Arms Trade, role of the United Nations and US interests

Should the US push the UN to restrict arms trading to rogue nations?

Arms Trade, role of the United Nations and US interests

Yes because... No because...

Rogue states, by definition, refuse to be bound by international norms and threaten the stability of...

Rogue states, by definition, refuse to be bound by international norms and threaten the stability of their region or even the world as a whole. Denying them weapons is the most effective way of preventing them from posing a threat to other states or their own people. By and large, rogue states are lesser developed countries lacking the capability to produce sophisticated weapons or even basic arms in large numbers. Trade with more developed nations is therefore their only route to acquiring a significant military capacity. The United States, for example, was one of the principal suppliers of arms to Indonesia under Suharto, providing training aircraft, radar equipment, spare parts and machine guns. The trade in small arms, in particular, is generally regarded as being a root cause of many of the conflicts in Africa, which have brought death and poverty to millions. Given that an AK47 can be bought for as little as $6 in some countries, it is no surprise that the civil war in Sudan lasted 21 years and cost almost 2 million lives. Furthermore, when military intervention is required (as is sometimes the case with a rogue state) Western powers often find themselves on the receiving end of weapons they made in the first place (as France, Russia, the UK and the US found out during the first Gulf War). Furthermore, a rogue nation may use arms against its own population. Typically rogue states have poor human rights records and are willing to commit atrocities against their own citizens. Supplying them with arms gives rogue states the tools to do the job. Saddam Hussein, for example, used Soviet and western-made arms in his slaughter of the Kurds in 1991. Similarly, US M16 machine guns were used to slaughter peaceful demonstrators in East Timor in 1991. In light of this, it is vital that the UN takes a lead in stamping out arms sales to rogue nations – after all ensuring global security is its primary purpose. The USA has a major interest in promoting world peace and security, and it has been forced to take action against rogue states in Afghanistan and Iraq (and may in future have to confront countries like Syria, North Korea and Iran); for both these reasons it should support UN efforts to control the arms trade in this way.

Many of the weapons which rogue states have used to threaten their neighbours or oppress their own people were sold to them before they were regarded as rogue states. For example, the weapons which Iraq used to invade Kuwait (and which were subsequently used against allied forces and the Kurds) were sold to Iraq before Saddam Hussein was considered a threat to international peace and security. Looking back, that judgement was very wrong but it demonstrates that the proposition's proposal would have done nothing to prevent Saddam getting hold of arms. The fact is that very few arms are sold to rogue states at the moment. The Federation of American Scientists claims that eight states to which the US currently supplies arms are troubling: Brazil, Columbia, India, Indonesia, Israel, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey. None of those states is widely regarded as rogue. It is extremely unfortunate when a state to which arms have been sold later becomes rogue and misuses those arms, but the proposition's proposal will do nothing to prevent it.\
Similarly, blocks on the export of small arms will do nothing to stop war. The small, cheap weapons that the proposition talks about are usually made and sold illegally. Attempts are currently afoot to stamp out that trade. An additional order from the UN would hardly make any difference. Furthermore, wars are not caused by the existence of cheap arms. The African wars that the proposition refers to are usually a result of ethnic divisions. Even if the availability of sophisticated weapons were reduced, the wars would still be fought, and just as brutally, with whatever arms were available.

Arms Trade, role of the United Nations and US interests

Yes because... No because...

The arms trade is a global problem which, by definition, crosses national borders and continental bo...

The arms trade is a global problem which, by definition, crosses national borders and continental boundaries. To soften its impact will require more than just the piecemeal action of isolated governments. Broad international co-operation is necessary and as such the UN is the ideal forum to pursue an end to arms sales to rogue nations. Because of its global membership the UN is the only forum which can bring together the required global coalition. Furthermore, national governments are notoriously bad at obeying their own rules on the arms trade. In order to secure lucrative contracts, national governments regularly bend their rules to permit the export of arms to rogue states. Russia and the Ukraine, for example, were supplying weapons (including anti-tank missiles) to Iraq right up until the second Gulf War. Since national governments are unlikely to make ending the arms trade to rogue nations a long term priority, UN regulation is required. Unlike any national government, the UN is able to take the long view and end this appalling trade.

The proposition's view that the UN is a truly global forum capable of marshalling enough support to restrict arms sales to rogue states is at odds with reality. Given that member states set the agenda for the UN, the commitment to control the arms trade must ultimately come from within member states themselves. It cannot be successfully imposed from above precisely because, as the proposition point out, national governments do have a vested interest in maintaining regulatory control over the arms trade. This matters since it is the member states that will have to enforce any restrictions. The UN itself has no mechanism for ensuring that its rules are enforced. Furthermore, were the UN to try to restrict the arms trade and fail, this failure would damage the UN by discrediting it further. At a time when the UN is attacked for being incompetent (following its failures over the Iraq War, the Oil for Food programme and the Asian Tsunami relief operation) it would be foolhardy for it to undertake a project that is doomed to failure.

Arms Trade, role of the United Nations and US interests

Yes because... No because...

The opposition claim that it will be impossible for the UN to agree on a list of rogue states. Hist...

