International arms control is marked by overwhelming contradictions, double standards and ironies which effectively render its conventions futile and useless. The United Nations resolutions on armed conflicts have proven to be equally ineffective; the weapons trade is a lucrative worldwide business that flourishes even in times of financial crisis and austerity measures. International arms control does not have the unconditional support of major players for whom the industry generates huge profits, and as such continually fails. The ‘pre-emptive’ strike brand of peace often trumpeted by many of these same players is a dangerous form of peace-keeping; it is time that the international community took greater responsibility for arms control.
As an indication of the double standards rife in arms control, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the USA, Russia, China, the UK and France – are trusted with the preservation of peace yet, at the same time, are the world’s top five arms exporters according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). We often see the leaders of these countries, especially the US and Russia, signing arms control agreements, however, despite flashy names such as New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, these treaties are a complete farce. New START has been ratified by both the US and Russia, with the aim of reducing the number of missile launchers which the two countries possess. This would all be very promising, if not for the various loopholes in the treaty and the fact that, even at the reduced rate, the United States nuclear weapons have the capacity to destroy the planet multiple times over.
New START is not a genuine attempt to improve arms control. Conversely, it is a clever justification for reducing expenditure on something that exists in abundance, and instead channelling funds into the manufacturing of other arms with a worldwide market. The bonus is that the treaty gains positive publicity for supposedly making progress. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, like countless others, has been signed but not ratified by major players such as the US, China and Israel; as such it exists only in name.
It is frequently thought that various countries’ possession of nuclear weapons is the biggest threat to global security. The biggest hindrance for the peace, security and the safety of the civilian population actually comes from conventional weapons rather than nuclear ones. Non-nuclear weapons are readily available and easily accessible on a much larger scale to people who don’t hesitate to use them. As long as the US, Russia and China have nuclear weapons and some sort of balance is preserved, the use of nuclear weapons is highly unlikely. The same cannot be said for smaller arms.
In his farewell speech in 1961, former US President Dwight Eisenhower warned “against the acquisition of unwarranted influence” by the military-industrial complex. Today, the United States tops military expenditure worldwide. This year, the US will spend approximately $700 billion on military equipment – more than the combined total of the next 26 highest countries for military expenditure. In comparison, China is second placed with merely $140 billion. In the last 13 years, the United States and NATO have been involved in ‘humanitarian’ and ‘pre-emptive’ wars in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and increasingly, but not officially, in Syria. Over this period, three United States presidents have come and gone. All three have denounced human rights violations and through wars tried to export ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’. Through these ‘pre-emptive’ wars, such as in Iraq, the world has become more militarised. This has provided an impetus for even larger military budgets, and heightened disregard for the arms control treaties that exist but are largely circumvented in efforts to export ‘democracy’.
For evidence of the disregard for these treaties we need only to look at the situation in Syria, where no outside powers are officially involved. There we see AK-47s on one side and M16s on the other. Until earlier this year, Russia had been supplying the government with weapons through its military base on the Syrian coast. The Syrian opposition is being supplied with arms across the border of NATO member Turkey. Weapons are distributed on one hand to create a regime that will be docile to major world powers the US and Russia, and on the other hand to further the self-interests of regional powers such as Turkey and Israel.
The export of arms is huge business for the United States and the European Union, and 2012 is set to be another record-breaking year. Most weapons from the United States are exported to Saudi Arabia, which has a horrible human rights record especially towards women, and is one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
The military-industrial complex is huge, and boasts massive political power and influence. By fuelling armed conflicts in developing and third world countries, the complex ensures its ongoing profitability and longevity; because the industry is so profitable and many major players have vested interests in securing a constant supply of arms, arms control of conventional weapons on an international scale is not possible. It is up to the international community to become the arms controller and to reject the notion that ‘pre-emptive’ strikes are an acceptable means of achieving peace and democracy. If the UN Security Council is serious about preserving peace in the world they should start leading by example and stop making empty promises.