Category Archives: Weapons Industry

Trump is the real nuclear threat, and we can’t just fantasise him away – Jonathan Freedland. 

Among the many terrifying facts that have emerged in the last several days, perhaps the scariest relate to the nuclear button over which now hovers the finger of Donald Trump. It turns out that, of all the powers held by this or any other US president, the least checked or balanced is his authority over the world’s mightiest arsenal. He exercises this awesome, civilisation-ending power alone.

As Trump has learned in recent months, the man in the Oval Office cannot simply issue a decree changing, say, the US healthcare system. He has to build majorities in the House and Senate, which is harder than it looks. If he wants to change immigration policy, a mere order is not enough. He can be stopped by the courts, as Trump saw with his travel ban. But if he wants to rain fire and fury on a distant enemy, bringing more fire and fury down on his own citizens and many hundreds of millions of others, there is no one standing in his way. Not for nothing does the geopolitical literature refer to the US president as the “nuclear monarch.”

The more you hear of the simplicity of the system, the more frightening it becomes. If Trump decides he has had enough of Kim Jong-un’s verbal threats, he merely has to turn to the low-level military aide at his side and ask them to open up the black briefcase that officer keeps permanently in their grasp. The bag is known as the nuclear “football”. (It gets its name from the code word for the very first set of nuclear war plans: dropkick.) Inside the bag is a menu of options, explained in detail in a “black book,” but also set out in a single, cartoon-like page for speedy comprehension. Trump has only to make his choice, pick up the phone to the Pentagon war room, utter the code words that identify him as the president and give the order. That’s it.

There is no need for consultation with anyone else. Not the secretary of state or the secretary of defence, nor the head of the military. The officer who receives the call at the Pentagon has no authority to question or challenge the order. His or her duty is only to implement it. Thirty minutes after the president gave the instruction, the nuclear missiles would be hitting their targets. There is no way of turning them back. Such power in the hands of a single individual would be a horrifying prospect even if it were Solomon himself whose finger was on the trigger. But as Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer, and seasoned military analyst wrote during the 2016 campaign, Trump’s “quick temper, defensiveness bordering on paranoia and disdain for anyone who criticises him do not inspire deep confidence in his prudence.”

What’s more, Trump is the man who said in 2015, “For me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me,” and who bellowed from the campaign podium, “I love war”. In last year’s election campaign, the former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough reported on a briefing a foreign policy expert had given Trump. “Three times, he asked, at one point, ‘If we have them, we can’t we use them?’ … Three times, in an hour briefing, ‘Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?’”

It turns out Hillary Clinton was right to warn Americans 14 months ago that, “It’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.” And here we are, Trump tweet-goading the North Koreans by declaring military solutions “locked an loaded”. We need imagine no longer.

Those who find themselves trembling at all this have spent the last few days grasping for a comfort blanket. A favourite has been the notion that those around Trump, especially the generals current and former, will not let him unleash nuclear Armageddon. This view holds that, yes, Trump may well be dangerously unhinged but fear not, the wiser heads of Washington will stay his hand. Indeed, this strain of thinking has been visible since Trump took the oath of office. Call it the deep state fantasy. It looks to the national security apparatus, the intelligence agencies and the permanent bureaucracy, the shadow government, to step in and do the right thing.

It hangs its hopes on a range of prospective saviours. It might be the trio of former generals made up of Jim Mattis, who heads the Pentagon, John Kelly, recently drafted in as chief of staff, and HR McMaster who serves as national security adviser. Alternatively, it looks to the loose alliance hailed this week by the influential Axios website as “The Committee to Save America”, consisting not only of the generals but also the cluster of New Yorkers that includes some of Trump’s less hot-headed economic advisers, with added reinforcements from the Republican ranks in Congress. The committee’s unofficial mission: to protect “the nation from disaster”. The ultimate deep state fantasy longs for the men in the shadows not merely to restrain Trump, but remove him from office. The designated hero of this story is Robert Mueller, the former FBI director now heading what is reported to be a swift and penetrating probe into allegations of collusion with Russia as well as Trump’s wider business dealings.

Mueller’s role may indeed prove to be critical. But the deep state fantasy itself, while comforting, is surely a dead end for Trump’s opponents. For one thing, events have reached an odd pass when liberals are dreaming of unelected generals thwarting an elected head of government: that used to be the fantasy of the militaristic right.

