Figures for action

“Developing nations from 2011 to 2014 received 62% of the value of all international arms deliveries.” It is a text from the annual report ‘Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2007-2014,’ published December 2015. The newest edition of this annual report appeared almost against expectation. The previous issue was published in 2012; annual was hardly accurate any more.

The report is written by Catherine A. Theohary for the Congressional Research Service (CRS). She replaces Richard F. Grimmett, who has been the author for such a long time that the report had become known as the Grimmett-report. The rebirth of the report with a new author was launched with a media strategy. It was a week after publication before it became really public. This gave the New York Times the possibility to write an exclusive article which was cited in papers all over the world. The US$ 10 billion growth to US$ 36 billion annual US arms exports made headlines. Russian sales declined slightly from US$ 10,3 to US$ 10,2 billion. Remarkable is also the position of Sweden as number three with US$ 5,5 billion of exports. Giorgio Beretta, an Italian anti-arms trade activist tweeted that four EU-countries are among the prominent arms sellers at the Middle East bazaar: France, UK, Germany, and Italy.

The Korean press site Chosun Ilbo cited the fact that South-Korea, with imports valued at US$ 7.8, was the largest arms buyer world wide in 2014. Not something to be proud of, as activists from four continents made clear in October last year at an arms fair in Seoul.

For me the search engine of Adobe reader goes directly on digging for ‘Netherlands’. The catch? In 2014 the Netherlands took the ninth position on ‘arms transfer agreement,’ with a value of US$ 900 million. This predicts high results for the next year on arms exports. The Netherlands takes already the eleventh position (2007-2014) considering world wide arms exports. The report underlines already familiar knowledge based on a variety of sources.

Another report also published in December is less noticed by the press. The World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers – often abbreviated as WMEAT-report  – of the US State Department is one the most handy overviews on military expenditures, troop levels, arms sales and imports worldwide etc. But with figures on the years 2002-2012 it crawls behind other sources. The Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute (SIPRI) and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), publisher of the Military Balance, gave military expenditure figures for 2014 already. Both can be consulted on the internet and are the source for a wiki lemma on military expenditure. The most used source of arms trade figures is SIPRI, an organisation with a wide range of different sources and easy-to-use spreadsheets. The European Union will probably publish its 2014 figures in March 2016. The 2013 figures were published March 2015. This is rather late, as Stop Wapenhandel pointed out in a press statement last year. Officially figures are due to be publish as late as December of the year following the year it provides figures for. The EU figures are easy to organise and search with the EU export browser on the website of the European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT). In the blink of an eye you can see that our friends in Riyadh are the second most important destination of arms from human rights friendly EU.

WMEAT lags far behind with 2012 figures in December 2015. It contains the statement that arms exports are reducing the state deficit, because the ratio between in- and export are largely in favour of exports: US$ 102 billion annually (a remarkably high figure in comparison with other sources) versus US$ 4 billion. What WMEAT does not observe is that the US debt has reached a level of US$ 20 trillion – more than 100 percent of the US BBP – which is mainly due to warmongering and military acquisitions. The US would not even meet the criteria for entering the EU with this performance. WMEAT gives noteworthy figures for the period 2002-2012: the US was responsible for three quarters of all arms trade, the European Union for a tenth, Russia for a twentieth and China for less than 2 percent. However remarkable press will not take note of three year old figures.

The only press publications on WMEAT has been one by a South Korea website writing on the number 1 position of neighbour Japan as arms importer. Japan’s military is still vividly remembered in Korea for it’s decennia of military occupation. A week later – more importantly – the Chinese People’s Daily published a Op-ed ending with the text: “The ‘peaceful nation’ is just a temporary cover. Once it is set off by some international affair or other excuse, the Japanese government will abandon the banner of peace and show its true colours. The whole world, therefore, should stay alert to Japan’s intentions.” China has been another victim of Japanese imperial forces, but is currently involved in a strive for influence in the region with the US (and Japan, seen as the US biggest aircraft carrier in the region). Figures can be used for several purposes, beating the drums in conflict is obviously one of them. All the more reason to use this kind of figures to advocate arms reductions.

For precise fact on Dutch arms trade, it is best to use the website of Stop Wapenhandel. This organisation used its counter report to the official Dutch annual arms export report and monthly overviews of export permissions and transit to highlight that Dutch arms export reached its all time high in 2014, and also painted the full picture of the negative effects of many of these sales. Because as a writer in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote ‘Peace on earth? Not until the U.S. stops selling arms and making war.’ This is the core point. One can read EU where it writes US. Or the Netherlands, Belgium, Flanders, Italy, France, UK, any country or region exporting arms. Arms export policy and controls exist on paper. But a strict implementation is something yet to be seen; economic and foreign policy interest play a more important role. It seems to be sensible in the framework of the struggle for peace to concentrate more on our own governments than on blaming far away countries supported by our governments with military and economic support. More actual information – on 2015 e.g. – would be helpful in these efforts.


Martin Broek 13/01/2016