Turning Development Upside Down
A book about reforming relief and development

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Chapter 1- 3 War, Insecurity, Violence, Arms Trade

War and insecurity have resulted in a massive loss of economic value in developing countries over the past decades. Getting a more peaceful world and a more secure world will have enormous value in developing countries.

What war and military expenditure does in the SOUTH is disastrous. Spending on military hardware and supplies wrecks the budget. Use of military hardware and supplies kills and maims people, and uproots people from their homes and their normal occupations and creates refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). Both do serious economic damage and destroy economic wealth,

Refugees and IDPs are a quiet crisis of our time. In the last twenty years in Africa there has been a continuing crisis of refugees and IDPs, but the crisis is not on the media agenda. UNHCR talks about their own crisis. Not having enough money to look after the refugees. But that is not the issue. The real issue is why do we have refugees and IDPs in the first place.

There is something wrong with a world where poor people have guns and do not have potable water. There is something terribly wrong when governments can buy F16 fighter jet aircraft and cannot buy basic medical supplies. What is wrong is not only the focus on destruction but the totally immoral allocation of scarce resources.

The video “Arms for the Poor” produced in 1998 shows some of the issues of military arms sales to poor governments. The jobs and profits of arms manufacturers are a key driver of the problem, and difficult to get stopped.

Governments cannot stop the escalation of military equipment sales. The politics will not allow it. But if it is not stopped the world's future is going to be increasingly dangerous and increasingly poor.

The killing and maiming of both combatants and civilians is a global disgrace. But for some reason the preconditions for war and insecurity are off the international development agenda until there is hot conflict and there is a resultant humanitarian crisis.

The anti-social behavior of soldiers is another disgrace with rape and pillage in our time as bad as it was in our history books. Rape in particular with high prevalence of HIV-AIDS in the population is tantamount to murder.

President Carter, to his credit, has made the challenge of conflict resolution one of his missions in life as a past-President of the United States. But the issue of peace not war should be high on the agenda of every human being. It is a basic requirement of civilization. It is the foundation of natural law.

The sad fact about war is that there are enormous profits to be made when war is being waged. The economic history of the United States shows how immensely profitable war can be ..... as long as the nation is a supplier of the materials of war, and is not being destroyed by the process of war. In the period 1914-1918, when the First World War was being waged in Europe, the United States was able to consolidate its position as the richest nation on earth. In the period 1939 to 1946 when the Second World War was being waged around the world, the United States again advanced its position as the richest nation on earth and an emerging superpower. The great foreign wars helped make the United States wealthy. But the little foreign wars do the same thing. Guns and ammunition and land-mines and aircraft and other military supplies all add up to big and profitable business.

But the problem of peace is that there is a reduced demand for weapons of war, and weapons of war are jobs and profits in the NORTH, and it is the NORTH that is in a position to set the global agenda.

The mindset that the Second World War helped to get the US economy out of the depression of the 1930s is still a factor in the way in which people think about military spending and jobs. In the USA, cutting spending on local bases is politically very difficult, and exporting guns and military hardware is seen as good for the US economy. What these exports do for the buying nations is not part of the decision matrix.

Everything associated with war generates jobs and profits in the NORTH as long as the war is in some remote part of the SOUTH.

But this is not just the United States. This is all the European nations, it is Japan and the Asian nations, it is Russia and the newly independent republics of the former soviet union. Every nation seems happy to sell armaments to other nations. Profit for the supplier, but potential mayhem for someone else.

But another sad fact of war is that enormous profits can be made. Manufacturing organizations that produce military equipment and supplies can make huge profits. And, sadly, there is no accounting and accountability for the terrible economic value loss and human trauma that arises as a direct consequence of these materials. Not to mention the economic disruption and chronic shortages of a war economy and the rationing of essentials and the anti-social role of “black market” business

The essential immorality of profiting from war has been with me since my first memories as a toddler in London during the Second World War. There is always money to be made when there are shortages and rationing and the market system is taken over by a regulated system. The black market was profitable and corrupt

A land mine can be made for a few dollars, of which a substantial part is profit. But a land mine can blow off the legs of an unsuspecting civilian farmer thousands of miles away and years later. If the civilian does not die immediately, the persons farming performance is going to be terribly diminished, and he and his family are going to suffer horribly. Replicate this thousands of times, and it is real damage to the society.

While litigation in the United States on behalf of victims of dangerous materials like tobacco and asbestos has generated billions of dollars of claim settlement on behalf of the “victims”, there is no similar movement to make claims against the manufacturers of weapons of war, though arguably, weapons of war are inflicting far more damage and devastation on the world's people than tobacco and asbestos.

Economic value flows are all from SOUTH to NORTH. By participating in the NORTH to SOUTH arms trade, developing countries are exchanging their tangible resources for the best that is produced for economic value destruction. And by choosing value destruction the SOUTH has landed in a situation where it has an impoverished economy and a disenchanted people who are largely hopeless.

The arms trade has been and continues to be one of the aspects of the global economy that makes development fail.


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