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March 09, 2007

The World's Largest Arms Dealer

Tim Ireland seems angry about something or other again.

5. Finally; wouldn't a world without (...) be a world without the world's largest arms manufacturer and dealer? Wouldn't that be a safer world? Or does 18 Doughty Street see no connection between guns and people being shot by guns?

As all economics types know, it's not the gross amount that matters (in fact, as I'm sure Tim Ireland would agree) but the distribution. We must therefore look at per capita figures, not gross.

In five years turnover has increased by 30 percent and the industry sells for NOK 7 billion (USD 1.05 billion) a year and employs around 5,000 people.

According to figures from SIPRI, Norway is the world's biggest arms exporter in relation to its population and the 11th in the world in real terms.

So, according to Tim, we're all supposed to be angry at Norway I guess. Tsk, these social democracies, just can't trust them an inch, can you?

March 9, 2007 in Military | Permalink


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Er, Tim was quoting Jim Bliss.

'As all economics types know, it's not the gross amount that matters'.

Why? Please enlighten us ill-educated liberal panty-waisters.

Is your point that we should be more angry at the one gun from Norway rather than the fifty from America (or whatever the ratio might be)?

Tim adds: If it is only the gross amount that matters then we would not be concerned in any way about inequality would we? But as much of the basis of ill-educated liberal panty-waster politics is indeed to worry about inequality, then, obviously, it is not only the gross amount that is important, according to the principles of ill-educated liberal panty-wasters. We must thus look at per capita figures.

Come along Justin, you're usually a little less uptight about people making jokes and having a snark.

Posted by: Justin | Mar 9, 2007 1:29:46 PM

As far as I can see that quote from Bloggerheads isn't a quote from Jim Bliss - it is a comment Tim Ireland has added where he was discussing the Blissful post.

Posted by: The Englishman | Mar 9, 2007 1:35:14 PM

Then I would suggest you read both posts again again.

Posted by: Justin | Mar 9, 2007 1:37:51 PM

My apologies - the formatting of Bliss' post made me assume that the questions in a different font and layout below the post were a comment or trackback rather than part of his post. And Tim Ireland didn't make it clear by such formatting that he was quoting rather than opining, maybe there should be some "rules of blogging" about such things!

Posted by: The Englishman | Mar 9, 2007 2:22:42 PM

"...maybe there should be some "rules of blogging" about such things!"


Posted by: JuliaM | Mar 9, 2007 2:32:14 PM

Blimey. I hadn't realised until now which country is the world's largest car manufacturer.

Posted by: Not Saussure | Mar 9, 2007 4:51:11 PM

As all economics types know, it's not the gross amount that matters
Perhaps that's true for widgets from Midwestern widget factories. I couldn't say, being a mere engineer and not an "economic type".

However, I would suggest that in the case of guns and bombs that it is the gross amount that matters. Because it all comes down to the amount of death and destruction being meted out by those weapons. How many Central African wars could be fought with Norwegian arms Vs. US arms.

When every single round of ammunition is a potential dead person and bereaved family, I think we can probably dispense with economic theory for a while and examine the human cost.

Though of course, there probably aren't too many "economics types" being murdered in the Democratic Republic of Congo. So perhaps that's irrelevant after all?

Tim adds: DRC?

"In addition, a recent report by Amnesty International documents large arms transfers from Bosnia, Albania and other Eastern European countries to Rwanda and Uganda, where they are passed on to rebel groups in the DRC. "


Viktor Bout maybe?

But perhaps you're right, it all must be America's fault.

Also worth noting that the wikipedia page (rather oddly I'll admit) on the US arms trade seems to think they're a net importer, not a net exporter.

Posted by: Jim Bliss | Mar 9, 2007 6:22:03 PM

Oh, and could people please stop building straw men around this issue. DK did a very similar thing in the comments on Justin's site. My position is pretty damn simple and unambiguous...

Profiting from the global arms industry is profoundly immoral. All those who do so should be criticised and -- in my view -- compelled to stop. That includes Norway. Nowehere did I suggest that the Norwegians, or anyone else, should be permitted to continue this destructive trade unopposed. And I resent the implication that I may think that way. We should be (and I am) angry at everyone who gets rich off the back of what's occurring in DRC (or any other war you care to mention).

I singled out America (and was cited by Tim Ireland) in the context of a response to 18 Doughty Street's A World Without America. If a bunch of dim-witted idiots have made a silly video entitled "A World Without Norway" (why?) and glossed over their role in the international arms trade, then point me to it and I'll carry out the same critique.

