Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 27, 2000
Why the new interest in small arms dealers
Earlier this year, the UN held one of three preparatory meetings to gear up for the UN 2001 Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, in All its Aspects.
I especially like the "in all its aspects" in this long title, since it offers hope that maybe all trade in small arms might be considered illicit.
Thus far, participating governments have failed to agree on the basics. The deliberations revealed some deep division on what constitutes "illicit trafficking" and the debate centred on how narrowly these two words could be defined.
There is much at stake. The sale of small arms is a lucrative business that some countries are not about to give up willingly. A number of delegates were deeply troubled by any talks on arms trade control. In the free market economy deregulation is in and control is out.
In the view of the traders, small arms are just another item on a long list of conventional arms that are traded daily. Some countries are heavily reliant on this trade, economically, politically and strategically.
The land mine treaty ran into similar problems when a number of key players including the U.S., refused to sign on.
Other delegates, including representatives of civil society, enthusiastically pushed the human rights aspect. They cited the need for conflict management and resolution. They argued that peaceful development is impossible if human security is threatened.
But it seems, even after the much-publicized new "military humanism" and the "humanitarian war" in Yugoslavia, that there is a limit on how humane the arms dealers want to become.
The reason might well be that economic globalization has fundamentally changed the nature of warfare. Typically, the current wars are no longer fought between countries, but within countries.
As wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, both here and in the Third World, the rich seek security in gated and guarded communities. They know that the marginalized majority might die from hunger, but they are not going to roll over and play dead.
There are some 30,000 of these fortress enclaves in the U.S. alone, and private security guards outnumber the regular police force. In Canada, the Secret Service is warning about possible upheavals and violent riots that will be instigated by "leftist malcontents."
Internationally, government arms purchases also indicate that civil unrest is going to be the main threat to stability.
Countries are not buying as much heavy equipment as they were a few years ago, like fighter jets and super tanks. The switch has been from expensive external combat hardware to less expensive small arms, helicopters, infantry weapons and riot gear.
The weapons that the major arms dealers are selling to foreign governments will be used primarily to control their own populations and to keep their country safe for investments.
Far from reaching agreement on small arms control, the World Trade Organization is actually trying to organize trade facilitation and "harmonization" to loosen regulations in order to make it easier to ship arms and other deadly materials across borders. There is big money in small arms.
It makes you wonder why George W. Bush is so anxious to promote his mega anti-missile program when it makes more practical sense for politicians to invest in a handgun and a bullet-proof vest. By all think tank accounts, the homeless are not going to be as harmless as we hoped they might be.
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