Saturday, September 13, 2008

Peace Sells, But Who's Buying?: America Now the Largest Arms Dealer in the World

The United States now accounts for more than half of all arms and military equipment sold in the world today (about 52% of the world market in arms sales). This amounts to about $32 billion in arms profits, up from just about $12 billion, only 3 years ago.

The U.S. government claims this is done in the name of security and the promotion of peace. Peace through strength and force of arms is captured by the idea of "negative peace" (described here by one of the founders of peace studies, Johann Galtung). Negative Peace usually means the absence of fighting or outright aggression. Thus, the U.S. is hoping that by arming the world, there might be more negative peace in the world as nations will be less likely to pick fights with heavily armed neighbors.

It's the same logic that motivates school districts in Texas to allow staff to carry guns--if school shooters know that teachers are packing heat, they will be less likely to go on rampages. Or if they do begin to rampage, then they are more likely to be taken down in a fire fight with armed teachers, hopefully sparing the lives of more innocent students (so the story goes)

But Galtung notes there is another notion of peace--positive peace. This means the presence of political, economic, and social conditions that make it less likely that conflict will devolve into force and violence. Martin Luther King, Jr. usually said this involved the "presence of justice" in the world. The question might become then: how much aid is the U.S. offering the world to try to create conditions of positive peace?

It seems not as much as it spends selling arms. Figures suggest that, in 2007, the U.S. gave out about $21 billion in non-military foreign aid, which is about less than 1% of its gross national income. Sounds like a lot until you consider that in 1998 we spent about $8 billion just on cosmetics and the Europeans spent about $50 on alcohol (and probably spend more now, some 10 years later).

Are we more secure in a world awash in weapons? Is it better that the world use our weapons rather than someone else's?

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