Nepal: Trade of Small arms; Causing big Suffering

Ms. Prem Kumari Pant

Chief Ed. The Weekly Mirror Nepal

No doubt, the country is being increasingly inflicted by smuggling and illegal trade of small arms. This fast festering malaise has intensified serious crimes like murder, extortion, death threats, abduction and robbery. Fears are palpable that the growing market of small arms in the country may wreck the social fabric of the country. This is also hampering the efforts towards overcoming the social and     economic trauma left by the decade-long armed conflict. However, the state seems lackadaisical towards keeping tab on this malicious trend.

Dreadful global scene There are around half a billion small arms around the world and some 300,000 to half a million people around the world are killed by them each year. They are also the major cause of civilian casualties in modern conflicts.

This is far higher than the casualty ôunt from conventional weapons of war like tanks, bomber jets or warships.

Estimates of the black market trade in small arms range from US$2-b billion a year.

Every minute, someone is killed by a gun At least 1,200 companies in 98 countries worldwide are involved in some aspect of the production of small arms andlor ammunition.

As the United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs describes, Small arms and light weapons destabilise regions. This is because they spark, fuel and prolong conflicts; obstruct relief programmes; undermine peace initiatives; exacerbate human rights abuses; hamper development; and foster a “culture of violence.”

The Control Arms Campaign also notes that illicit drugs production thrives on territory outside the control of recognised governments, and 95 per cent of i the world’s production of hard drugs takes place in contexts of armed conflict. Valuable natural resources are illegally exploited by armed groups and their state sponsors ruining millions of lives and impeding local development

International trade suffers and illicit markets thrive, to the detriment of national economies.

The UN also adds to these problems, unlike nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, there are no international treaties or other legal instruments for dealing with these weapons, which states and also individual legal owners rely on for their defense needs.

During the cold war, many nations were flooded with small arms by powerful nations such as the USA and the former Soviet Union and their major allies. Even though the cold war has ended, the small arms still remain and hëIp fuel political and ethnic differences into conflict.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council- France, Russia, China, the UK, and the USA-together account for 90 per cent of the world’s conventional arms exports; and these exports contribute regularly to gross abuses of human rights.

The lack of arms controls allows some to profit from the misery of others.

While international attention is focused on the need to control weapons of mass destruction, the trade in conventional weapons continues to operate in a legal and moral vacuum. More and more countries are starting to produce small arms, many with little ability or will to regulate their use. Most national arms controls are riddled with loopholes or barely enforced. Key weaknesses are lax controls on the brokering, licensed production, and “end use” of arms. Arms get into the wrong hands through weak controls on firearm ownership, weapons management, and misuse by authorised users of weapons. Countries which are not renowned for the manufacture of weapons often play an important role in the transit and transfer of arms. Thus arms transfers involve all countries, whether they suffer the effects of arms or transfer weapons-not only newly manufactured arms, but re exported, second-hand, surplus, or collected weapons, and weapons in transit.

The small arms are weapons of mass destruction.

People living in poor countries are more than twice as likely to die a violent death as those living in rich countries.

Many of these deaths are due to the misuse of small arms, the ownership of which has spread throughout poor communities as a result of war and the insecurities of poverty.

The spread of small arms is both an effect and a cause of underdevelopment and poverty.

One of the causes behind the inaction of some of the worlds wealthiest states is domestic politics and economic self- interest.

Developing nations continue to be the primary focus of foreign arms sales activities carried out by weapons suppliers.

Major purchases continue to be made by a select few developing nations in these regions, principally India in Asia, and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East.

The strength of developing economies has been a significant factor in the timing of many of their arms purchasing decisions.

Permanent UN Security Council members-the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China- dominate the world trade in arms.

From 1998 to 2001, the USA, the UK, and France earned more income from arms sales to developing countries than they gave in aid.

The arms industry operates without regulation. It is fraught with widespread corruption and bribes.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council profit most from this murderous trade? Together, they are responsible for ninety per cent of reported conventional arms exports.

