ARMS TRADE RESOURCE CENTER
A Tale of Three Arms Trades: the Changing Dynamics of Conventional Weapons Proliferation, 1991-2000
by William D. Hartung
Note: This draft essay will appear be published in America’s Peace Dividend 2000 edited by Ann Markusen (forthcoming, Columbia International Affairs Online, 2000). Quote and cite ONLY with permission from the author.
I. Introduction: The Changing Context for Arms Transfer Decisionmaking
The 1990s began with three seminal events that marked the emergence of radical changes in the dynamics of the global arms trade: the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Persian Gulf war, and the United Nations intervention in Somalia. Each of these events is emblematic of larger structural shifts in the international security system that have transformed the strategic, economic, and political incentives influencing the arms import and export policies of governments, firms, and non-state paramilitary and rebel forces.
Changing Rationales (I) — The End of the Soviet Threat
The break-up of the Soviet Union in August 1991 decisively bracketed the end of the Cold War, completing the process which had begun in November 1989 with the withdrawal of Soviet forces from East and Central Europe and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact alliance. The end of U.S.-Soviet confrontation meant that U.S. arms transfers could no longer be justified on the basis of stopping the spread of communist influence, a trusty rationale that had been relied upon to explain U.S. support for a motley collection of Cold War era dictators and despots ranging from Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire to the Shah of Iran to Suharto in Indonesia. In the absence of this all purpose, lesser-of-two-evils argument for arms sales and military aid, the Executive Branch, the Congress, and interested citizens were forced to reassess the practice of relying on U.S. government-approved weapons trafficking as a routine instrument of American foreign policy.
The end of the Soviet Union also meant the end of $10 to $15 billion per year in heavily discounted Soviet arms transfers to client governments in Afghanistan, Angola, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Cuba, among others. The rapid decline in Moscow’s weapons exports — from $15 to $20 billion in the Soviet period of the mid-1980s to $2 to $4 billion per year in the 1990s — accounts for much of the decline in the value of the overall global arms trade, which is now at less than half its peak levels of the mid-1980s.
Russia’s political/economic transformation also spurred an urgent search for cash paying customers to keep military factories running and military industry workers employed in the face of sharp cuts in domestic weapons procurement. This new arms export mercantilism has raised serious concerns about Russian exports of everything from AK-47 combat rifles regions of conflict to transfers of nuclear and missile technology to so-called rogue regimes.
The fall of the Warsaw Pact and the break-up of the Soviet Union also paved the way for the elimination of COCOM, the Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls. During the Cold War, COCOM was used by the major Western industrial powers to impose restrictions on the transfer of militarily useful technology to the Soviet bloc. At the time of its elimination, COCOM was by far the most comprehensive export control mechanism dealing with “dual use” technologies — items that have both commercial and military applications. Dual use transfers are of particular concern in stemming the spread of capabilities for the production of the full spectrum of weapons system, from small arms to major conventional systems to weapons of mass destruction.
Last but not least, the fall of communism in East and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union ushered in a period of “free market fundamentalism” in which free trade and deregulation of financial markets were the unquestioned order of the day. As we will discuss later in this essay, the triumph of free market approaches to global trade and finance have had serious unintended consequences in facilitating self-perpetuating economies of war and plunder, particularly in the most impoverished regions of the global south.
Changing Rationales (II): The Effect of the Gulf War on Global Arms Export Policies
The Persian Gulf conflict had a contradictory impact on the trading policies and practices of the major players in the international arms market.
On the one hand, the embarrassing revelations regarding transfers of advanced weaponry and military technology to Iraq by the leading nations in the anti-Baghdad coalition in the period leading up to the 1991 Persian Gulf war raised serious questions about the wisdom of continuing with business as usual in Western arms export policies. During his March 6, 1991 address to a joint session of Congress in which he celebrated the victory of the U.S.-led coalition in the Gulf conflict, President Bush pledged to take steps to curb the future flow of weaponry into regions of tension like the Middle East. British Prime Minister John Major also expressed his regrets at the role of British policies in arming Iraq, and put his weight behind a modest proposal to establish a voluntary arms register at the United Nations that would provide an internationally recognized accounting of major weapons exports and imports that was intended to serve as a basis for identifying “destabilizing accumulations” of armaments in specific countries or regions. French President Francois Mitterand – who had to ground French fighter planes during the Gulf conflict because it was too hard to distinguish them from similar French aircraft that had been supplied to the Iraqi Air Force prior to the war – agreed to host a July 1991 meeting of the Big Five arms suppliers (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, and the Soviet Union) aimed at implementing limits on weapons transfers to the Middle East and other regions of tension.
