Jane Channa et al, 'Guns or Growth? Assessing the impact of arms sales on sustainable development'

IssueOctober 2005
Review by Jill Dimmock

This is a piece of academic research geared towards producing an internationally acceptable methodology for assessing the effects of the arms trade on sustainable development in developing countries.

Its aim is to persuade all arms exporting countries (mainly in the "first" world) to apply sustainability criteria to all applications for arms export licences. It is not, therefore, against the arms trade per se, but neither does it confine itself to the banning of arms sales to repressive regimes.

The main thrust of its concern is about whether the arms being bought by the governments of developing countries are really necessary for their security, according to Article 51 of the UN Charter, or whether, on the contrary, such imports are likely to have a negative impact upon that country's development and its ability to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Some of the figures it produces are frightening. Seven developing countries spend more on arms than on health and education together and one fifth of all debt in developing countries is caused by arms imports. Given the record of the Blair government's arms exports, it is saddening to learn that the UK Government is amongst the most "ethical" of arms exporters, being one of only four countries to have ever denied an arms export licence on sustainable development grounds.

It could easily be argued that the study is too cautious in its recommendations, accepting as it does the existence of any kind of arms trade, and is somewhat lenient towards the UK - perhaps not surprising given that the government has part-funded the report. However, we live in a world where countries like Russia and China incorporate no ethical considerations into their policies at all and this study at least offers a starting point for increased arms control and standardised criteria for assessing the impact on developing countries' economies of arms purchases.

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