But it also relies more on hope than evidence. All these supposedly wise heads around Trump: what restraint have they achieved so far? Kelly was meant to impose order and discipline, and yet we still have Trump tweeting threats that could easily be misinterpreted as the cue for war. On North Korea, the US administration continues to send conflicting signals by the hour, with Trump outriders like Sebastian Gorka slapping down secretary of state Rex Tillerson on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, creating confusion when a nuclear standoff requires calm clarity.

And we cannot escape the basic fact. All these advisers can try to hold him back, but when it comes to it, nuclear authority is Trump’s and Trump’s alone. He is the nuclear monarch.

The glum truth is that the only people who can effectively check a democratically elected menace like Trump are other democratically elected leaders. Ultimately it will be up to the men and women of Congress to do their constitutional duty by impeaching Trump and removing him from office. If Republicans won’t do it, then voters need to replace them with Democrats who will, by voting for a new House in the midterm elections of November 2018. The trouble is, it’s not clear that the US – or the world – have that much time.

The Guardian 

Mapping the World’s Biggest Weapons Exporters, and their Best Customers – Frank Jacobs. 

War kills. And war sells. These maps show the world’s four biggest arms exporters and their major clients.

While they reveal a lot about who mongers weapons to whom, the sequencing on this graph is a bit misleading.

Reader’s instinct nudges us to interpret the maps clockwise from top left, as a series in descending order. But the correct order is anti-clockwise, from bottom left: the top seller is the U.S., followed by Russia, France and China.

The maps are based on figures for 2011-2015, published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. They exclude weapons trade deals below $100 million. The total volume of arms sales for this period was higher than for any other five-year stretch since the end of the Cold war, in the early 1990s.

The United States not only has the world’s largest defence budget by far (1), it also outsells all other countries by a considerable margin.

Bigthink.com

GLOBAL ARMS TRADE – MYTH #2: MILITARY SPENDING IS DRIVEN BY SECURITY CONCERNS – PAUL HOLDEN. 

‘Military spending may not be the most strategically rational approach to a country’s security threats, but it is, in the end, at least driven by security concerns.’

In reality, it is precisely this largely erroneous belief that muddies the water in most arms trade and procurement debates, and provides the cover for all sorts of completely unnecessary military equipment to change hands between producers and buyers for a whole host of other less rational reasons.

The unfortunate truth is that the arms trade is not primarily geared to dealing with security threats. Instead, many arms transactions are undertaken for a plethora of other reasons, and may, in fact, hinder a state’s response to security threats rather than increase preparedness.

ECONOMICS AND THE POWER OF POLITICS

One of the most commonly stated reasons for arms transactions is that they are supposed to generate a whole series of economic benefits. Indeed, in some cases, arms sales are justified entirely for their economic benefit, rather than their importance for national defense. In certain countries these supposed economic benefits become the means by which arms producers place pressure on politicians to support strategically questionable projects: no politician wants to attack a project that may employ large numbers of their constituents, even if the money could theoretically be more efficiently spent elsewhere. Combined, these two reasons can be decisive in securing support for sometimes clearly absurd expenditure.

Changes to US trade policies will mean that a significant percentage of items previously on the Munitions List will now be able to be exported without a license. Some may be small items—bolts and nuts—but there are enough big-ticket items to be worrying: military cargo planes as well as Black Hawk helicopters, for example. Freeing up these items makes it ever easier for groups that may be anathema to the US to get hold of once heavily controlled items.

The danger of the administration’s new export control approach is that it could make it easier for significant military articles to reach major human rights abusers, countries seeking nuclear weapons, or destinations where they may be more likely to fall into the hands of terrorists.

Ironically, and despite the widespread support for deregulation amongst defense companies, there is the real risk that the reforms may lead to a net decrease in US defense industry jobs. This crystallizes the other unfortunate truth: often the economic benefit that is being touted is, in reality, a boon to the major companies but a bane to its employees, and even the wider population.

The threat of shedding defense jobs—and incurring the wrath of the powerful defense lobby—is a particularly important motivation in countries that manufacture and buy their own arms. But those countries that import most of their weapons—the large majority of the world—are often seduced by a different economic incentive: Offsets.

Offsets are agreements on the part of weapons manufacturers to invest in the economy of the buying countries, thus ‘offsetting’ the economic cost of importing the weapons. Offsets are particularly prevalent in the arms trade, despite the fact that they are hugely controversial. Part of this is because the defense trade is given a free pass when it comes to offsets. Using offsets as a selection criterion is banned by the World Trade Organization, except in the defense trade. The result, especially over the previous decade, has been an explosion in the number and size of offset deals. According to The Economist, it is estimated that the total offset obligations (the amount companies are still obliged to invest) in the global defense and aerospace industries is in the region of $250bn, and may grow to a remarkable $450bn by 2016.