Tim adds: I was making fun of what I saw as a factual inaccuracy. Take that as you wish: I've certainly not tried to build it up into any greater political point than that.

I would add that the "immorality" is your opinion, that is not an established fact. As one who has indeed done so in the past and may well do in the future I take a rather more nuanced view (as you would expect). Is, for example, importing Soviet/Russian arms into the US so they can play red v. blue games in the desert (as my business partner regularly does in his own business and in which I have helped from time to time) immoral? I think not but perhaps you have a different view.
I agree that dropping off a few crate loads of AK 47s in the jungle is indeed immoral, knowing what they will be used for.

One might be called the defense industry, the other incitement to violence.

Posted by: Jim Bliss | Mar 9, 2007 6:32:42 PM

Oh, come on Tim. Querying the detail but not addressing the point. You're better than that.

I chose the DRC as a random example of a terrible war. The first one that jumped to mind. Unless you're suggesting that the United States doesn't sell weapons to people who will actually use them, then the fact that the war in the Congo is being primarily fought with weapons from the other two thirds of the global industry isn't the point being made. And you know that.

Also, for a breakdown of the global arms trade, I used the U.S. Congressional Research Service (I'm not saying it's definitely more reliable than Wikipedia, but at least they're unlikely to alter their numbers every time a random schnook decides to vandalise the page). Click here for a summary, and a link to the original PDF.

Posted by: Jim Bliss | Mar 9, 2007 6:47:46 PM

Tim adds: I was making fun of what I saw as a factual inaccuracy. Take that as you wish: I've certainly not tried to build it up into any greater political point than that.

Can I play that game too? The piece you cited is as follows...
In addition, a recent report by Amnesty International documents large arms transfers from Bosnia, Albania and other Eastern European countries to Rwanda and Uganda, where they are passed on to rebel groups in the DRC.

In addition to what? Well, to the previous sentence...

Many of the weapons used in the bloody civil war, in which millions have perished, derive from former President Mobutu's Cold War arsenal, mostly supplied by the United States.

Was that selective quoting not intended to make any greater political point, then? Fair enough. But does the fact that the US "dropped off a few crateloads" of weapons in DRC before Eastern Europe got involved absolve them of the violence carried out using those weapons. I'd also like to point out that Bosnia has no indigenous arms manufacturing industry to speak of. It is, however, a place where a lot of arms trading goes on. One recent news report states...

"Some 200,000 guns the US sent to Iraqi security forces may have been smuggled to terrorists, it was feared yesterday. The 99-tonne cache of AK47s was to have been secretly flown out from a US base in Bosnia. But the four planeloads of arms have vanished." (source)

So those weapons that end up in DRC out of Bosnia are quite possibly being sold by US arms dealers. Certainly I doubt there's too many Bosnians getting rich off the deal.

As for the "immorality" issue. Are you claiming that a significant amount of the arms trade exists merely to allow Americans to play 'games'? What percentage would you say out of interest? If an industry exists with the primary aim of generating profit out of humans murdering each other, I don't believe it can be excused because it allows some wealthy westerners to pretend to murder each other for a few days. But you're right; that is just my opinion.

Tim adds: Re "Games". Military exercises. M1 Abrams tanks driving around the National Training Center in the Mojave while another group of professional soldiers drive around in T-80s and the like. Known as "red on blue" exercises I think. This is part of training of the military forces of a sovereign nation. I've been marginally involved in supplying such equipment. You can, of course, state that in your personal opinion this is immoral. I happen to think not. For by doing so you're stating that all military activity, training and supply is immoral.
I agree that some is, but not all.

Posted by: Jim Bliss | Mar 9, 2007 7:54:42 PM

I'm just a poor little Greek boy, but I would have thought that the laws of supply and demand apply here - in a world without America, vicious African dictators would still need machine guns for their henchmen, European armies would still need fighter planes from somewhere, and Latin American death squads would still need bullets to cleanse the streets at night.

Isn't it fanciful to imagine that the level of killing in the world is controlled by the amount of weaponry available to the killers? I'd have thought that precisely the opposite was true. In a "world without America", wouldn't someone else just supply the arms instead? The French, for example? Or us?

Posted by: Mr Eugenides | Mar 9, 2007 11:30:29 PM

I agree with you, Mr Eugenides. But the people who made "A World Without America" appear not to. They list plenty of things that we wouldn't have in a world without America (the motorcar, air-conditioning, a polio vaccine, a Democratic Nicaragua... seriously!)

I was simply pointing out what else we wouldn't have without America (such as one third of global arms, nuclear weapons, etc.)

I mean, according to the video, a world without America would be a world without "31% of global wealth". Figure that one out.