In parallel with these moves toward arms transfer restraint, Western defense ministries and weapons makers were proceeding aggressively to promote new arms sales, based in part on the desire to capitalize on the superior performance of Western equipment in the Gulf conflict and in part as a way to exert military influence in the unpredictable post-Cold War world. The use of U.S. arms transfers as a primary tool for recruiting allies for the anti-Iraq coalition served to reinforce the Cold War approach of relying on arms exports to win friends and intimidate adversaries. And the alleged ability of Saudi Arabia and other U.S.-supplied allies to operate smoothly in coordination with U.S. forces in the Gulf was cited as a critical element of the emerging world of “coalition warfare,” in which, it was argued, U.S. forces could work more effectively with countries that stocked their armed forces with interoperable, U.S.-supplied equipment.
On the arms export promotion front, U.S. weapons makers racked up impressive sales in the Middle East and Asia based in part on the marketing theme of “how our weapons won the Gulf War,” as arms industry executive Howard Fish put it. In the two years after the Gulf conflict, United States firms concluded an average of $1 billion per month in new arms sales to the Middle East and Persian Gulf regions. During the 1992 presidential campaign, incumbent George Bush approved two high profile arms deals – a $9 billion sale of 150 F-16 fighters to Taiwan and a $6 billion sale of 72 F-15 combat aircraft to Israel – both of which were announced at campaign-style rallies at the respective production sites of the two aircraft (in Fort Worth, Texas, and St. Louis, Missouri) at which workers held aloft banners saying “Thank You President Bush for Saving Our Jobs.”
The U.S. arms industry was particularly aggressive in its promotion of new subsidy mechanisms for weapons exports, measures which included a new government-backed arms export loan guarantee program and sharp reductions in taxes and fees assessed against U.S. weapons manufacturers in connection with foreign sales of major defense equipment that had been developed with U.S. government research and development funds. And beginning with the Bush administration’s reorganization of the State Department’s Office of Munitions Control into the Office of Defense Trade Controls of the Center for Defense Trade, the Executive Branch began to take a much more industry-friendly approach to the regulation and monitoring of U.S. weapons exports. This pro-export stance has been strengthened during the Clinton/Gore years, as evidenced by the readiness of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and their top cabinet officials to personally promote U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Malaysia, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Chile, and other potential client nations.
Changing Rationales (III): Light Weapons and Humanitarian Intervention
The Bush Administration’s December 1992 decision to send U.S. troops to Somalia in support of a United Nations-backed mission to protect the flow of humanitarian aid to refugees of the civil war there marked the opening salvo in an increasingly passionate debate over the pros and cons of humanitarian intervention which continues to this day.
One telling symbol of the new era was the massive pack of international media representatives who descended on Somalia to film the landing of the lead elements of the UN peacekeeping force, which gave the impression at times that there were more journalists in Somalia than peacekeepers. The intense media coverage of the Gulf War and Somalia helped give birth to the “CNN effect” – the notion that Western public opinion would no longer sit still in the face of suffering and brutality in faraway lands, but would demand that their governments take action to stop the killing — whether that action would be either effective or sustained was a separate matter. The war in Somalia also highlighted the role of light weaponry – the guns, grenades, shoulder-fired rockets and light trucks that have become the armaments of choice in the world’s growing array of ethnic and territorial conflicts. Just as Iraq had been armed with French and Soviet combat aircraft, U.S.-designed howitzers, Italian combat ships, and German, British, and U.S. arms production technologies, Somalia was awash in U.S., Italian, and Soviet light weaponry left over from its history as a “strategic asset” of larger powers, first as an Italian colony and then as a Soviet and a U.S. client state during the twists and turns of the Cold War.
II. Prospects for Arms Transfer Control: The Tale of Three Arms Trades
This section will look at the problems and prospects for controlling the transfer of arms and military technologies in the light of the changes in the political, strategic, and economic dynamics of the global weapons market that emerged during the 1990s. In order to do this, it will be necessary to take into account the significant differences that exist among the three distinct types of arms transfers: 1) the trade in major conventional weaponry; 2) the trade in dual use items that can be utilized in the production of conventional armaments and weapons of mass destruction; and 3) the trade in small arms and light weaponry. Since each of these areas of the arms trade involves different players, different regulatory structures, different strategic consequences, and different economic dynamics, it is important to deal with them separately in any analysis of the prospects for limiting the spread of the means of violence to areas of potential conflict.