CORRUPTION AND BUYING GLOBAL POLITICAL SUPPORT

It is a regrettable reality that the content of many weapons deals around the world are largely, and sometimes solely, determined by corruption. In particular, countries may be induced into buying particular types of equipment, even if better alternatives exist, regardless of the strategic implications of following this path.

In 2006, the consultancy company Control Risks conducted an extensive survey of 350 international businesses situated in numerous jurisdictions around the world. They found that, over the previous five years (2001‒2006), 26% of defense companies they interviewed believed that they had lost contracts due to corruption. In 2006 alone, 31% of defense companies interviewed believed that graft was a decisive factor in who won contracts. This suggests that in a significant number of cases what weapons are bought, who supplies them and what capacities are eventually delivered to armed forces is determined by bribes rather than whether the product itself is the best fit for the security needs of the country.

When corruption is mixed with other imperatives, when security concerns are not the main driving force of weapons buying, the result is entire weapons transactions conducted without apparent reference to a rational case for defense needs.

It is not just individual deals that are questionable: a large number of the most notoriously corrupt defense establishments in the world do not seem to buy arms for their countries’ national protection, but largely to cement important strategic relationships around the world. The simple fact is that by buying weapons systems from one of the major weapons sellers, even the most outrageously dictatorial governments are guaranteed a friendly reception amongst their supplier countries.

CONSEQUENCES 

The mixture of factors that underlie defense transactions, local and international political concerns, economic goals, misplaced national pride and corruption, has the effect that weapons sales often don’t serve much strategic need. More importantly, it can leave defense forces with inadequate weaponry when they are forced into combat roles, or, in certain instances, a telling lack of strategic capacity.

Conclusion

Defending the arms trade by claiming that it is legitimate to arm oneself and one’s allies may seem like a reasonable proposition, but it is frequently a red herring. The reason: when weapons are bought and sold, they are often chosen for a range of reasons that have nothing to do with strategic need. There is a dizzying array of reasons why many arms deals are done, including anticipated economic benefit, local and international political considerations and, disturbingly frequently, corruption. Sometimes the outcome is the selection of weapons systems that may not meet a strategic need exactly, when a better option is available. In others, it can lead to a weapons purchase that meets no identifiable strategic need at all. The end result is that military spending is often strategically questionable at best; farcical, criminal and dangerous at worst.

Global Arms Trade – Myth #1: HIGHER DEFENSE SPENDING EQUALS INCREASED SECURITY – Paul Holden. 

Introduction. 

Military spending around the world totaled $1,676bn in 2015, nearly $250 for every one of the earth’s 7 billion people. Arms producers have direct access to the upper echelons of power, shaping policy and exercising considerable influence in how the world is run. Rich governments treat arms makers and dealers with remarkable charity. They help them out with subsidies, favorable export rules and a generosity of spirit and funding that most businesspeople could only dream of. Leaders of middle-income and poor countries who want to buy weapons are feted and lobbied by a slick industry that wheels out defense attachés, government ministers, and even royalty as testament to their political connection and clout, not to mention generous financial subsidies and payoffs.

Why does the arms business possess such influence and clout across the globe? The answer is complex, but one of the key reasons is that arms merchants and their government supporters can turn to a set of time-honed and well-packaged arguments to justify the status quo. They tell us that their products make and keep us all safer. They argue that the defense sector is vital to the economy and job creation. They claim that they are at the cutting edge of technological innovation.

All in all, the makers and sellers of weapons have been astonishingly successful in telling a story so deeply embedded in public narratives and political discourse that it is simply taken for granted. The defense industry narrative is like a set of clothes that a politician seeking office—still more so, in office—and the civil servants, academics and journalists concerned with government, put on to go to work every morning. The inconvenient truth is that each one of the claims is either deeply questionable or simply untrue.

The arms business needs to be undressed. Every rotten item needs to be thrown out. Then, we will find, there is hardly anything left. The arguments are nothing more than myths, enforced by repetition and given weighty authority by the power players who trot them out whenever there is the hint of change that might be to their disadvantage.

Global Arms Trade – Myth 1:

HIGHER DEFENSE SPENDING EQUALS INCREASED SECURITY

‘If you want peace, prepare for war.’

So goes the much-repeated phrase, taken to heart around the globe. Indeed, the world spends a great deal preparing for war: at least $1,676bn in 2015. With such high levels of spending, and the innumerable threats that arms purchases are said to protect us from, it would be easy to accept this adage at face value: why on earth else would responsible governments pour such huge sums into military spending? Unfortunately, the reality is a lot more complicated.

