A license to kill: The façade of arms control
Identifying and tracking the many tentacles of the weapons and agents of mass destruction is frustratingly difficult. For all of the criticisms of Third World governments’ secrecy and lack of transparency in terms of defence spending and military operations, so many loopholes exist in so-called First World countries with regard to arms control. For example, most military shipments from Canada to the US go untracked, since they do not require government permits because of a defence agreement signed between Ottawa and Washington in the 1940s. Some critics have noted that the export licencing requirements are so minimal that it is possible that some of that equipment moves to third parties.
Some EU governments have undermined, bypassed or ignored national export criteria and the EU code of conduct on arms exports. Spain and other countries (including Britain, and of course the US) have authorized transfers of equipment and other assistance to Colombia into the hands of state security forces and paramilitaries who have committed major human rights abuses. Italian-made small arms have also been shipped to countries in conflict or where violations of human rights occur, including Algeria, Colombia, Eritrea, Indonesia, India, Israel, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sierra Leone. British activist and writer Mark Thomas illustrates how British high-tech company Radstone does not require a licence to export supplies, the computer components comprising the “brains” of the Predator drone, an unmanned Aerial vehicle produced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, which was used by the CIA to fire missile strikes at Yemen against Al-Qaeda suspects in 2002, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan in 2006, in an attack killing possibly up to 25 people including 5 women and 5 children, and more recently in the same region of Pakistan. British researcher Anna Stavrianakis argues that “[r]ather than acting to restrict arms exports, the guidelines against which arms export licence applications are assessed are vague and interpreted in such a way as to facilitate exports”. She continues, “the pro-export stance of successive UK governments, the close relationship they have with the arms industry, and the emphasis on military power as an indicator of prestige on the world stage, must all be challenged, as they form the parameters within which licensing occurs”.
According to a 2006 Amnesty International report, over 200 Chinese military trucks – normally running on US Cummins diesel engines – were shipped to Sudan in August 2005, despite a US arms embargo on both countries and the involvement of similar vehicles in killing and abducting civilians in Darfur. Chinese military hardware is shipped regularly to Burma, including the 2005 supply of 400 military trucks to Myanmar’s army. Chinese military exports went to Nepal in 2005 and early 2006, including a supply of Chinese-made rifles and grenades to Nepalese security forces, who were brutally repressing people’s movements. China is also implicated in the growing illicit trade in Chinese-made Norinco pistols in Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and particularly South Africa, often used for crimes like robbery and rape.
Militarized repression of dissent and imperialist globalization
Many governments, from the Philippines to India to Colombia, are waging overt or covert wars against resistance movements and government opponents, fostering a climate of fear in which arms and equipment are used for containing domestic dissent and security crackdowns against ‘enemies within’ – resistance movements of the poor, mobilizations of women, Indigenous Peoples, the landless, peasants, and workers, movements against free trade agreements and neoliberal reforms. Conflicts over land and inequitable access to resources are fuelled and exacerbated by the militarization of corporate activities such as mining, oil, gas, industrial farming and forestry industries. For example, a US District court judge has agreed that there is evidence showing that Chevron paid and equipped Nigerian military and police to shoot and torture protesters opposing the oil company’s activities in the Niger Delta region. Freeport McMoran paid Indonesian military, police and private security forces who attacked local communities around its Grasberg gold and copper mine in West Papua. And let’s not forget how the founder and chief executive of Aegis, former British Army Lt. Col. Tim Spicer was also founder of Sandline, another mercenary company contracted by the Papua New Guinea government over a decade ago for US $36 million for an ill-fated attempt to put down an indigenous independence movement in Bougainville, which had shut down the huge copper mine at Panguna, owned by a subsidiary of Rio Tinto. The military and the monetary, indeed.
As Uruguayan analyst/journalist Raul Zibechi notes, urban peripheries in Third World countries have also become war zones where states attempt to maintain order based on the establishment of a sort of ‘sanitary cordon’ to keep the poor isolated from ‘normal’ society. Such militarized containment of the poor reflects political and economic elites’ fear of challenges to state power from poor urban movements. The systematic undermining of states’ capacities to provide for the welfare of their populations, coupled with the disproportionate percentage of national budgets spent on the military militarization has fuelled poverty and conflict.
Kollsman, Inc. a New Hampshire-based subsidiary of Elbit, an Israeli firm involved with building the apartheid wall in occupied Palestine, was contracted by the Department of Homeland Security as part of a consortium that also includes Boeing subsidiary Boeing Integrated Defense Systems Unit to develop SBInet, a high-tech security system for the U.S.-Mexico (and US-Canada) borders, part of the Secure Border Initiative. As New York-based activist groups Ad Hoc Coalition for Justice in the Middle East and Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM) put it, “Elbit will import Israeli military technology, tested on Palestinians, for use against poor immigrants here.”
Militarization and enforceable free-market disciplines are tools to make countries ‘safe’ for foreign investors, at the expense of local communities’ rights to determine their own futures. World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements undermine social and environmental policies, but protect the war industry through a ‘security exception’ in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) (Article XXI). The security exception states that a country cannot be stopped from taking any action it considers necessary to protect its essential security interests; actions ‘relating to the traffic in arms, ammunition and implements of war and such traffic in other goods and materials as is carried on directly for the purpose of supplying a military establishment (or) taken in time of war or other emergency in international relations’. While structural adjustment and trade and investment liberalization are being imposed throughout the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, health, education, and social budgets slashed, and support for most local industries or agriculture dismantled, corporate welfare and subsidies to the defence industry, and high levels of military spending remains alive and well.
Capitalist killing machines get gender-sensitive makeover: Women resist
The burden of war, conflict, violence and militarized capitalism falls disproportionately on women. The impacts on women can be seen not only in conflict zones but through the proliferation of small arms and the creeping militarization of communities and societies at large, leading to more violence against women in domestic and community contexts, rapes, sexual violence, displacement and the exaltation of warrior masculinities. Women are more likely to become war refugees. Unsurprisingly then, it has also been women who have led resistance against militarization, war and violence, US military bases and the accompanying masculinization of broader society and social behaviour. It is usually women who pick up the pieces in communities ripped apart by war, violence and state repression. Cynthia Enloe notes that social workers who address issues of domestic violence “agree that military service is probably more conducive to violence at home than at any other occupation”. Meanwhile, we are subjected to constant claims that a primary goal of the US-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is to liberate Afghani women. Commenting on this, Sunera Thobani notes, “one battle in the ideological war was to be waged on the terrain of gender relations, … rallying western populations around fantasies of saving Muslim women would be more effective than rallying them around the overtly imperialist policies of securing US control over oil and natural gas supplies.”