The Trade in Major Conventional Weapons: Restraint in a Buyer’s Market?
With a handful of important exceptions such as the U.S.-French-British tripartite agreement on limiting arms sales to the Middle East in the mid-1950s and the U.S.-Soviet Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) talks of the late 1970s, during the Cold War transfers of major conventional armaments were viewed almost exclusively as an instrument of security policy, not a potential security problem to be addressed via arms control measures.
The working premise of U.S. weapons transfer policy was to arm friends while denying advanced military technology to potential adversaries (as in the COCOM regime, described above). The Soviet Union viewed arms transfers primarily as a way to garner political and strategic influence, while the major European suppliers (France, the UK, Italy, and Germany) gave commercial and industrial base considerations pride of place alongside strategic/political concerns, primarily due to their need to achieve economies of scale in the production of major systems in the light of their smaller domestic markets. Because of this powerful mix of incentives to sell weaponry, formal embargoes and informal pledges to limit weapons transfers to “pariah regimes” such as apartheid South Africa, the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran, or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq were frequently violated. Methods used to circumvent formal and informal strictures on arms transfers to pariah regimes included covert means, as in the Iran/contra affair; third party transfers, as occurred with many Western transfers to South Africa during the period of the embargo; or open defiance, as happened when over two dozen nations supplied weaponry to one or both sides of the Iran/Iraq war during the 1980s.
The 1991 Gulf conflict seemed to mark a shift in this Cold War pattern as political and military leaders began to recognize the dangers as well as the benefits of trading in conventional armaments – the arming of potential adversaries, the fueling of regional conflicts, and the transfer of systems such as advanced combat aircraft that can be used to deliver weapons of mass destruction as well as conventional bombs. But as we discuss above, the initial impetus towards arms transfer restraint after the Gulf conflict was blunted by economic and strategic counter-pressures from the Pentagon, the arms industry, and regional arms importing nations.
The Iran/Iraq war and the arms sales boomlet of the 1980s also encouraged a whole other tier of nations such as China, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Israel, Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Taiwan, and South Korea to invest considerable resources in projects aimed at developing indigenous capabilities to produce and export major combat systems such as fighter planes, tanks, and advanced missile systems. These ambitions have largely been dashed by the sharp reduction in the size of the global arms market since the end of the Cold War, but a number of smaller nations continue to seek roles as niche suppliers (Israel has had considerable success in this regard in recent years). But now that the 1980s boom is over, there are basically six major players left in the global trade in major conventional armaments: the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and Germany. According to the most recent statistics from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), during 1999 just four supplier nations – the United States (49%), the United Kingdom (18.7%), France (12.4%), and Russia (6.6%) – accounted for 86% of the arms delivered on the international market. Ironically, all four of these major weapons trafficking nations are permanent members of the UN Security Council, charged with fundamental obligations to foster peace and disarmament.
The most important macro level changes in the conventional arms market during the 1990s were the emergence of the United States as the preeminent supplier, the decline of Soviet/Russian sales, and the sharp drop in the total value of the international market, from $65 to $70 billion per year in the mid-1980s to $30 to $35 billion per year today.
Arms sales statistics are not all they are cracked up to be, and the calls for greater transparency that have emerged with increasing force during the post-Gulf War period have yet to correct the fundamental deficiencies in the available data. Each of the principle sources has its own unique flaws and limitations. The data series that underlies Congressional Research Service analyst Richard Grimmett’s annual report on conventional arms transfers to the Third World is drawn from U.S. intelligence sources, which means that it is probably more comprehensive than sources that rely primarily on publicly available information, but also much less transparent (in fact the methodology is completely opaque, since there is no possibility of examining the raw data and comparing it to other sources). Until the most recent edition of the report, issued in August 2000, Grimmett had chosen to exclude U.S. commercial arms deliveries (arms sales concluded by private companies but licensed and authorized by the U.S. government) because of the failure of U.S. government agencies to keep reliable records on how much of the weaponry licensed for commercial export was actually delivered to the client nation.
The problem with the commercial sales data is that there is no systematic effort made to track the number of items exported under any given commercial license issued by the State Department, but merely the fact that a shipment has been made against that license. While Grimmett has now chosen to include data on commercial sales deliveries he uses a fairly conservative estimate of those deliveries, while the State Department’s World Military Expenditure and Arms Transfers publication errs in the other direction by arbitrarily assuming that 50% of all arms export licenses eventuate in final sales.
