What it is: The arms industry, which now has a global market, manufactures products and provides services (such as training and technological backup) which kill and maim human beings.
What it means: The 10 countries which manufacture the most arms include the 5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA), whose 'primary responsibility is the maintenance of international peace and security'. They are responsible for 80% of the world's arms exports. From 1998 to 2002 the US, the UK and France earned more from exports to Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America than they gave to these regions in humanitarian aid. Many of the countries they export arms to are known to abuse human rights. There are no international agreements to regulate the trade of conventional weapons - individual countries are expected to do that themselves. Some don't want to, many more simply can't. In any case, both legal and illegal arms traders are expert at getting round many rules and regulations. On average conventional weapons kill over 500,000 people every year, most of them civilians. One of the world's biggest problems is small arms (a small arm is a weapon that can be carried and fired by one person - who may even be a child). There are an estimated 700 million small arms in the world today, produced by 1,000 companies in around 100 countries. 8 million more are produced each year, together with vast amounts of ammunition. Politicians and arms companies say that their industry helps to create stability, but there's little evidence of it. Indeed, soldiers can find themselves attacked by weapons made in their own country. The world's most harsh governments have all been customers of the major arms suppliers. Many developing countries in the grip of poverty are also customers, and run up further debts by spending on armaments instead of the people. The global arms trade is supported by government subsidies and other perks, and the military is excluded from rules governing most global trade agreements: 'A country cannot be prevented from taking any action it considers necessary for the protection of its security interests...relating to the traffic in arms, ammunition and implements of war and such traffic in other goods and materials as is carried on directly for the purpose of supplying a military establishment.' The only real difficulty the legal arms trade faces is the continuing change in how wars are fought - because of advances in technology - which means some armaments are going out of use. But most arms manufacturers have busy research departments and scientists happy to work in them.
Think about it: The arms trade is a lethal and immoral business. If you point that out to an arms dealer, the reply is likely to be a shrug and 'If we didn't sell them, somebody else would'. So how do we explain to the dealer that this is a pretty poor answer? Something has to be done about the world-wide slaughter which the arms trade causes. People campaigning against the arms trade say, 'if we don't go on challenging the dealers and the politicians, are we sure somebody else would?' Is it the arms trade that has to be challenged, or something further and deeper than that? Who is really responsible?