Posted by: Jim Bliss | Mar 9, 2007 11:43:50 PM

Tim Ireland makes the same mistake most opponents of America's arms industry make. Allow me to quote myself:

You generally don’t see US-made rifles, mortars, and landmines scattered willy-nilly around warring African tribes. What you do see is Russian made rifles, mortars, and landmines scattered amongst anyone anywhere who is willing to have a fight, and right behind them you see the Chinese knock-offs of the same.

It is the Russian and Chinese weaponery that is has caused and is still causing the deaths of tens of millions of people the world over, not the US high-tech kit. Yet oddly, Russia and China are seldom vilified by the peace activists and do-gooders in the West for flogging millions of rifles and grenades to anyone who wants them, whilst at the same time protesting voiciforously when the US or Britain sells an air traffic control system to Tanzania or India. Were they to actually take into account which weapons were actually causing the mountain of misery in places like Sudan and Sierra Leone, they’d be surprised to see that it is Russian and Chinese kit doing the killing.

Posted by: Tim Newman | Mar 10, 2007 12:31:27 AM

Yet oddly, Russia and China are seldom vilified by the peace activists and do-gooders in the West for flogging millions of rifles and grenades to anyone who wants them
It's not 'odd' at all. In fact it's very easy to understand, assuming you're willing to try with an open mind. Your use of the phrase "do-gooders", though, suggests you may not be. Perhaps you'd rather a world full of "do-badders"? Those silly peace activists, eh? They know nothing of the economic realities faced by those who wish to make a profit from slaughter and murder. How dare they suggest that morality should trump economics!

International groups such as Amnesty do -- often and vociferously -- criticise the Russian and Chinese regimes for all manner of things including arms sales. If you're unaware of this then I suggest it's because it doesn't make as good a story in the western media as when Britain or America is criticised. That, and the fact that you're willing to take the media at face value on this (despite, I would assume, being unwilling to do so when they paint a picture you disagree with).

Secondly, and importantly, those Western activists and do-gooders are just that... Westerners. From this we can infer two things:

1. Arms dealing sanctioned by their own government, is -- by virtue of living in a representative democracy -- their responsibility in a way that Chinese and Russian arms dealing is not.

2. Their actions and statements will have a greater effect on their own government (again, by virtue of living in a representative democracy) than it would on the Russian and Chinese government.

So us Western peace activists and do-gooders focus our energies on Western arms dealing. Doesn't that make sense? And if not, why not?

PS: The modern Sudanese airforce, which is (allegedly) being used to massacre villages in Darfur, is comprised of French, German, US and British aircraft as well as a squadron of Russian MiGs from the early 1970s. I am not suggesting that every weapon being used to murder people around the world is American. Just 36%.

And hell, it's not even me suggesting that. It's the US Congressional library.

Also, the low-tech / high-tech distinction may well be useful in discussions like this. But someone who gets their legs blown with a high-tech cluster bomb is just as badly mutilated as someone who gets them blown off by a Chinese grenade. Worth bearing in mind.

Posted by: Jim Bliss | Mar 10, 2007 12:59:06 AM

Jim, "But does the fact that the US "dropped off a few crateloads" of weapons in DRC before Eastern Europe got involved absolve them of the violence carried out using those weapons."

Yes? The US supplied weapons to the Government of Zaire during the Cold War, at a time when rebels against the Government of Zaire were being armed by the Russians (and led by the Cubans, Che Guevara for one). To say that the US Government bears responsibility for what the weapons were used for some 20 years later seems to be stretching it a bit.

Posted by: Tim | Mar 10, 2007 10:19:01 AM

I am not suggesting that every weapon being used to murder people around the world is American. Just 36%.

You have missed my point by a mile and a half. My point is as follows:

The US' share of world arms sales is 36% by value only, and does not - as you claim - equate to 36% of the weapons being used to murder people around the world. The American share is so high because the arms it sells tend to be very expensive and hi-tech; the Chinese and Russian share is so high because they litter the world with rifles, grenades, and land mines.

Furthermore, the American kit by and large doesn't get used very often. Other than in Israel, I can't think of a time in the last 5 years when an American jet or tank has been used in war by a foreign military. Perhaps the Canadians in Afghnistan, but the list is short.

Contrast this with the Russian and Chinese kit which turns up in the hands of every rebel, mitiliaman, terrorist, and bandit the world over. Chinese and Russian kit not only gets sold, it gets used to deadly effect in enormous numbers, worldwide. If the US stopped selling arms tomorrow, all but a few of the world's conflicts would continue as if nothing happened. Quoting America's 36% share is a red herring, as it is not this 36% share which is worth worrying about in comparison to the far larger and more deadly share of the Russians and Chinese.