The United Nations arms register, an innovation of the post-Gulf period, is incomplete but useful, simply because it provides official acknowledgments of arms exports and imports by most of the key governments involved in the trade in major conventional weaponry. Sources that rely on publicly available information, like the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) have generally tended to put U.S. exports and the overall value of the global trade at a higher level than the Grimmett statistics. It should be noted however that for 1999, the first year in which the CRS analysis includes an estimate of U.S. commercial arms sales, the report suggests that the U.S. accounted for 54.1% of global arms sales deliveries, a figure that is 5% higher than the IISS estimate for the same time period. To further complicate the picture, since SIPRI’s numbers are expressed in “trend indicator values” that are adjusted to account for the quality and capability of the systems transferred, they are not strictly comparable with other data series, at least in dollar value terms.
Despite these continuing methodological and data gathering problems, with respect to the trade in major conventional weaponry, the key sources are in agreement with regard to basic trends. During the 1980s, the United States, the key Western European suppliers were jostling for the top spot in the global arms trade, with the Soviet Union frequently out delivering the two key Western supplier groups based on its shipments of billions in heavily discounted items to its client states. After the Gulf War, the United States emerged as the key supplier, controlling anywhere from 35 to 50% of the total global trade in any given year. However, depending on the year, one or two big contracts (such as French sales of combat ships to Saudi Arabia or Russian sales of fighter planes to China) can be enough to jumble the rankings. Throughout the decade, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China – have controlled among them roughly 75 to 85% of the dollar volume of the global trade in conventional weaponry, with Germany occasionally cracking the top five and other niche suppliers like Italy and Israel playing an important role in supplying specific countries or conflict zones.
This dominance of the trade in major conventional weapons trade by a handful of suppliers provided some cause for optimism that the Big Five talks on arms trade restraint that were initiated among the United States, the Soviet Union (replaced in the talks by Russia after the Soviet breakup), the United Kingdom, France, and China in the wake of the Gulf conflict might yield some practical results. In the event, the aggressive pursuit of new sales by all five of the major supplier nations rendered the talks moot. The most visible violator of the spirit of the Big Five talks was the United States, which posted record deals in the Middle East and a major new sale of combat aircraft to Taiwan that violated a longstanding agreement with China about the levels of military technology the U.S. would provide to Taipei. China seized on the F-16 sale to Taiwan to storm out of the Big Five talks, and they lost steam shortly thereafter.
The Big Five talks have been succeeded by the Wassenaar arrangement, which brings together the U.S., major European suppliers, and Russia to discuss transfers of weapons and military technology to “problem” states like Iran and Iraq, and to seek common principles on what constitutes a “destabilizing” transfer to a given country or region. Wassenaar also deals with dual use transfers, so in a sense it is filling in for both COCOM and the lapsed Big Five talks. Since the Wassenaar arrangement is a voluntary, consensus building effort rather than a binding agreement, its ongoing value will depend heavily upon the quality of the interactions among the key parties to the arrangement. But the fact that there is at least a regular forum in which most of the major suppliers discuss the concepts of restraint, transparency, and consultation on arms sales must be considered a sign of progress.
Economic concerns came to the fore in arms export decision making during the 1990s. Because the decline in the value of the conventional arms trade has coincided with a drop in total global military spending from $1.3 trillion in the mid-1980s to roughly $750 to $800 million now, many countries and companies have looked to exports to compensate for declining domestic orders, with the result that the conventional arms market was largely a buyer’s market throughout the decade of the 1990s. Cash paying customers like Saudi Arabia or Taiwan and even subsidized purchasers like Israel and Turkey have been able to make greater demands in terms of technology transfer, coproduction, and terms of payment and financing by playing U.S., West European, and Russian suppliers off against each other. The recent debate over supplying source codes for the 80 F-16 combat aircraft that the United Arab Emirates is purchasing from Lockheed Martin – plus the provision of a newly developed radar system top-of-the-line air-to-air missiles – is the latest example of how the buyer’s market is pressing the major suppliers to release more sophisticated levels of technology onto the global market.