The third world is often the destination for arms sales as the Control Arms Campaign also highlights graphically:

Respect for human rights is often overlooked as arms are sold to known human rights violators. Some oppressive regimes are only too willing to purchase more arms under the pretext of their own war against terrorism.

Importantly, in both cases, democracies or popular regimes have (or had) been overthrow. But the arms trade may not always be a root cause, because there are often various geopolitical interests. However, the sale of arms can be a significant contributor to problems because of the enormous impact of the weapons involved.

The armament firms have been active in fomenting war scares and in persuading their countries to adopt warlike policies.

The armament firms have attempted to bribe government officials, both at home and abroad.

It is done through disseminating false reports and influencing public opinion concerning the military and naval programs of various countries, in order to stimulate armament expenditure.

They also organized international armament rings through which the armament race has been accentuated by playing off one country against another.

Justification for arms and creating the market for arms expenditure is not a new concept. The call to war and fear mongering is an old tradition.

This rush to globalize arms production and sales ignores the grave humanitarian and strategic consequences of global weapons proliferation. Already, profit motives in the military industry have resulted in arms export decisions that contravene such U.S. foreign policy goals as preserving stability and promoting human rights and democracy.

Wealthy countries give their corporations hidden subsidies through defence contracts, and maintain a technologically advanced industrial capacity. In every international trade and investment agreement, one will find a clause which exempts government programs and policies deemed vital for national security. Here is the loophole that allows the maintenance of corporate subsidies through virtually unlimited military spending.

To counter the horrific act of terrorism in the United States, on September 11, 2001, the US has started a “War on Terrorism”. In the pursuit of military policies which include selling amis or providing assistance to other countries, the U.S. has expressed minimal concern about the potential side effects. The increase in militarism itself is risking both the resthction of people’s rights, and the entrenching of power of those who violate human rights.

The United States is more willing than ever to sell or give away weapons to countries that have pledged assistance in the so called global war on terror. And in order to do this, the super power has revised the list of countries that are ineligible to receive U.S. weapons so that a significant number of countries are now receiving military aid that would have been denied before Sept. 11.

This latest round of military aid has made one thing clear: the U.S. military has found a new excuse to extend its reach around the globe, arming regimes that had previously been blacklisted for human rights abuses, weapons proliferation, or brutal conflict. What remains to be seen is how long the Congress and the American public will accept this formula, especially when they see no concrete results in return.

With regards to corruption, the relevant feature of arms trade is that government ministers, civil servants and military officers have become so intimately involved in the arms export business that they must have been unable to avoid condoning bribery, if not encouraging it; or obtaining funds from it for the benefit .of themselves, or in the case of politicians, for their political party.

With the arms trade, governments and corporations can “cooperate” to meet their different political and economic agendas. The military industrial complexes of the powerful countries also help influence and shape foreign and military policies in a way that enhances their bottom line of profits. For governments though, selling arms can help other and strategic interests.

Many US weapons are also sold to ethnic cleansing since the Second World War. The US turns a blind eye to these atrocities because they are able to set up bases in such a key geopolitical location, giving access to places in the Middle East.

There are also many arms trade-related interests in the Middle East. By having pro-US monarchies and other regimes not necessarily democracies at the helm and promoting policies that often ignore democracy and human rights, arms deals are often lucrative and help continue US foreign policy objectives.

The Middle East is the most militarized region in the world procuring more arms than anywhere else. When combining authoritarian regimes and dictatorships, with arms sellers willing to sell weapons to those regimes, the people of the regions are often repressed, and this is a partial explanation for why there is so much fanaticism and extremism.

It is crystal clear that the arms trade is one of the wicked crithes in the world. It is fueling conflict, poverty and misery globally. Since the early 1 990s there have been efforts to review and develop arms- transfer principles and codes of conduct to ensure that arms are not sold to human rights violators. The US, EU and others have developed some codes, but they are fraught with problems, loopholes, lack of transparency and are open to corruption. There is a proposed international arms trade treaty to overcome these limitations. However, for various political and profit reasons, some nations seem unwilling to agree to a code of conduct. Proposals are growing stronger for an arms trade treaty. Will that suffer the same problem?

Thanks author Ms. Pant: Ed.

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