Guide: the arms trade

< a publication to explain the reasons behind the Fiesta

THE MORAL CASE against the arms trade is a pretty strong one. Weapons kill people. Britain exports £5 billion of military equipment each year. Two thousand children are killed, maimed or psychologically affected every day by weaponry.

According to the UN Human Development Report, in 1999 the world's governments spent an estimated $719 billion of our money to run their military machines - of which more than two-thirds ($520 billion) was spent by Europe and North America alone. This is 14 times more than is needed to eradicate the very worst - "absolute" - poverty from the world. In the same year the UN spent less than $1 billion on peacekeeping. To give some idea of the type of item on offer at arms fairs such as DSEi, a favourite toy of any well to do military is the cluster bomb. When dropped a cluster bomb disperses scores of smaller bombs - "bomblets" over its target. The bomblets scatter before exploding, allowing a large area to be devastated - Cluster bomb CBU-87/B has an overall blast radius size of 3 football pitches.

There is a variety of bomblets; anti-personnel that kill or maim by fragmentation - in effect, nail bombs. Anti-tank bomblets are designed to be used against armour or vehicles So-called "combined effect munitions" contain both anti-armour weapons with an incendiary capacity. Cluster bombs can also drop various kinds of landmines. Many bomblets do not explode, creating a hazard for those civilians who escape the blast.

Fiesta guide index But while the twisted inventiveness of arms manufacturers never fails to appal, 90% of civilian casualties of conflict are caused by small and light weaponry. In 1999 the British government issued nearly 1000 export licenses for consignments of small arms. The number of weapons in each consignment have not been revealed. To make matters worse, these deals are underwritten by the tax-payer. The Export Credit Guarantee Department coughs up cash for arms dealers when countries default on payments. Heaven forbid defenceless arms companies should have to face the consequences of free market capitalism.