Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Merchants of Death

There is much paranoia in the United States about China’s rise as a global power, with politicians across the ideological spectrum referring to the country as an “adversary” or a “rival”.
The 'Tree of Life' in the British Museum, made by Mozambican artists from decommissioned weapons after that country's 16-year civil war, fuelled in part by the global arms industry.
A story in yesterday’s New York Times (“China’s Arms Industry Makes Global Inroads”) confirmed that yes, indeed, China is exhibiting the superpower pathology.  The story in question documented the manner in which China “has set its sights on moving up in the value chain in arms technology and establishing itself as a credible competitor in the global weapons market”.
This ambition has helped to move the Chinese government into the forefront of a criminal, irresponsible industry which enables and sows death and destruction around the world while averting its eyes and averring that responsibility for the repercussions of the sale of such killing machines lies elsewhere.
Amnesty International characterises the top arms exporters as the “Big Six”: China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain, and the United States.  All of these countries, in engaging in a trade worth tens of billions annually, sell their weapons irresponsibly: whether to despotic or kleptocratic governments dominated by their respective militaries; to indebted countries as a way of keeping governments addicted to arms rather than focussing on serious social problems; or to countries with long histories of human rights abuses.
Weapons sales have the capacity to subvert democracy not only in the countries on the importing end.  The exporters suffer as well.  For example, when Britain’s Serious Fraud Office began to investigate a corrupt, bribe-ridden arms deal between BAE Systems and the Saudi Arabian government, the Saudis threatened to shut down intelligence sharing if Britain persisted in the investigation.  Knuckling under to this blackmail by a repressive client state, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair enraged Britons by forcing the SFO to halt its investigation.
And most of the Big Six governments themselves make ample use of weapons systems—whether to curb dissent at home or to wage colonial-style wars abroad.  These wars act as a subsidy to the Killing Industry which has branched out into providing contractors and even small armies for hire—willing and able to do the dirtiest of the dirty work that makes even relatively bloodthirsty governments in the U.S. blush.
There is something downright evil about the existence of such a trade.  There is something sick about democratic governments sending representatives to weapons fairs to promote the sale of weapons that they know will be used to put down domestic dissent and shore up military regimes.   There is something degrading—but illustrative of the command that corporations exert over our politics—about a head of government acting like nothing more than a pimp for companies whose trade is in death. 
There is outcry when anyone talks about regulating the arms industry or scaling back on the manufacture of arms for our own military because of the jobs such industries support (in spite of the fact that the nature of weapons systems means that they require fewer and fewer workers).  But when an immoral industry is not only contributing to our own entanglement and warmongering abroad, but also to violence in the parts of the world where U.S. companies sell their weapons, surely we must think about the moral tenability of such an argument.  And when we face ultimately far more serious threats which stem from our misuse of the Earth’s resources, there are plenty of ways in which we could be retooling our national economy in a way that employs people in productive rather than destructive enterprises.
Surely at a time when violence the world over is so visible, and when its ramifications are so far-ranging an unpredictable, we should be appalled by the expansion of an industry which flourishes by encouraging people to arm themselves against one another, and kill one another on an appalling scale. 

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