Weapons sales create havoc
> BY CHARLIE SMITH
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.