The opposition claim that it will be impossible for the UN to agree on a list of rogue states. Historically, the UN has regularly imposed sanctions; on 16 different countries, in fact, including Afghanistan, Iraq and South Africa. In these cases agreement was possible in the face of a rogue state which presented a real threat to international security or to the human rights of its own people. Using these precedents, it should be possible to find a definition for a rogue state. The opposition point out that it is rare for the UN to agree on the imposition of an arms embargo at the moment. In part this is because no definition of a rogue state exists and embargoes must be considered on a case by case basis. If the US suggests putting sanctions on Iran, for example, other countries respond by saying that sanctions should be placed on Israel. On the other hand, once a definition of a rogue state had been agreed upon, it could be applied fairly across the board, making agreement more likely than under the status quo. Given the USA's commitment to both international stability and human rights, it must be in its interests to support UN efforts in this area.

It is inconceivable that the UN could ever agree on definition of a rogue state. The UN can rarely agree, for example, on the imposition of sanctions. At the moment the UN does not even impose sanctions on North Korea (because of the Chinese veto.) The chance of the UN drawing up a list of rogue states and taking decisive action to stop them acquiring arms is therefore very slim. In her confirmation hearing Condoleezza Rice named six outposts of tyranny: Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Zimbabwe. However, each of these states would gather enough support in the UN to derail an attempt to classify it as a rogue state. Similarly the United States would strongly resist any attempt to have Israel or Uzbekistan classified as rogue states. It is therefore highly unlikely that the UN could ever agree on the need for an arms embargo. However, in the unlikely event that the UN did manage to agree on a definition of a rogue state and then actually enforced an arms embargo, allies of the United States (like Israel and Uzbekistan) would end up being sanctioned. This would be a huge own goal for American foreign policy.

Arms Trade, role of the United Nations and US interests

Yes because... No because...

The right for a state to have arms is dependent upon those arms being used in accordance with intern...

The right for a state to have arms is dependent upon those arms being used in accordance with international law. The opposition's idea that some arms can only be used for defensive, legitimate purposes is nonsense. Almost any type of weapon can be used by a rogue state to threaten other countries or oppress its own people. Rogue states must therefore be denied every type of weapon. However, even if the opposition are right and weapons which can be used only for legitimate purposes do exist, national governments cannot be trusted to ensure that only these weapons are sold to rogue states. National governments have regularly broken their own rules concerning arms exports in the past (under pressure from arms companies) and cannot be trusted to implement them in future. The British government, for example, has permitted the sale of Hawk jets to Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe in spite of promising that such sales would stop. In Indonesia, British-made Hawk jets were used to oppress separatists in Aceh.

Every state, even a rogue state, has the right to arms. In particular, every state has the right to use force for self-defence. For this reason even rogue states have the right to buy some types of weapon. The opposition do not propose selling every type of weapon to rogue states; specifically, it is right that through a system of export licences implemented by national governments the sale of weapons with no defensive purpose is tightly controlled. However, it would be a step too far for the UN to ban the sale of all weapons to rogue states. Indeed, Article 2.7 of the Charter of the UN forbids it from intervening in matters of domestic jurisdiction, which includes the provision of arms for self-defence. It would be against long-term US interests to extend the United Nations' powers in any way that increased its ability to override national sovereignty and US independence of action. Nor do Americans want to encourage the UN in its pretensions to become a world government.

Arms Trade, role of the United Nations and US interests

Yes because... No because...

The arms trade is one of the principal sources of poverty in the world, as states spend limited reso...

The arms trade is one of the principal sources of poverty in the world, as states spend limited resources paying for arms rather than improving the welfare of their people. This problem is particularly severe with rogue states, which typically have more enemies (both inside and outside their borders) and place less of a priority on welfare. In fact, the developing world spends about $20 billion a year on arms. Given that a fundamental part of the UN's mission is to improve the lives of ordinary people, it is right that it should make ending the arms trade to rogue states a priority.

Campaigners may want to believe that the arms trade is a major cause of poverty in rogue states, but the reality is that arms sales to rogue states are highly limited at the moment and the amounts of money involved are small on the scale of a government's budget. The major causes of poverty are history, bad government and debt. The $20 billion spent on arms each year by developing countries may seem a considerable sum but (apart from the fact that only a fraction of this is spent by rogue states) it is dwarfed in comparison to the size of debt owed by developing countries: $550 billion. Claiming that the arms trade causes poverty merely diverts attention from the real problems.

Arms Trade, role of the United Nations and US interests

Yes because... No because...

States do not supply arms to other nations in order to buy some kind of political leverage, as the o...

States do not supply arms to other nations in order to buy some kind of political leverage, as the opposition claims. They export arms because it is in their interests to do so. There is, therefore, rarely any political will to use the withdrawal of arms sales as a stick, or extra arms sales as a carrot. The US supports Israel because a strong Israel is in the US's long-term strategic interest. Israel is not swayed by the threat of removing those sales since Israel knows it is a bluff.

Supplying arms to a rogue state is a good way of gaining leverage over that state. Obviously there are limits to this (the USA is not about to supply arms to Iran) but carefully controlled arms sales to selected states can buy the US influence in domestic politics. In return for signing the Wye River accords with Jordan, for example, Israel received $1.2 billion in military aid. The US is likely to make similar offers to prompt Israel to sign peace treaties with Syria and the Palestinians. Similarly, the threat of withdrawing arms sales is a stick that the US can use to shape Israeli policy.

Debates > Arms Trade, role of the United Nations and US interests