Weapons of Mass Destruction
by Eric Hananoki
If George W. Bush wants to stop the increase of terrorism
and weapons of mass destruction, he need not look any further
than his own State Department.
Every year, defense industries ship billions of dollars in
small arms and light weapons to other countries. Small arms
and light weapons include everything from revolvers and pistols
to the more destructive anti-aircraft systems and AK-47s.
The United States is making a killing in these exports. According
to the recently released Small Arms Survey, the United States
exports more small arms and light weapons than any other country
- four times as many as its closest competitor, Germany.
Not only are small arms and light weapons highly profitable,
they're also extremely destructive. Small arms and light weapons
kill 500,000 people a year, 80% of whom are women and children.
The presence of these weapons in third world countries and
conflicts zones cause a multitude of harms, including massive
economic losses, nearly $140 to $170 billion per year in Latin
America alone; facilitating the 3rd world problem of child
soldiers; and most importantly, causing the destruction of
villages and societies. One AK-47 into a primitive African
village can destroy it permanently. It's no wonder that Kofi
Annan called small arms and light weapons the "true weapons
of mass destruction."
With the potent power of these weapons of mass destruction,
you'd think the United States would only ship small arms and
light weapons to responsible countries, right? Well, guess
In the past decade, the United States has shipped arms to
countries with questionable human rights records, including
Bahrain, Angola, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt.
In fact, according to the Federation of American Scientists,
United States-origin small arms are used in 92% of conflicts
When such arms are exported to other countries, the standard
procedure is for the state department to ensure that arms
are handled carefully and received by the proper people. Unfotunately,
due to apathy, this rarely happens. Indeed, under the Bush
administration, the United States has taken a hands-off, free
trade policy towards weapons exports. According to a study
from the non-profit organization Fund for Peace, US brokering
laws are never enforced, even when there is evidence of criminal
wrongdoing. Further, according to the General Accounting Office,
only .8% of weapons licenses are ever checked by the State
The logic posed by conservatives is as follows: restrictions
on the exportation of guns inevitably lead to the loss of
defense jobs. What conservatives are weighing, apparently,
is the loss of 500,000 lives a year and the escalation of
conflicts due to American-bought weapons with the downsizing
of several hundred factory workers. To put it bluntly, the
federal government could sell crack to babies and make tidy
profit but doesn't because it causes problems.
Even more ridiculous is the argument, spouted by Undersecretary
of State John Bolton, that the regulation of small arms and
light weapons hurts our ability to exercise the 2nd Amendment.
But restricting exports of small arms to citizens of foreign
countries, people who have no right to bear arms, does not
harm the 2nd Amendment. Further, no Supreme Court case has
ever ruled that the transferring and selling of small arms,
like assault rifles, is protected by the 2nd Amendment. If
that was the case, 6-year olds and criminals could buy AK-47s
with ease at K-Mart.
Despite the idiocy of these arguments, the Bush administration
continues to export. At a recent Small Arms conference at
the United Nations, the United States delegation, lead by
Mr. Bolton, single handedly blocked a workable treaty that
would have regulated small arms exports. As the Guardian noted,
the conference "ended in almost total failure at the weekend
after the US blocked every significant proposal."
What these proposals would have done is curbed the illicit
trafficking of small arms in third world countries. In Africa,
guerilla fighters can buy American-made small arms for as
little as a chicken. Because arms are exported by the truckloads,
they are relatively easy to acquire. The UN treaty would have
imposed strict regulations on which countries could receive
small arms shipments, stemming the steady infusion of arms
to conflict zones. Countries enaged in a conflict or possessing
gross human rights records would have been unable to purchase
arms. Yet the United States, as the San Diego Tribune noted,
forced the UN to adopt an unenforcable, unverifiable treaty
that essentially does noting.
Even if President Bush doesn't care about the destruction
of third world countries, he should note the irony of his
war against terrorism. The US armed, directly and indirectly,
the very people we're fighting. Even now, US-sold arms to
Egypt and Saudi Arabia end up on the black market and are
sold to terrorists.
As the world's superpower, the United States has the power
to influence foreign policy and the future of countless countries.
Exporting small arms and light weapons to countries that have
poor human rights records or are involved in conflicts is
not only wrong, it's stupid. If the United States wants to
do something to help its war on terrorism, it would be wise
to not export arms to irresponsible countries. 500,000 deaths
a year can't be wrong.
Eric Hananoki edits The
Hamster, a website promoting the cause of liberalism
on the web. He is also the online editor of a newspaper in