Conventional Weapons

(This is section 27 of the World Beyond War white paper A Global Security System: An Alternative to War. Continue to preceding | following section.)

Weapons-making and weapons trade is all around us. Approximately half the revenues of Boeing Corporation come not from 747s and other commercial airplanes, but from fighter planes, attack helicopters, military drones, air force tankers, and other products of the company’s Defense Division. (Image: Boeing Corporation)

The world is awash in armaments, everything from automatic weapons to battle tanks and heavy artillery. The flood of arms contributes both to the escalation of violence in wars and to the dangers of crime and terrorism. It aids governments that have committed gross human rights abuses, creates international instability, and perpetuates the belief that peace can be achieved by guns.

Outlaw the Arms Trade

Arms manufacturers have lucrative government contracts and are even subsidized by them and also sell on the open market. The U.S. and others have sold billions in arms into the volatile and violent Middle East. Sometimes the arms are sold to both sides in a conflict, as in the case of Iraq and Iran and the war that killed between 600,000 and 1,250,000 based on scholarly estimates.note29 Sometimes they end up being used against the seller or its allies, as in the case of weapons the U.S. provided to the Mujahedeen which ended up in the hands of al Qaeda, and the arms the U.S. sold or gave to Iraq which ended up in the hands of ISIS during its 2014 invasion of Iraq.

The international trade in death-dealing weapons is huge, over $70 billion per year. The main exporters of arms to the world are the powers that fought in World War II; in order: U.S., Russia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.

The UN adopted the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on April 2, 2013. It does not abolish the international arms trade. The treaty is an “instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” It was scheduled to go into force in December 2014. In the main, it says the exporters will monitor themselves to avoid selling arms to “terrorists or rogue states.” The U.S. made certain that it had a veto over the text by demanding that consensus govern the deliberations. The U.S. demanded that the treaty leave huge loopholes so that the treaty will not “unduly interfere with our ability to import, export, or transfer arms in support of our national security and foreign policy interests” [and] “the international arms trade is a legitimate commercial activity” [and] “otherwise lawful commercial trade in arms must not be unduly hindered.” Further, “There is no requirement for reporting on or marking and tracing of ammunition or explosives [and] there will be no mandate for an international body to enforce an ATT.”

An Alternative Security System requires a major level of disarmament in order for all nations to feel safe from aggression. The UN defines general and complete disarmament “…as the elimination of all WMD, coupled with the “balanced reduction of armed forces and conventional armaments, based on the principle of undiminished security of the parties with a view to promoting or enhancing stability at a lower military level, taking into account the need of all States to protect their security” (UN General Assembly, Final Document of the First Special Session on Disarmament, para. 22.) This definition of disarmament seems to have holes large enough to drive a tank through. A much more aggressive treaty with dated reduction levels is required, as well as an enforcement mechanism.

The Treaty appears to do no more than require States Parties to create an agency to oversee arms exports and imports and to determine if they think the arms will be misused for such activities as genocide or piracy and to report annually on their trade. It does not appear to do the job since it leaves the control of the trade up to those who want to export and import. A far more vigorous and enforceable ban on the export of arms is necessary. The arms trade needs to be added to the International Criminal Court’s list of “crimes against humanity” and enforced in the case of individual arms manufacturers and traders and by the Security Council in its mandate to confront violations of “international peace and security” in the case of sovereign states as the selling agents.note30

Outlaw Weapons In Outer Space

Several countries have developed plans and even hardware for warfare in outer space including ground to space and space to space weapons to attack satellites, and space to ground weapons (including laser weapons) to attack earth installations from space. The dangers of placing weapons in outer space are obvious, especially in the case of nuclear weapons or advanced technology weapons. 130 nations now have space programs and there are 3000 operational satellites in space. The dangers include undermining existing weapons conventions and starting a new arms race. If such a space-based war were to occur the consequences would be terrifying for earth’s inhabitants as well as risking the dangers of the Kessler Syndrome, a scenario in which the density of objects in low earth orbit is high enough that attacking some would start a cascade of collisions generating enough space debris to render space exploration or even the use of satellites infeasible for decades, possibly generations.

Believing it had the lead in this type of weapons R&D, “Assistant Secretary of the United States Air Force for Space, Keith R. Hall, said, ‘With regard to space dominance, we have it, we like it and we’re going to keep it.’”

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty was reaffirmed in 1999 by 138 nations with only the U.S. and Israel abstaining. It prohibits WMDs in space and the construction of military bases on the moon but leaves a loophole for conventional, laser and high energy particle beam weapons. The United Nations Committee on Disarmament has struggled for years to get consensus on a treaty banning these weapons but has been continually blocked by the United States. A weak, non-binding, voluntary Code of Conduct has been proposed but “the US is insisting on a provision in this third version of the Code of Conduct that, while making a voluntary promise to ‘refrain from any action which brings about, directly or indirectly, damage, or destruction, of space objects’, qualifies that directive with the language “unless such action is justified”. “Justification” is based on the right of self-defense that is built into the UN Charter. Such a qualification renders even a voluntary agreement meaningless. A more robust treaty banning all weapons in outer space is a necessary component of an Alternative Security System.note31

(Continue to preceding | following section.)

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29. For comprehensive information and data see the website of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which received the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons. (return to main article)
30. Estimates range from 600,000 (Battle Deaths Dataset) to 1,250,000 (Correlates of War Project). It should be noted, that measuring casualties of war is a controversial topic. Importantly, indirect war-deaths are not accurately measurable. Indirect casualties can be traced back to the following: destruction of infrastructure; landmines; use of depleted uranium; refugees and internally displaced people; malnutrition; diseases; lawlessness; intra-state killings; victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence; social injustice. Read more at: The human costs of war – definitional and methodological ambiguity of casualties (return to main article)
31. Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court identifies the crimes against humanity. (return to main article)

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