17. Small Arms Wreak Major Worldwide Havoc

by Project Censored
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Sources: CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, Date: 4/5/95; “Boom in the Trade of Small Arms Fuels World’s Ethnic and Regional Rivalries”; Author: Jonathan S. Landay; FOREIGN AFFAIRS Date: September 1994 Title: “Arming Genocide in Rwanda” Authors: Stephen D. Goose and Frank Smyth

SYNOPSIS: Rwanda is just one example of what can happen when small arms and light weapons are sold to a country plagued by ethnic, religious, or nationalist strife. In today’s wars, such weapons are responsible for most of the killings of civilians and combatants. They are used more often in human rights abuses and other violations of international law than major weapons systems.

In the post-Cold War era, in which the profit motive has replaced East-West concerns as the main stimulus behind weapons sales, ex-Warsaw Pact and NATO nations are dumping their arsenals on the open market. Prices for some weapons, such as Soviet-designed Kalashnikov AKM automatic rifles (commonly known as AK-47s), have fallen below cost. Many Third World countries, such as China, Egypt, and South Africa, also have stepped up sales of light weapons and small arms. More than a dozen nations that were importers of small arms 15 years ago now manufacture and export them. But most of this trade remains unknown. Unlike major conventional weapons systems, governments rarely disclose the details of transfers of light weapons and small arms.

The resulting impact of such transfers are apparent. Small arms and light weapons have flooded nations like Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, not only fanning warfare, but also undermining international efforts to embargo arms and to compel parties to respect human rights. They have helped to undermine peace-keeping efforts and allowed heavily armed militias to challenge U.N. and U.S. troops. They raise the cost of relief assistance paid by countries like the United States. Yet the international community has no viable mechanism to monitor the transfer of light and small weapons, and neither the United Nations nor the Clinton administration has demonstrated the leadership required to control that trade.

It is increasingly clear that the proliferation of light weapons endangers not only internal, but also regional and international stability.

The largest conventional arms exporter in the world is the United States. The Clinton administration has trumpeted the increased threat of the spread of weapons of mass destruction as the foremost danger facing the U.S. Yet it has issued hardly a word on conventional arms except to assert their importance to U.S. defense manufacturers. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee of Foreign Operations reports, “Regrettably, the evidence clearly indicates that the Administration has sought to promote arms sales, rather than to reduce them.”

While the vast majority of the U.S. major weapons transfers are public, most of its transfers of light weapons and small arms are not. No regular reporting is made to Congress in either classified or unclassified form. Many sales are private commercial transactions, and attempts to get detailed data on them through the Freedom of Information Act are routinely denied on proprietary grounds.

The United States, as the world’s number one arms merchant (the #4 Censored story of 1992), should take the lead in proposing new ways to control the flow of light weapons and small arms. An administration that is struggling to deal with crises in Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, and elsewhere should recognize its own need to check this type of proliferation and stop shooting itself in the foot.

SSU Censored Researcher: Tina Duccini

COMMENTS: Jonathan S. Landay, author of the Christian Science Monitor article, said the subject did not receive mainstream media attention, although it is a subject that is of increasing concern on Capitol Hill. “I believe the public would be horrified if it was aware of the way U.S. tax dollars are spent to promote sales of light arms. Also, President Clinton campaigned on a promise to reduce U.S. arms exports. In fact, he has done the opposite, formally authorizing U.S. embassies to promote arms deals.” Landay said the government benefits from higher arms sales abroad since “the earnings from foreign sales allow U.S. weapons manufacturers to reduce their prices to the Pentagon.” He also added, “Obviously, U.S. arms makers also benefit.”

Frank Smyth, co-author of the article in Foreign Affairs, felt that the issue of arming Rwanda did receive considerable newspaper exposure in the United States, Europe, and Africa, but received little attention in U.S. newsweeklies or on network television. “One explanation for this,” Smyth said, “is that there was no American angle, as France, Egypt and South Africa were the main suppliers of arms. Another is that the issue of small arms transfers is simply too complex to fit into a superficial outlet.

“The U.S. public would benefit from wider exposure of this issue by understanding that outside powers like France helped fan the flames of Rwanda’s civil war,” Smyth said. “On a wider scale, the international public would benefit by understanding that there is now a world glut in small arms—fueled by countries as diverse as Russia, South Africa, and the United States—and they are gravitating to some of the world’s worst conflicts such as Sudan.

“In the United States, no specific interests have worked to limit the coverage of arming Rwanda,” Smyth said. “On the contrary, perhaps because France and not the United States was the main target of our criticism, establishment outlets including The New York Times and Foreign Affairs welcomed this story. One question which remains is why didn’t this story receive more attention in France. Most of the major papers there reported our charges, but few gave it as much space or attention, for example, as The International Herald Tribune, a U.S.-controlled publication. I personally see parallels—in both the stories and the way they were covered—between the U.S. role in El Salvador in the 1980s and France’s role in Rwanda in the 1990s.”