17. Small Arms Wreak Major Worldwide Havoc
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
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
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."