It is unclear that large outlays on defense make a consistently measurable difference in providing security to the countries that buy weapons. Moreover, there is solid evidence showing that, in certain instances, spending money on buying weapons may actually decrease a country’s security.

Between 2011 and 2014, as defense budgets were reduced in the West, the ‘rest of the world’ was increasing its expenditure year-on-year.

Largest spenders worldwide: USA, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia. Russia has increased its military spending 92% since 2010 alone. Saudi Arabia vastly expanded its defense budget by 97% between 2006 and 2015.

The dominance of the top fifteen spenders should not obscure another important trend: military expenditure is growing rapidly globally, even in some of the poorest regions of the world. Indeed, SIPRI identifies twenty-three countries that have doubled their military spending between 2004 and 2013. Among them are some of the world’s poorest nations.

Despite regional and global increases, the United States remains far and away the world’s largest spender on its military, spending more than the next ten nations in the world combined, and four times its closest rival, China.

The US is currently on track to fund the most expensive weapons program in human history, the F-35 fighter jet, which will cost roughly $1.4trn to build and operate over its lifetime.

DOES DEFENSE SPENDING LEAD TO SECURITY?

There are a number of ways in which spending on defense may actually make us less secure.

1. The ‘security dilemma’, or the ‘spiral of insecurity’.

The ‘security dilemma’ occurs when a state with no hostile intentions believes that states around it, while not necessarily expressing any outward enmity, could pose a long-term security threat. The state responds by increasing its own sense of security through building up its defense capacities. However, states around it see this increase in defense spending, and come to believe that the original state now has hostile intentions; they, in turn, increase their own defense capacities. This cycle continues as both parties increasingly divert resources towards their own defense, leading to an arms race. This ‘spiral of insecurity’ can, in the worst case scenario, lead to actual conflict.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Germany’s leaders had come to believe that it was being surrounded by hostile forces including Russia, France and Great Britain. In response, Germany started to build up its military forces, in particular its naval forces, which all other parties began to believe was evidence of Germany’s ill intentions. Great Britain, which had built its military power on its navy, was particularly alarmed. The other three parties, seeing this, also increased their weapons, leading to an enormous arms race. This race created tensions between all the states; so much so that, when a political crisis unfolded upon the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary and Russia both mobilized and Germany then invaded its neighbors, provoking one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. The arms race may not have been the cause of World War I (human affairs are always more complicated than that), but it was a substantial contributor to the tensions that led to war.

2. When the spending is wasteful or inflated due to corruption. Usually this involves the perennial problem of cost overruns in the defense sector, dragging projects years into overtime and absorbing scarce economic resources that could be spent on things that encourage security—like health, education and infrastructure.

When corruption enters the picture, defense transactions might only take place because of the illicit money to be earned, without any concern for real strategic need.

3. Wars can make you less secure in the long term. The third way in which defense spending can actually decrease security is when military spending funds wars that, despite their intentions, worsen a country’s security situation.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is arguable that the two largest US military engagements of the 21st century so far have actually left the United States and the world less secure than if they had never been undertaken.(Gosh!) Not only did the conflicts cost trillions of dollars and cause hundreds of thousands of casualties, but they have contributed to an increase in terrorist activity and capabilities in areas well beyond the boundaries of the two states.

The war in Afghanistan—the longest war in US history—is in one respect a response to the ‘blowback’ from US military interventions of the 1980s. The CIA spent hundreds of millions of dollars arming and training Afghan mujahidin forces to help them fight off the Soviet occupation of their country.

A significant portion of this aid was diverted by Pakistani intelligence, which used it to support Islamic extremist groups that have engaged in terrorism in South Asia and beyond. Aid that did reach Afghanistan often ended up in the hands of foreign fighters and forces that had an anti-US orientation.

Once the Soviet occupation had been repelled, and a nasty civil war was concluded, these groups turned their attention to attacking the United States and its interests. Following the civil war, many of them became part of the original cadre of Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaida organization, which was hosted by the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

The Taliban itself has received substantial support from Pakistani intelligence. As a result, when the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to root out Al Qaida, it was in part addressing a problem of its own making. And the mission of driving Al Qaida out of Afghanistan soon morphed into a large-scale counterinsurgency effort designed to defeat the Taliban and remake Afghanistan as a pro-US ‘democracy’ (or at least a pro-US regime, democratic or not). Fifteen years later the Taliban remains a major force in Afghanistan, the regime in Kabul is rife with corruption, and Al Qaida has entrenched itself in Pakistan.