Only a handful of countries and companies have been able to buck the tides of reduced global military spending and arms trading by increasing their profits and/or market share in the international arms market. When it comes to big ticket items like combat aircraft, tanks, and advanced missile systems that represent the largest and most profitable areas of the conventional arms market, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE systems (formerly British Aerospace) and a few other firms have had the most success in boosting international sales and profits in a shrinking market, and much of their growth has come as a result of mergers, acquisitions, and cross border alliances, not necessarily by recruiting major new customers. Advanced systems are too expensive, and their military (as opposed to political or symbolic) utility too uncertain, to justify the hundreds of millions of dollars it now takes to buy even a relatively small order of advanced combat aircraft. Many countries have chosen to fill in the gaps in their current forces with surplus aircraft, or leasing arrangements, or by purchasing upgrade packages (an area in which Israeli firms have staked out an interesting niche, modernizing older model U.S. and Soviet aircraft).
The playing out of the wave of international defense mergers that has now begun in earnest will have much to say about the shape of future markets for advanced combat aircraft and other major conventional weapons systems. The Joint Strike Fighter project, which seems to have been designed to counteract former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine’s satirical “law” that at current rates of increase it will take the entire U.S. military budget to buy a single fighter plane by the year 2054, is premised on the idea of multiple services and multiple countries (including the United States, the United Kingdom, possibly Germany, and maybe even Turkey) buying in up front for up to 3,000 aircraft as a way to spread overhead costs. This assurance of a long production run, along with attempts to innovate in the area of design and manufacturing to avoid the chronic problem of gold-plating, is meant to produce capable systems at an “affordable” price (at least by the prevailing standards of military procurement). But the emphasis on pushing exports of the JSF (and even the more costly F-22 stealth fighter) at an early stage has potentially serious security consequences. To the extent that it narrows the technology gap between major global powers like the U.S. and key regional actors, it may spark instability.
A more forward-looking approach that would use shared R&D and production of major systems as an element of a strategy for reducing arms exports and imposing stricter, more consistent international standards governing the export of advanced system is not a part of the current dialogue over the JSF or the F-22, but it should be.
In the meantime, the rush to head off a “Fortress America vs. Fortress Europe” mentality has produced its first major arms control casualty, in the form of a significant streamlining of U.S. arms licensing procedures that will make it easier to export entire systems (e.g., aircraft and advanced air-to-air missiles on one license) and will greatly reduce scrutiny over licenses to allies who establish certain basic standards in their own arms licensing processes (e.g., better procedures for preventing transfers to unauthorized third countries). Carving out a place for arms control and arms regulations within the brave new global market in major conventional weapons systems will be one of the major security policy challenges of the first part of this new century.
Restricting Dual Use Transfers: Market Forces Versus Non-Proliferation Imperatives
In addition to serving as a showcase for the performance of Western military equipment, the Persian Gulf conflict shined a brief public spotlight on the issue of transfers of dual use technologies. As discussed above, the dismantling of the Cold War era COCOM system has made it easier for U.S. and European suppliers of supercomputers, advanced measuring instruments, complex machine tools, and other equipment that can be used in the production of advanced weapons systems to export to a much broader range of countries. The incorporation of dual use items imported from the United States and its West European allies into Saddam Hussein’s war machine, for everything from the production of Scud missile launchers to the development of nuclear, chemical, and biological weaponry, underscored the dangers of a world in which there are fewer barriers to dual use exports. The Wassenaar arrangement is meant to deal with this problem via consultation (not binding restrictions, as was the case with COCOM) and other international bodies such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) have their own mix of penalties, incentives, or at least exhortations designed to limit sales of key dual use items to countries of particular concern with respect to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
The problem with trying to restrict dual use transfers is that in many high tech sectors the capabilities of civilian technologies equals or surpasses those of the military industry sector (e.g., advances in computing speed and capability). Therefore, to have any real impact, dual use transfers would have to put “higher walls around fewer technologies,” as the Clinton administration’s Nolan Commission on conventional weapons proliferation put it in its 1996 report. And in order to determine which technologies should be restricted, it will take input from technical personnel with experience in industry. Perhaps the MTCR can serve as a sort of model for future efforts to restrict dual use exports – it is a regime in which countries agree to a voluntarily implement a common set of criteria for exports of technologies relevant to the development of long-range missiles and to deny those technologies to nations of proliferation concern. However, countries that agree to forego development of ballistic missiles are provided with access to civilian space technologies, thereby assuring that both the supplying industries and the recipient countries have a ready economic alternative to ballistic missile proliferation. It is by no means a perfect system, but it is hard to imagine a scenario in which strict dual use restrictions will be imposed on an effective multilateral basis in the current international political environment. The MTCR’s “carrots and sticks” approach is the next best alternative. Because producers of dual use technologies are not heavily dependent on the military sector, they would not automatically dig in their heels against such an approach.
