The mass proliferation of weapons is one of the major sources of instability in the world. Its devastating consequence is universally felt: prophets and politicians alike warned of its destructive effects upon society and human lives. Muslim scholars, in guarding Prophetic values and principals, proscribed selling arms during civil war and conflict; celebrated leaders like the U.S. President, Dwight Eisenhower’s, also made prophetic like announcement concerning the power and danger of the military industrial complex.
These warnings have been unheeded as more and more nations become hooked on weapons. This growing addiction is satisfied by a global supplier that thrives on human misery, conflict, fear and tension; providing nations with new and imaginative ways to expunge their collective fear.
The latest example is the arms fare being held against the protestations of many Brits at the ExCel London centre. The British public will be unaware that the event is a taxpayer-subsidised exhibition and one of the largest in the world to market the latest weapons to international clients, including war torn regions. Protesters say many of the exhibitors are involved in human rights abuses while Amnesty, which has taken out an extensive ad campaign opposing the expo, alleges illegal torture equipment may be on display, wrote the Evening Standard.
This biennial weapons fair, which opened on Tuesday, is organised by the Defence and Security Equipment International LTD (DSEI), a UK based “specialist supplier of security equipment and training/consultancy services”.
The event has turned into a mecca for the global arms trade attracting sharp criticisms for many reasons, not least because of what the growth and popularity of such a fair says about our world. The very idea of an arms exhibition will sit uneasily with most people: shopping for lethal weapons and the latest gadgets in the art of killing, as though you are going into a kitchen showroom to buy the latest fads and cutting edge technology for killing is, at the very least, odd.
As odd as it may seem, it is in many ways perfectly congruent with our modern society and culture; characterised by rising fear, uncertainty and suspicion, in itself a toxic mix, that has become infused with martial features: generations have grown up with violent video games, many showcasing and simulating the latest gadgets in warfare to mass audiences; endless production of violent movies celebrating the latest and future technologies of war never leave our screens; and the exhibitionist manner in which modern wars are covered by the media, seems at times to be rejoicing at the efficient utility of modern weapons in killing those we don’t like.
All of these factors, in one way or another, have desensitised people to killing and sanitised warfare. This cultural normalisation of war has become a fact of life and some would rightly point to it as just a modern manifestation of our bloody and brutal nature. But have warfare, killing and weapons of mass destruction ever been such big business? I doubt it. Did the business of war ever grow into an industrial behemoth that endangered social, cultural and political stability and even the sovereignty of governments in pursuing their self-determination and the interest of their people above the profits of arms manufacturers? I don’t think so.
In recent years, global military expenditure has increased to levels not seen since the Cold War with global spending on arms now exceeding $1.7 trillion. The multi trillion-dollar industry’s very survival rests on global instability, increasing social tensions and military conflicts in different parts of the world.
More precisely, the exhibition has stoked greater controversy this year due to increasing numbers of wars in Africa and the Middle East; two regions that have seen an exponential rise in weapons purchases from manufacturers in the West. Figures of arms sales to the Middle East are depressing to say the least.
The pattern of the past few years has been the fall of military expenditure in the United States and Western Europe – mainly the result of a global recession – this will likely increase again, and a significant increase elsewhere. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an “independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament”, military spending in the Middle East has risen 57 per cent over the last decade alone: total arms sales to the region was $196 billion in 2014, which is an increase of 5.2 per cent since 2013.
The Middle East is the new market for arms suppliers, an ideal destination for newly manufactured and old stockpiles of arms sold by industrialised countries. In SIPRI’s 2014 report, Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2014, the think tank shows an alarming increase in weapons purchase since 2005 by Middle Eastern countries: Iraq’s stock of weapons increased by 286 per cent; the UAE’s by 135 per cent; Bahrain’s by 126 per cent; and Saudi Arabia by 112 per cent. Figures for 2014 were not available for Kuwait, but its spending increased by 112 per cent between 2005 and 2013.
The report also notes that all of these countries are major oil producers, and their state revenues were boosted by high oil prices over the period. It is however unlikely for these nations to be able to sustain high levels of expenditure – as much as 12 per cent of the county’s GDP in some cases – with the fall in oil prices in late 2014.
As increasing numbers of countries in the region turn into addicts of the weapons industry, one country has capitalised on its addiction like no other in its use and supply of high-grade weapons. With a reputation for producing some of the best battle tested weapons in the world, Israel’s position in the global arms trade is infamous. It may be a relatively small state but it has advantages others don’t. Israel ranks as the world’s sixth largest exporter of weapons. In 2012, it exported $2.4 billion in military equipment. But with a per capita value of around $300 in exports, Israel is at the top of the list. Even the United States, by far the world’s largest arms exporter, only has per capita weapons sales of $90.
Israel invests more money in research than most other countries, and in no other place are research institutes, the defence industry, the army and politics so interwoven. The result is a high-tech weapons factory, the caviar of high-grade weapons that successfully exports its goods globally.
Israel’s exports are growing rapidly, its weapons exports more than doubled between 2001 and 2012. In May, The Times of Israel reported a steep rise in arms sales to Africa. It stated that the weapons industry’s exports were up 40 per cent in 2014. Deals with African countries have risen steadily on an annual basis since 2009 ($77 million), with only a slight dip in 2012 ($107 million) compared with 2011 ($127 million).
African states, however, are still not considered major buyers: Asian and Pacific countries acquired Israeli military technology and arms worth $3 billion in 2014, compared to just under $0.33 billion in sales to Africa.
In the arms exhibition taking place in the Docklands, Israel is one of a handful of countries with a “national pavilion”, a designated area where Israeli arms companies can exhibit their wares – the newest military technology, “battle tested” and “combat proven”.
Israel’s perpetual state of conflict with Palestinians gives the country an edge in the weapons industry. The destruction of Gaza, it is argued, is a cash cow for the Israeli military. “Opertion Protective Edge”, the massacre and bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014, has given Israel a marketing edge in the weapons industry. “Battle-tested” is the best marketing slogan for defence industries the world over, so for Israeli military manufactures “Operation Protective Edge” has yielded a major competitive edge, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Last summer, factories worked around the clock turning out munitions as the army tested their newest systems against a real enemy. Now, they are expecting their battle-tested products will win them new customers. Trade fairs for military technology and for homeland security equipment are commonplace in Israel, especially after each round of bombardment and/or invasion of Gaza. The advertising line repeated by the companies in these trading fairs to promote their wares is that “the IDF already uses that technology,” by which of course they mean it’s been used effectively and efficiently in the suppression of Palestinians and the criminal bombardment of their homes.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that a region intoxicated by the constant supply of weapons will inevitably lead to the biggest social, cultural, economic and political crash of our time with terrible consequences for all. The “birth of a new Middle East” will only be possible once Israel stops treating Palestine as a war laboratory and the region frees itself from the clutches of weapon dealers who want nothing more than to spread into the market with a constant supply of arms.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.