million women die in pregnancy or childbirth. id21 Guest Editor Jane Chanaa points to the crucial roles that development organisations and exporter and importer states must play in halting the negative impact of arms deals on development.

Countries have a right to self-defence, as enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations (UN) Charter. But the same Charter also requires countries to achieve peace and security ’with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources’. Excessive or ’inappropriate’ arms purchases are a drain on social and economic resources, particularly for developing countries. Thorough, transparent assessments of arms deals are needed. There is a real urgency for arms importers and exporters to carefully weigh the legitimate security needs of a country, against the impact of arms sales by assessing the extent to which development commitments, arms controls and human rights are being compromised. Development organisations also have a critical role to play in the development and implementation of such assessments.

The potential consequences of an arms import are not always clear-cut. When a government decides on an arms purchase according to legitimate security needs and to meet a specific development target, it can positively affect sustainable development. A rare example of this is the case of the Ghanaian government’s decision to acquire US naval vessels for the protection of fishing grounds. This resulted in fines on foreign fishing vessels that significantly contributed to the government treasury as well as conserving natural resources.

Importer governments sometimes do make decisions with development commitments clearly in mind. In January 2003, Brazil’s new government under President Lula decided to suspend the purchase of 12 military jets costing between US$ 700 million and US$ 1 billion, reportedly so that it could spend more on social programmes. About 15 % of the country’s population are seriously malnourished, and around 33 % of Brazilians live in poverty.

Yet all too often governments’ large expenditures on arms do not take into account the acute development needs of their countries. The decision to import arms is normally taken within a single ministry, or by a relatively small select group of officials, and is rarely open to public scrutiny. In addition, government decisions to import arms are generally conducted entirely separate to decisions to pursue development commitments. Initiatives such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRSP) process rarely include commitments to balance development and defence needs.

Arms export control regimes in the EU, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Wassenaar Arrangement (a group of the 33 major arms exporting states) include commitments to take sustainable development into account when making arms licensing decisions. In spite of these, it is shocking how few governments make a serious attempt to ensure that arms exports do not undermine sustainable development. In fact, two of the world’s biggest arms exporters - Russia (an OSCE member) and China do not incorporate any sustainable development considerations into their arms-export licensing decisions. Denying arms export licenses on sustainable development grounds or even incorporating such a commitment into the national licensing regime is extremely uncommon amongst exporter countries. Read more

date of on-line publication : 25 October 2007

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