As we watch the ridiculous debate about coal unfold again, driven by the resources and manufacturing industries with nary a mention of the economic and social cost of climate change and pollution, governments around the world collude with another industry to cause even greater immediate harm and the death and displacement of millions of people.
In 2016, total world military spending was $1.69 trillion. Sales of arms and military services across the world totalled $374.8 billion.
The volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2013-17 was 10 per cent higher than in the preceding 5 years.
The five biggest exporters—the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China—together accounted for 74 per cent of all arms exports in 2013–17. The USA alone accounted for 34 per cent of total arms exports, half of which have gone to the Middle East.
With most states directly involved in violent conflict between 2013 and 2017, the Middle East saw its arms imports double over the past decade with the region accounting for 32 percent of global arms imports between 2013 and 2017.
Even though Saudi Arabia spent the most on military imports last year, the long-term spending picture shows that, despite the booming arms trade in the Middle East, India actually spent the most on importing weaponry over the past five years accounting for 12 per cent of the global total.
India increased its imports by 24 percent between 2008-12 and 2013-17 with Russia accounting for 62 percent of the country’s arms imports in the latter period. Since 1950, the value of India’s arms imports has dwarfed most other countries and is nearly double that of Saudi Arabia.
‘The tensions between India, on the one side, and Pakistan and China, on the other, are fuelling India’s growing demand for major weapons, which it remains unable to produce itself,’ said Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. ‘China, by contrast, is becoming increasingly capable of producing its own weapons and continues to strengthen its relations with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar through arms supplies.’
In 2013–17 China accounted for 68 per cent of arms imports by Myanmar, followed by Russia (15 per cent).
Indonesia increased its arms imports by 193 per cent between 2008–12 and 2013–17 with contributions from almost all arms exporters.
Australia ranks 53rd in the world by population but 12th for military expenditure. Disturbingly, despite budget deficits and growing debt, it was the sixth largest arms importer globally in 2013–17, with 60% coming from the USA.
Out of the ten largest arms-producing companies in 2016, seven were American.
Lockheed Martin retained its place at the top of the global arms league, selling nearly $41 billion of military equipment. Boeing’s military sales came to $29.5 billion. Raytheon is the world’s largest manufacturer of guided missiles and it came third overall with $22.9 billion in sales. The first non-U.S. company on the list is UK-based BAE Systems who saw sales hit $22.8 billion in 2016.
In fact, the list reads very much like the list of corporate sponsors for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) which used to be fully funded by government to advise on military matters but which now relies heavily on support from private industry.
Its corporate sponsors for 2015 – 2016 included Austal Ltd, BAE Systems Australia, Boeing Defence Australia, Broadspectrum, Elbit Systems of Australia, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin Australia, Raytheon, Thales Australia and ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. That’s quite a list of companies that have a strong interest in the sale of weaponry.
Dr Sue Wareham, Vice-President, Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia), asks an important question.
Do the interests of the arms industry, which are best served by a heavily militarised, weaponised and fearful Australia, and the interests of the Australian people coincide, or are they wildly divergent, or somewhere in between? Having financial backers from one side of that debate is an impediment to addressing these critical questions.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) warns of “the need to avoid supplying arms that might exacerbate an ongoing conflict, contribute to destabilizing weapons build-ups, or be used in violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”
Weapons don’t always end up with the people you think you are giving or selling them to and buyers are not duty bound in how they use them.
The opportunity cost of devoting so many intellectual, labour, material and financial resources to military expenditure is enormous.
Armies are highly-skilled, highly-trained, highly-equipped mobile workforces. Imagine how much more productive it would be to use them and their vast resources for peace-keeping, building infrastructure, disaster relief, search and rescue, emergency evacuation and medical assistance, building basic shelter and providing clean water and sanitation, psychological counselling – they are capable of all these things and so much more.
How do you best protect people and bring peace to the world?
Do you fight to impose your ideology on others or do you respect the freedom to choose?
Do you bomb them and shoot them and destroy their schools and hospitals and roads? Do you spend more and more in a race to collect more weapons as a deterrent?
Or do you help them in times of need? Do you lift them out of poverty and educate them? Do you make them feel safe and give them opportunity to achieve their potential?
Can you respect differences whilst acknowledging our common humanity and shared home?
Jobs, growth, investment and profit cannot be goals in isolation. We have to start considering the part we play in building the world we want to live in.
When industries come first, people die.