The international arms trade has largely been synonymous with strife, death, and inordinate amounts of violence. The sale of arms is an ancient trade, tracing its roots
back to the early days of the Roman Empire. Arms trade, however, goes beyond selling small arms and military-grade weapons. Trading also includes the sale of personnel security, aircraft, long and short range missile systems, and any military-grade equipment that may be used for combat. These sales are more often than not stimulated by private military corporations, defense contractors, and government agencies seeking to maximize profit at the expense of the buyer’s treasury balance.
Arms trading is particularly vital to understanding a country’s stature in the world; it not only increases government revenues for sellers, but also defines life or death for millions around the world. Nonetheless, a gun can do little harm if a finger is absent on its trigger. Is the international arms trade to blame for battle deaths throughout the globe? Or are governments responsible for inciting violence, especially in regions like the Middle East? It’s easy to blame “arms trading” within itself; however, when calculating actual battle-related deaths, we find data scattered. There is little correlation between the number of arms sales made and the amount of deaths yielded as a result.
Sovereign states will naturally find ways to protect themselves, whether they manufacture arms internally or purchase them from foreign states. The same theory can be applied to gun owners in any country as well. People buy weapons to defend themselves from larger threats — it’s a natural phenomenon that deserves careful attention versus blind criticism. Comparatively, the international arms trade is very similar to a libertarian perspective on individualized defense. An individual can purchase several weapons to defend his home or property from intruders, but actually using the weapons requires a drive or motive that instigated the individual to use the weapons in the first place. The same theory applies to nation-states.
Looking at dollars spent on arms over the past ten years, there’s hardly a trend between the amount of money spent on military equipment and battle-related deaths, especially in a volatile sector like the Middle East. Arab states, including countries like Israel and Lebanon with mixed demographics and liberal governments, buy and sell military-grade weapons at their whim. The purchase of weapons one year does not inherently increase the number of battle-related deaths the following year. There have been instances where Middle Eastern states purchase large quantities of weapons for years at a time and maintain a flat zero battle-death rate for about a decade.
The real instigator behind battle-related deaths and the frequency of war is the intricate and complex relationship between state governments and their foreign counterparts. The old adage of “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” holds true even in the realm of international politics. Although the United Nations and several other NGOs have led campaigns to reduce sales in the international arms trade, claiming that increasing the weapons supply increases death and misery, international peacekeepers and anti-war advocacy groups should be focused on changing foreign policies rather than arms trade policies for they’re a waste of resources and time.
Data used for this study can be found at the following links:
Roy Antoun is a Graduate Student at Seton Hall specializing in International Economics & Development and International Security. He is the developer of Filebrink.com and leads an economics and technology blog at urIssue.com.