Beyond an Olympic truce

The UK government should go beyond the call for an Olympic truce and take steps to end the arms trade says Kaye Stearman.

It’s good to see the UK government leading the call for a worldwide truce during the 2012 London Olympics. UK diplomats worked overtime to sign up every UN member state to co-sponsor the truce resolution, including South Sudan, the UN’s newest member, and Kiribati, one of the most isolated.

The resolution “urges member states to observe … the Olympic truce, individually and collectively,” from 27 July to 12 August for the Olympics and 29 August to 9 September for the Paralympics. The ancient Greek tradition of Olympic truces was revived in 1993 during the Bosnian war. It is not always observed – fighting between Russia and Georgia broke out during the 2008 Olympics.

A temporary truce can enable precious supplies, including food, medicines and vaccines to reach conflict areas and trapped people to escape. A temporary truce may even evolve into something more permanent. However, it cannot solve the underlying causes of conflict.

One of those causes is the ready availability of arms around the world.  And who are the major arms dealers? They are not, as frequently depicted in Hollywood blockbusters, Russian bootleggers or maverick mafia hitmen. The biggest arms dealers are in fact the five permanent members of the Security Council: the USA, UK, France, Russia and China, plus Germany and, increasingly, Israel.

And who buys arms? Practically every country, but while traditional buyer countries in Europe and North America are facing tighter military budgets, the market for expensive weaponry in Asia, the Middle East and South America continues to grow. Anyone who knows of the widespread poverty in India and Pakistan, for example, will find it hard to comprehend why these two countries are spending billions of dollars on arms.

Buying and selling arms is big business worldwide. The “legal” arms business is estimated to be worth around $40 to $60 billion a year worldwide, with the “illegal” trade worth around another $5 billion. This amount could be used to help overcome poverty, support economic growth and build useful and productive jobs, industries and infrastructure. Instead it is converted into resources designed to kill, injure and destroy. Even when weaponry is not used in warfare, it is a huge waste of resources.

So who benefits from the arms trade? The arms companies certainly do, especially the giant companies that dominate the trade. The US has the lion’s share – companies such as Lockheed, Northrup Grumman and General Dynamics. Unfortunately, the UK also has one of the largest – BAE Systems – which, together with the rest of the arms industry receives generous subsidies and support from the UK government, recently estimated at £700 million annually.

Looking forward to 2012, let’s encourage the UK government to do something really significant beyond the truce to commemorate the London Olympics. I nominate that it should stop all government support for the international arms trade.

How about these steps for starters:

  • Close down the government arms sales promotion unit, UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO).
  • End British embassies acting as sales support for arms companies.
  • Stop using the British military to demonstrate weaponry at arms fairs and expos.
  • Close down the London arms fair (DSEI) and stop participating in arms fairs overseas.
  • Get rid of all government subsidies to the arms industry, especially the huge Research and Development funding that goes into their coffers.

Learn more and take action with Campaign Against Arms Trade.

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