Guns, Greed and the EU
The EU is second only to the United States in Private Arms Sales
“the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded”
“We are justifiably shocked when we note and learn that global military spending in just one day is almost double the regular annual budget of the United Nations. And we are frustrated and disappointed when we face difficulties achieving Millennium Development Goals so important for millions and millions because of lack of resources. As we all should realize, “the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded.”
This was a comment made by UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson at the opening of the Disarmament Commission’s 2014 session. It sounds like a generic sentiment. Peace is good, war is bad. But the figures hinted at in the quote indicate that this is more than some lamentation of the state of the planet. Figures for military spending are not always easy to come by. Phrases like ‘National security’ and ‘National interest’ are used, not just in relation to this lack of transparency but also in relation to a justification of the expenditure itself. In the 2012 figures released by SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) Russia and China have amongst the highest domestic expenditure on defence as it relates to GDP. Other countries like South Sudan, The Ukraine, The UAE and Afghanistan are all shown to have well above average expenditure on defence. Greece and the UK both spent 2.5% of their GDP on defence in 2012.
In 2012, The United States spent $682 billion dollars on defence. This is more than the combined spending total of the next ten highest spending nations. In total, more than 80% of all military expenditure in 2012 was made by 15 countries and the United States was responsible for a 39% of the global total.
What is perhaps more surprising when one examines these figures is how prominently companies from the EU figure on a related list, which details the most successful arms selling companies on the planet. Of the leading 35 arms companies in the World, there are two Russian companies, one Israeli company and a Japanese company. Every single one of the remaining leaders in the industry hails from either the E.U. (13) or the United States. It is difficult for Ireland to maintain her neutrality when its closest economic partners are among the leading lights in the international arms industry. Ireland’s neutrality is far from absolute and is pursued “a la carte” in the face of business expedience. It is interesting that there is often an assumption that Ireland, as a historically neutral country, plays no part in the global arms race. As Dr Diarmuid Bradley, a former banker and economic commentator states, ‘’Ireland, particularly because it is a centre for technology development, may well play a more significant role in the global arms industry than is generally appreciated’’
American jets and spy planes made use of Shannon airport during recent conflicts whilst Germany, France and the UK all play significant roles in deciding our economic future. In 2007 the Irish government granted €33 million worth of military export licenses. But €2 billion worth of dual use technologies were also exported of which, Amnesty International estimated half was used in arms manufacture. In 2012, Amnesty Ireland’s executive director, Colm O’Gorman, said. “Irish companies and individuals have previously been involved in supplying weapons used by Israel in Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and by Iraqi paramilitary forces accused of torture and unlawful killing.”
A 2011 EU report from the Policy Department titled “The Impact of the Financial Crisis on European Defence’ said of Germany, ‘The German defence industry has not suffered significantly so far from the financial crisis. Growth is expected to be higher in 2010 than anticipated (€3.9 bn. As compared to expected €3.7bn.)”.
This clearly demonstrates that even at the height of the international financial crisis, the German arms industry was managing to stay profitable. This is reflective of the global arms industry generally, in that arms companies and national defence budgets have seldom felt the brunt of the crisis. More so, these industries appear to have remained as profitable as ever. On a recent documentary titled ‘Sofex, The Business of War’, which was filmed at the 2012 Sofex arms exhibition in Jordan, an arms dealer claims that the international arms industry has in fact doubled its yearly sales throughout the course of the crisis. Given the secretive nature of so much of the arms industry, it is impossible to confirm such high figures but given what figures are readily available, it hardly seems out of the question.
This documentary depicts Sofex as an extremely glamorous trade fair, which looks like something straight out of a Hollywood movie. American arms dealers are seen selling weapons as though they were toasters complete with traditional sales techniques and promises of graphic violence. In the adjoining display, Norinco shells, which are regularly used by Iraqi insurgents, are openly sold to all comers. Car manufacturer Saab produces moving targets for the extravagant on-site training facilities.
The recent experience of Greece provides some further clues to the political and economic clout of the arms industry within the EU. During the Greek recession, the Greek government requested that Greece be allowed to withdraw from agreements to purchase advanced weaponry and aircraft from France and German arms manufacturers. Surely, they argued, these were purchases which made no sense against a backdrop of massive austerity cutbacks and chronic poverty. The E.U. disagreed. Greece has faced cutbacks and austerity measures which make the Irish situation seem tame and yet she was apparently not allowed to reduce or renege on pre-agreed purchases from French and German defence contractors.
Yannis Panagopoulos, who heads the Greek trade union confederation (GSEE) stated in an interview with Helena Smith of The Guardian that he addressed this issue during a private meeting between Angela Merkel and European trade unionists in Berlin. “After running through all the reasons why austerity wasn’t working in my country I brought up the issue of defence expenditure. Was it right, I asked, that our government makes so many weapons purchases from Germany when it obviously couldn’t afford such deals and was slashing wages and pensions? She immediately said: ‘But we never asked you to spend so much of your GDP on defence.’ And then she mentioned the issue of outstanding payments on submarines she said Germany had been owed for over a decade.”
A 2011 EU report from the Policy Department titled “The Impact of the Financial Crisis on European Defence’, stated “Greece’s defence budget was at 2% of GDP in 2010, down from 3% in 2009. Greece’s defence budget was cut by around 18% in 2010 (- €1.1bn) and will in all likelihood be reduced by a further 19% in 2011, and fall from €6bn to €5bn”. This is a very significant cut but when one considers the levels of poverty and austerity in Greece, one can’t help wonder how much difference €5 billion extra money for health and welfare programs would make each year.
Alexander Kentikelenis of Cambridge University recently said, “The data reveals that the Greek welfare state has failed to protect people at the time when they needed support the most. A rapidly growing number of Greeks are losing access to healthcare from budget cuts and unemployment.”
Greece’s unusually high expenditure on defence has been consistently justified by their historical distrust of Turkey. Turkey has recently banned YouTube and Twitter over a leaked video which apparently depicts senior officials discussing the possibility of staging a ‘False Flag’ attack on their own citizens in order to justify sending troops into Syria. Will this then necessitate a renewed increase in Greece’s expenditure? Or will those great military powers and hypothetical Grecian allies, Germany, France and the UK offer guarantees?
One suspects the answer to be less straightforward than common sense might dictate.
When asked to comment on the global arms industry, a recently retired high ranking Irish Civil Servant responded: “We could sum up our present stage of civilisation as one in which economic might and entrepreneurial impact triumph over common sense in setting the geopolitical balance. As a species we grossly over-consume the earth’s resources with the strain now showing in long-term climatic change. In, the wealthier parts of the world we are complacent about the current imbalances in consumption and wealth generation between richer and poorer countries. However, no other aspect of human existence exemplifies so clearly, this ‘designer inequality’ and counter-productive stupidity in how we manage our affairs as the global arms industry. Human ingenuity must be capable of producing some better solution to resolving human conflict than this.”