Small Arms and Light Weapons: A Holistic Approach to Control
The most dramatic development in arms control policy and research during the 1990s was the emergence of an international network of scholars, non-governmental organizations, and government officials dedicated to limiting the proliferation of small arms and light weaponry, which were the weapons of choice in the most deadly conflicts of the decade, from Rwanda to Sierra Leone to the former Yugoslavia. The focus on light weapons was stimulated in part by the incredibly effective work of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, which brought together veteran’s organizations, human rights groups, handicapped rights organizations, public health groups, and arms control groups in a broad coalition that promoted a ban on the export and use of anti-personnel land mines. These efforts, which were spearheaded by NGOs in cooperation with middle power governments like Norway and Canada, resulted in the signing and ratification of the Oslo treaty on anti-personnel land mines, not to mention widespread publicity for the land mines problem and renewed investment in de-mining activities.
The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), which was officially launched in May of 1999 at the Hague Appeal for Peace meeting in the Netherlands, has set itself a much tougher problem than the land mines campaign had. In seeking to limit accumulation of light weaponry – which can include everything from rifles and grenades to light vehicles and shoulder-fired missiles – the network is targeting the basic tools of most of the world’s military forces, whether one looks at government troops or private rebel and paramilitary groupings. As a result, the participants in the network decided early on that there was not going to be a single treaty or set of actions that would “solve” the problem of light weapons proliferation, but rather a series of overlapping measures involving stricter laws and regulations, greater transparency, public education and norm building, and innovative diplomatic and economic initiatives. Among the interim successes of the movement to curb light weaponry are the OAS convention on illicit weapons trafficking and the West African moratorium on the import and export of light weaponry. In a world in which 500 million small arms are believed to be in circulation, issues of small arms destruction and post-conflict demobilization are also obviously of paramount importance.
One of the most important new contributions to the movement to curb light weapons stems from advances in research on what analyst William Reno has described as the “business of war” – the way in which the governments of collapsing states and their paramilitary rivals end up pursuing war as a virtual way of life – a way to earn revenue (generally by selling off diamonds, timber, or other resources in the areas under their control), to impose discipline and structure, and, last but not least, to wield power.
The recent report of the UN sanctions committee detailing the operations of the arms for diamond trade run by Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA forces in Angola has provided an astonishing inside look at the “business of war” in action. According to Canadian UN Ambassador Donald Fowler, who supervised the work of the experts group that produced the report, during the 1990s UNITA raised nearly hundreds of millions — if not billions — for its arsenal from diamond sales. That far more than Savimbi’s movement received in covert aid from the United States during the Cold War. But unlike during the Cold War, Savimbi’s arms flow cannot be cut off by a single patron. It would require significant reforms in sanctions policy and prevailing practices of international trade and finance to stem the flow of funding from resource sell-offs that is sustaining not only UNITA’s war in Angola but the multi-sided war in the Congo and the devastating civil war in Sierra Leone. Research and policy work on how to work on the demand side of the small arms problem by stemming the flow of funds to the key actors in these resource-funded wars is a promising avenue to pursue in the campaign to limit the proliferation of light weaponry.
III. Concluding Note
The aim of this brief essay has been to outline some of the major trends effecting the proliferation of major conventional armaments, dual use technologies, and light weaponry that emerged during the 1990s and to highlight some key areas for policy reform. There is obviously much more that can (and no doubt will be) said about the subject.
Despite the limits of current arrangements for limiting arms transfers, the 1990s marked an important turning point in the treatment of the conventional arms trade problem at the level of both research and public policy. By delineating the separate elements of the problem and highlighting the light weapons problem as a separate issue with its own dynamics, the international network of scholars and citizens concerned with weapons proliferation have opened the door to a whole new generation of constructive work on the conventional weapons proliferation issue. While there was no “Big Five” treaty or arms transfer control agreement, there is a much greater variety of activity on arms transfer issues in a much wider variety of fora on a much more sustained basis in the past decade than at any other period in the post-World War II period. The fact that there are no “silver bullet” solutions or elegant unified theories to guide this work should not be cause for discouragement. There has been significant progress in the areas of transparency, consultation, and norm building, and, in the small arms field at least, a willingness to take a more holistic approach that looks at factors influencing both the supply of and demand for light weaponry. This departure from a narrower, strictly arms control approach to the issue of conventional arms proliferation offers a foundation for further progress towards limiting the spread of all of the means of violence, whether the weapons in question are rifles or rockets.