This is what the United States and the world got for Washington and Europe’s investment in a trillion-dollar military undertaking in Afghanistan.

The case of Iraq is, of course, even more striking, in that it was without question a war of choice, and it has spawned a new generation of militant extremists, notably ISIS, who largely use military equipment supplied to the country by the US itself.

4. Military spending isn’t always intended to protect citizens. The fourth way in which defense spending can decrease the security of citizens is that in undemocratic states, military spending can make citizens less safe. Indeed, spending on one’s military in many cases does not mean protecting the country, but rather protecting the ruling elite from its people or discontented groups within the population, rather than protecting the people as a whole from external or internal threats. Even in more democratic, or partially democratic countries, the military may suppress legitimate dissent among citizens and marginalized groups.

The less free a country is, the more it tends to spend on the military.

5. Using the military to solve the world’s security issues isn’t always the best bet.

The fifth way that military spending can decrease security is that massive military expenditure can increase the tendency to seek military solutions to non-military problems.

One example of this has been the decades-long US ‘war on drugs’ which has been used to justify aid to death squads and repressive regimes abroad and mass surveillance and incarceration at home. For example, the multi-billion US ‘Plan Colombia’, designed to help the Colombian government dismantle the drug cartels there, included aid to a corrupt military that regularly abused human rights and aerial application of pesticides in large parts of the country. To the extent that Plan Colombia helped undermine the drug cartels there, the drug trade was merely displaced to Central American countries like Honduras and Mexico, where high levels of violence by drug gangs have become the norm.

Other suggested approaches, like reducing drug demand in the US by expanding treatment programs and providing alternative forms of employment in impoverished areas, have received only modest resources relative to the sums spent on military methods of fighting drugs.

In the US, the Pentagon budget is roughly fourteen times the budget of the US State Department. This is truly remarkable: in its relationship with the outside world, the US devotes 1,400% more to projecting military power than it does on building alliances and finding non-military solutions to conflicts.

As for peacekeeping, the US contribution to UN peacekeeping efforts is less than 0.5% of what it spends on military activities. If the United States devoted a tiny fraction of what it spends on its own military to support the cost of the United Nations and multilateral peacekeeping, a robust international capability could be on call to enforce peace agreements, protect potential victims of repression and genocide, and separate warring parties.

The idea that there is a military solution to terrorism has also been put into serious doubt by an influential 2008 study by the US-based RAND Corporation—a think-tank esteemed by conservatives. The study reviewed the life-cycles of 648 terrorist groups from 1968 to 2006, identifying the ways in which these groups ended. It found that in 43% of cases, terrorist groups ceased to exist because they were successfully integrated into the formal political process. In 40% of cases, the groups disappeared because of successful policing efforts. A further 10% of terrorist groups stopped their military activities because they achieved their main aim. And, most importantly for this discussion, only 7% of terrorist groups were snuffed out as a result of military campaigns.

Using the military to win the ‘war on terror’ is simply not going to work. More to the point, it is likely to be counter-productive, fueling resentment and undermining long-term regional goals.

As the Jones and Libicki note: Our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism. Military force usually has the opposite effect of what is intended: it is often over-used, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment.

Human security is defined by the United Nations as ‘the right of all people to live in freedom and dignity, free from poverty and despair’. Underpinning this is the recognition that ‘all individuals, in particular vulnerable people, are entitled to freedom from fear and freedom from want, with an equal opportunity to enjoy all their rights and fully develop their human potential’.

When security is thought about in this way—and it is hard to argue that a population that is chronically malnourished is not at risk—the type of threats that need to be addressed changes drastically. Instead of just focusing on threats from war or conflict, human security requires us to look at all the various risks that are faced in the world today that undermine human dignity, drive poverty and put billions of people in a constant state of emergency of survival. Some of these risks include access to clean water, food security, climate change, health pandemics, violent multinational organized crime and repressive states that use their monopoly of violence to terrorize their own populations. There is little doubt that, when considered in this light, the world suffers a serious human security deficit.

Military expenditure is massive, and fails to substantially tackle any of the major threats to human security. If only a fraction of military spending was focused on broader human security goals, the improvement in the security profile of billions of people around the world would be tremendous.

The goals of freedom from want and fear are most likely to be achieved in democratic states that are accountable to their populations. But huge amounts of global military spending is directed towards maintaining dictatorships or repressive regimes.

Perhaps it is time to recognize one powerful fact: even a small reduction in defense spending, one that sees resources properly devoted to the human security dangers faced by the majority of the world’s population, could actually make the world safer, healthier, more prosperous and more secure.