Posted by: Tim Newman | Mar 10, 2007 10:51:16 AM

There are waaay too many Tims involved in this discussion.

Firstly to Tim Newman's points... can I just open by saying Tim, that to me, the phrase "do-gooder" is like a red rag to a bull. It has extremely negative connotations for me and if my earlier response seemed a tad aggressive (as it does to me reading it back) then I apologise. In my defence though, I'm sure we all have words or phrases which we find especially grating and which provoke an irritated response.

That said, I'd like to suggest that I didn't miss your point. I simply disagree with it. Could you provide sources for your unreferenced allegation that "American kit by and large doesn't get used very often" -- which is your essential point I believe.

You see, I can't find any evidence for that whatsoever.

According to The World Policy Institute, for instance:
In 2003, the last year for which full information is available, the United States transferred weaponry to 18 of the 25 countries involved in active conflicts.

Could you explain how this tallies with your assertion that this weaponry "doesn't get used very often"? Given that the paper I have referenced also points out:
In 2003, more than half of the top 25 recipients of U.S. arms transfers in the developing world (13 of 25) were defined as undemocratic by the U.S. State Department's Human Rights Report...

I suspect that the argument that the U.S. only sells to "the good guys" probably won't wash. In fcat, it goes further:
When countries designated by the State Department's Human Rights Report to have poor human rights records or serious patterns of abuse are factored in, 20 of the top 25 U.S. arms clients in the developing world in 2003 -- a full 80% -- were either undemocratic regimes or governments with records of major human rights abuses.

So Tim, can you provide any evidence at all that these regimes "by and large" do not use the weapons being sold to them by America?

You state: "Other than in Israel, I can't think of a time in the last 5 years when an American jet or tank has been used in war by a foreign military".

Well, it only took me five minutes on google to find plenty. So I respectfully suggest that you provide references.

The Sudanese airforce includes ten US-made F-5Es, fourteen French Mirage Jets and a whole bunch of German helicopters.

The Ethiopian airforce includes eight F-86s, twenty-six F-5s, and sixteen Lockheed T-33s.

Meanwhile the Indonesia air force contains far too many US and European aircraft to list here.

Given what most of us know of the regimes in these three places (plus plenty more!) it will take a lot of evidence to convince me that the US weaponry hasn't been used in Darfur, Eritrea and East Timor. For starters.


To the previous "Tim". I'm afraid I don't see the supply of arms to Mobutu Sese Seko (Dictator of Zaire) as a particularly ethical activity. Cold War or no Cold War. In fact, I find the whole Cold War to be a uniquely immoral period, where both the USA and the Soviets decided to arm every crazed dictator or rebel group (let's not forget that in other parts of Africa it was the Soviets arming the dictator and the US arming the rebels) so that they could fight a war where the vast majority of casualties would be black and brown people on a different continent.

I don't believe arms sales to dictatorships can be justified by claiming that 'we don't know what they'll do with them'. Seriously, what the hell else were they going to be used for, aside from killing the people designated "enemy" by the dictator?


And finally to Tim (our host, Mr. Worstall). Completely off topic, but could I make a formatting suggestion. I like the way you add your thoughts directly to the comment (I don't think I'll adopt it myself, but I'm giving it some thought). But would it be possible to wrap your additions in a 'class'? Perhaps make your text dark blue or dark green, that way it's easily spotted when you scroll down the comments.

Tim adds: Well, if I was technically savvy enough to do that I would. I'm not, so I can't.

While we're here though, I had a look at the Ethiopian Airforce. It actually says "other planes operated recently by" and of the ones you choose to highlight, they entered service in (in order) 1949, the 1960s and 1948. Whatever these are they're not examples of the current rapacity of the US military industrial complex.

Posted by: Jim Bliss | Mar 10, 2007 4:55:27 PM

Tim, fair enough (on the formatting).

But with regards to the Ethiopian airforce, it's worth noting that a significant amount of US (and ex-Soviet Republic) weapons sales to Africa is 2nd hand equipment that would be considered obsolete anywhere else in the world. The Ethiopian airforce, for example, almost certainly doesn't have the technical capacity to maintain and service more recent aircraft.

That doesn't make the bombs dropped from these planes any less dangerous. The "rapacity of the US military industrial complex" has always been based upon providing appropriate technology for the target market. A warplane from the late 40s or the 1960s is more than sufficient when the targets are generally small villages with no air defence.

Posted by: Jim Bliss | Mar 10, 2007 6:32:54 PM