Weapons sales cre­ate havoc


The Georgia Straight - - News -

As an African Na­tional Congress mem­ber of the South African Na­tional As­sem­bly from 1994 to 2001, An­drew Fe­in­stein wit­nessed the im­pact of in­ter­na­tional weapons man­u­fac­tur­ers in a hor­rific way.

The poverty-stricken coun­try was in the midst of an unimag­in­able HIV cri­sis when the gov­ern­ment de­cided to spend $6.2 bil­lion on a so-called strate­gic-de­fence pack­age in 1999. It’s a deal that has been marred by se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion ever since.

“This was at a time when our pres­i­dent, Thabo Mbeki, was say­ing we couldn’t af­ford to pro­vide an­tiretro­vi­ral med­i­ca­tion to six mil­lion South Africans who were liv­ing with HIV or AIDS,” Fe­in­stein told the Ge­or­gia Straight by phone from his of­fice in London, Eng­land. “Ac­cord­ing to the Kennedy School of Gov­ern­ment at Har­vard, there were 365,000 avoid­able deaths over the next five years.”

Since leav­ing po­lit­i­cal of­fice in 2001, he’s de­voted much of his life to help­ing ef­forts to pro­vide sup­port for peo­ple with HIV, as well as rais­ing the alarm about the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of in­ter­na­tional weapons sales. Fe­in­stein’s 2011 book, The Shadow World: In­side the Global Arms Trade, was adapted into a fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary di­rected by Jo­han Gri­mon­prez.

“De­spite what our gov­ern­ments, de­fence com­pa­nies, and what our mil­i­tary tell us, the global trade in arms ac­tu­ally un­der­mines our democ­ra­cies, un­der­mines the rule of law,” Fe­in­stein said. “It’s a mas­sive contributor to global cor­rup­tion and—per­haps most bizarrely of all— makes us less rather than more safe.”

He also em­pha­sized that the elec­tion of a Lib­eral gov­ern­ment in Canada headed by Justin Trudeau has not re­sulted in any real change from when Stephen Harper was prime min­is­ter. To sup­port his ar­gu­ment, Fe­in­stein pointed to Canada’s ex­port of arms to Saudi Ara­bia. Ac­cord­ing to a fed­eral re­port, 20 per­cent of Canada’s $717 mil­lion in sales of mil­i­tary goods and tech­nol­ogy in 2016 went to that coun­try.

Fe­in­stein al­leged that these arms sales are be­ing used “to vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law, pos­si­bly in the com­mit­ting of war crimes” in Ye­men and Bahrain.

“It is up to Cana­dian cit­i­zens to do some­thing about this be­cause this is be­ing done in the name of Cana­dian cit­i­zens with the tax dol­lars of Cana­dian cit­i­zens,” he de­clared.

The Trudeau gov­ern­ment has em­pha­sized that un­like its pre­de­ces­sor, it will join the Arms Trade Treaty, which is an in­ter­na­tional agree­ment that pur­ports to reg­u­late weapons sales. Fe­in­stein, how­ever, said that al­though the ne­go­ti­a­tions fo­cused at­ten­tion on this is­sue, the treaty it­self is “in­cred­i­bly weak”.

“It men­tions cor­rup­tion only once in pass­ing,” he stated. “It has no mech­a­nism of en­force­abil­ity.”

In other words, it’s en­tirely de­pen­dent on the po­lit­i­cal will of gov­ern­ments. “And, in fact, we’ve seen with the sale of weaponry to Saudi Ara­bia dur­ing its bomb­ing cam­paign of Ye­men since March of 2015 that even those coun­tries who’ve claimed to cham­pion the in­ter­na­tional Arms Trade Treaty, such as the United King­dom and Canada, are com­pletely vi­o­lat­ing it in re­la­tion to their sales to Saudi Ara­bia. So the very gov­ern­ments that are at the fore­front of ne­go­ti­at­ing this treaty are, sadly, at the fore­front of nul­li­fy­ing it and mak­ing it…ir­rel­e­vant.”

He also in­sisted that the arms trade does not help the econ­omy, not­ing that the “link­age ef­fects” to growth have not ex­isted since the 1980s. That’s be­cause of the mag­ni­tude of state sub­si­dies, among other fac­tors.

“It’s an ap­palling way to try and grow an econ­omy,” Fe­in­stein said.

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