Op-ed: Profiting from arms sales and death
M V Ramana
As with drugs, efforts to control the supply side are only part of the solution. Controlling the demand side is equally important. This requires India and Pakistan, to switch their priorities instead of buying expnsive arms
Earlier this week, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned, “The current tension and the build up of military forces in Kashmir could all too easily spiral out of control into a conventional and then a nuclear conflict of a kind we have never seen before.” And the consequences of such a war were “all too easy to describe: death, destruction, disease and economic collapse affecting not just the immediate war theatre but many parts of the sub-continent and lasting for years.”
Given such concern, one might expect that the UK might back up its words with some action and prohibit the sale of destructive military arms to the region, without which the build up of military forces would scarcely be possible. But despite growing pressure on the British government to impose an arms embargo on India and Pakistan, continued sale of arms to the region seems likely. The immediate proposal is to sell 60 Hawk jets to India, a deal that is worth over a billion pounds, equal to about ten years of UK bilateral aid to India.
A billion pounds is a lot of money; enough for several high-level British officials to visit India to promote the sale. The push started soon after Prime Minister Tony Blair’s visit in January of this year, hypocritically expressing the desire to “have a calming influence.” Since then, India has played host to industry minister Nigel Griffiths, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and cabinet colleague, Margaret Beckett, all seeking, in part, to push through the deal.
With such high-level interest, India will likely receive its Hawk jets and the UK, its billion pounds. Even if pressure on the UK administration were to succeed in postponing or stopping the Hawk jet deal, one can expect others in the future. Certainly, if the past is any guide. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), a broad coalition of groups and individuals in the UK working to end the international arms trade, estimates that over the past two years — while the situation in Kashmir degenerated — the UK licensed £122m and £17.5m of arms to India and Pakistan respectively. These often include similar equipment being supplied to both countries, and include combat helicopter parts, aircraft radar and small arms.
The UK is not alone in this lucrative pursuit. France, for example, sold the Agosta submarine and the technology to build it to Pakistan last year. Following that, it was India’s turn to be offered the Scorpene “killer submarine”, said to be a generation ahead of the Agosta. (If this were to go through, then presumably France would be back in Pakistan with the next generation submarine!) France was already collaborating with India in matters like upgrading of radars and modernisation of military helicopters and has become the second biggest military hardware and software supplier after Russia to India.
Other arms producing countries have also taken notice of business opportunities in South Asia. Russia has, of course, been a staple supplier of weapons to India. In the first major weapons deal between United States and India in over ten years, the US agreed in April to sell eight long-range weapon-locating radars for about US$146 millions. Other countries that have entered arms sales agreements with India are Israel, Poland and Kazakhstan, while South Africa and Sweden are contenders. Pakistan, for its part, has entered agreements with China, its traditional ally, France, Indonesia, and Ukraine, among others.
Over the five-year period from 1996 to 2000, India and Pakistan ranked at 6 and 13 among the list of arms recipients put out by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, with purchases of US$4.2 billions and US$2.6 billions respectively (1990 US dollars). The top five ranks on the other side, namely the list of suppliers, were held by the US, Russia, France, the UK and Germany, respectively. The US selling over US$49 billions was over US$10 billion ahead of the other four put together.
With massive poverty and lack of resources for development, India and Pakistan’s spending so much money on military arms purchases demonstrates the skewed priorities of the ruling elites in the two countries. It is nothing short of criminal. But by the same token, it is criminal for countries supplying these weapons to do so knowing fully well not only that they are taking money from countries with desperate poverty and underdevelopment, but also that these weapons may be used to kill people.
In thinking about the arms trade, the analogy that comes to mind is that of the drug trade, with the suppliers making huge amounts of money by making people addicted to narcotics that are detrimental to health, possibly leading to the death of the individual. Just as drug sellers comb the world for likely customers, so do arms marketers. But in comparison to the publicity given to drugs, and efforts to control and prohibit illicit production, distribution and consumption, there has been no comparative effort to control, let alone prohibit, arms sales. In fact new weapons purchases and sales are often greeted with enthusiasm.
As with drugs, efforts to control the supply side are only part of the solution. Controlling the demand side is equally important. This requires India and Pakistan, and other countries for that matter, to switch their priorities satisfying the real needs of their people and not buying the destructive wares offered by these “Merchants of Death”. The waste entailed in military weapons expenditures even moved a retired military officer like US President Eisenhower to state “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
M V Ramana is a physicist and research staff member at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security. He is the author of “Bombing Bombay? Effects of Nuclear Weapons and a Case Study of a Hypothetical Explosion” (Cambridge, USA: International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, 1999). Some of his writings can be found at http://www.geocities.com/m_v_ramana/nuclear.html