International arms trade

16 Feb 1996 18:46

Back in the palmy days of the Cold War, somewhere over seventy billion dollars of weaponry crossed borders each year --- as acts of trade and diplomacy, not war. These days it's down to the neighborhood of twenty billion (constant dollars), of which we here in God's Own Country sell about half. Industrial nations account for 90% of the exports, and developing nations for 80% of the imports. (Some developing countries with industrial bases, like India, China and Brazil, are substantial exporters; the Czechs are getting in on the act, and the Economist thinks highly of their prospects.)

Issues: Economic justifications (flimsy for developed nations, but a certain appalling logic for NICs); strategic justifications (hard or impossible to square with existing market practices); globalization of the weapons industry, and its detachment from control by national governments (probably inevitable, which is another reason we need international government of some sort); weapons proliferation (nukes, gas, and germs are all very well, but conventional weapons will turn a city into a firestorm just fine, thank you); spread of technology

See also War.