This Scorecard is due to be updated in 2018
It is generally accepted that sovereign nations have the right to self-defence. The manufacture of and trade in armaments is, for the most part, highly regulated, but it is an extremely complex business mixed with global politics and international law. However, there is also illegitimate and criminal trade (the volumes of which are difficult to estimate) between illegal arms dealers, insurgents, terrorists and criminal groups.
International Conventions seek to restrict the proliferation of certain weapons and completely ban several others. Most nations have legislation and enforcement regimes in place to control access to arms and the export of weapons. The UK government, for example, has published a 'Strategic Export Control List' identifying those goods and materials that require a license to be sold abroad. Nonetheless, the international trade in arms is contentious. In particular, observers raise questions concerning which governments or groups receive defence equipment, the flouting of international conventions, the sale of ‘dual use’ technology, and the illegal trade in arms.
The defence industry is likely to benefit from political support, government subsidies and diplomatic assistance as it is often seen to be core to the political and economic interests of the state. Defence sector businesses are often large employers and may make significant investments in research and development with subsequent civilian benefits. For example, military innovation has had a powerful impact on scientific research and it has developed novel technology in areas such as computer sciences and medicine.
Throughout the world, states’ military and police forces are supplied with combat equipment (vehicles, vessels, aircraft, guns, ammunition), spare parts, components and software by businesses. However, ambiguity as to what is and what is not military equipment serves to make precise definitions of the defence sector problematic. Many items, e.g. telecommunication or electronic equipment, can be used for both civil and military applications, so called 'dual use'. Definitions of appropriate use and export controls rely on governmental decisions.
Campaigning groups cite a general lack of transparency in and around the arms trade as a significant impediment to identifying legitimate from illegitimate activity. Despite the formal and legal processes that exist, campaigners claim there is no real transparency in respect of arms transfers, even within the major weapons exporting countries (e.g. the USA, Russia, Germany, France, China, UK and Italy). According to Saferworld’s Arms Transfer Reporting Database, only two-thirds of EU member states (18 of 27) are meeting their legal obligation to produce national reports on their 'exports of military technology and equipment'.
While officially sanctioned trade dominates, illicit trading, particularly in small arms and light weapons, also occurs. This is concentrated in areas afflicted by armed conflict, violence, and organised crime, where the demand for illicit weapons is highest and a black market can flourish. More human rights abuses are committed with small arms than with any other weapon. Accurate figures for the number of small arms and light weapons currently in circulation, across the globe, are difficult to compile.
A nation’s desire to maintain or build up a military force has a variety of social implications. A 2011 UNESCO report found that 21 developing countries were spending more on defence than on primary schools. If these countries cut their defence spending by 10%, they could put an additional 9.5 million children into school. Further, armed conflict and high military spending shrinks a country’s economy and impedes socio-economic development. Critics of the arms trade argue that selling any defence equipment to countries in conflict, to areas under tension or prone to conflict incites or prolongs violence. Despite the existing conventions and regulations, they claim that sales to regimes that abuse human rights can facilitate repression and convey a message of approval from the international community.
The 2013 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) seeks to regulate the international import, export and transfer of conventional weapons and to reduce the illegal trade in small arms. It will prohibit trade if it violates an arms embargo or promotes genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Nations exporting conventional weapons will be obliged to evaluate whether the weapons would be used to violate human rights and humanitarian laws or be used by terrorists, organised crime or for corrupt practices.
Other issues that cause particular public concern regarding the arms trade include:
- Biological weapons
- Chemical weapons
- Nuclear weapons
- Child soldiers
- Cluster bombs
- Drone warfare
- Cyber warfare.
Some are already covered by binding international conventions, others are newly emerging and are still outside any agreed regime for control and use. This question provides the opportunity for businesses to explain any form of involvement or engagement they may have.