Global North Weapons Trade: Fueling War, Displacement and Migration

2015-09-19 07:59

Images of the Syrian boy Aylan Khrudi were passed around social media recently, placing the world into yet another state of temporal shock. friends shared with friends, more friends shared with others, until the image of the washed up boy on a Turkish beach became the focal point for all that was wrong with the world. I myself was deeply saddened by this tragedy, as thoughts of my nephew (roughly the same age) raced through my mind when looking at the harrowing images. Khurdi's death can be laid at the door of his father, but his actions to seek a better life were only the result of desperation, eager to vacate a land torn by violence and despair (whether through the hands of the Syrian president, or the countries/regions funding rebel opposition).

War and displacement do however, have a source, and these are the global weapons trade. More often than not, this trade is peddled through, and dominated by the companies of the very same nations (mostly in Europe) now having to contend with waves of migrants and asylum seekers. Expos and demonstrations which form the core of weapons trading, have become a focal point for defence ministries around the world to gather, coalesce under cordial international decorum, and of course, spend billions of dollars on defence contracts and weaponry. Points of procurement for purchasing of arms by states have become even more seamless, and hassle free. Discounts and concessions are offered to loyal customers, as military big-shots from regimes both legitimate and despotic, mingle about with no fear of discrimination or refusal for their cash.

Europe and the US, accounting for most of the world's weapon's manufacturing, have a moral responsibility to the people displaced by war, but unfortunately the companies residing within their borders play to a different tune. Capital in the form of the weapons industry has the potential to devastate nations, trading with nation states without fear of impunity. In viewing VICE's insert below for SOFEX (Special Operations Forces Exhibition) one gets a sense of death in disguise, as salesmen go about the peddling of their products as if it were a Sunday farmers market. This insert, made during the onset of the Arab uprising, has a particular sense of foreboding, as quotes from defense and security experts touted profits to be made from both upcoming war and displacement. Governments at the helm of nations which underwent radical change under the Islamic uprising, make for valued customers for military weapons as they try to fend off the revolutionary efforts of their people. Ironically, much of the money used by developing countries from Africa and the Middle East originates from aid given to them by the US and other donors.

Russia's role in supplying Syria with weapons directly has also been admitted to by the foreign ministry, as is well known by now. Insurgents, with ever more sophisticated ways of procuring supplies for terrorist or (some may say) liberation movements, have developed smuggling networks which cross paths with legitimate structures and (in some cases) officials in their bid to topple governments and regimes. With so many weapons being manufactured, keeping track of them all, even if barcoded and listed, becomes a challenge in itself. It's no stretch of the imagination to think of ISIS and other extremist groups sending posers to exhibitions if they've proven successful through online recruitment schemes.

But perhaps more unnerving about this insert of SOFEX, is the admission of analysts and experts that security was to become [as it is now], a source of immense profit, as immigration and border control were to become points of focus over the next few years. A British state official, Mr. – Adam Thomas of the UK Trade Investment Defense and Security Organisation was quoted as saying:


“Two to three times more on security spending than there is currently allocated by states and governments over the next four years will occur. This is from $180bn or $190bn to $400bn. This includes border patrol, anti-immigration, fencing and border security”

Such an amount annually would be immensely useful (if not adequate) in achieving many of the development goals (formerly known as the Millennium Development Goals - now soon to be renamed the Sustainable Development Goals) the United Nations ambitiously set for itself. "Security" as a softer lingual reference may come to dominate the industry, as the controlling of displaced people from the ravages of war becomes a new point of focus for private and state owned defense companies. As much as cheap social media slogans like #refugeeswelcome may have their [limited] use as tools in creating awareness, the real power complex still resides with powerful states and corporations, constantly engaged in a dance of reinforcement and reciprocation with one another. This is a dance which has left immense collateral in its wake; how long will it last is anyone's guess, but the costs to date (as many would agree) have been far too high.



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