(A talk given at Sheffield, Campaign Against Arms Trade, on 30 September 2004)

Vijay Mehta

In the talk today we will examine global threats posed by spread of small arms, light weapons and weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, biological and chemical.

We will discuss old and new dangers posed by arms trade and its effect on the global economy, and in conclusion the way forward we will point out action plans for prevention of the dangers posed by the arms trade and thereby pave the way for a peaceful civil society.

The global threat can be categorised into three areas:

a) Dangers to Human Security by Small Arms, Light Weapons, And Nuclear Weapons.

b) Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction – nuclear, biological and chemical.

c) Arms Trade and World Military Spending- A Major Cause of Suffering


Dangers to Human Security by Small Arms, Light Weapons, and Nuclear Weapon

Wars and civil unrest continue unabated in Africa, South Asia, (Kashmir and Nepal), Latin America (Colombia), and the Middle East. At least 40,000 deaths world-wide have been caused directly by armed conflict over the past year, with 50% of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

More than 500 million small arms and light weapons are in circulation around the world — one for about every 12 people. They were the weapons of choice in 46 out of 49 major conflicts since 1990, causing four million deaths — about 90 per cent of them civilians, and 80 per cent women and children. Human security is under increasing threat from the spread of small arms and light weapons and their illegal trade. They have devastated many societies and caused incalculable human suffering. They continue to pose an enormous humanitarian challenge, particularly in internal conflicts where insurgent militias fight against government forces. In these conflicts, a high proportion of the casualties are civilians who are the deliberate targets of violence — a gross violation of international humanitarian law. This has led to millions of deaths and injuries, the displacement of populations, and suffering and insecurity around the world.

Nuclear weapons are the most devastating weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons were exploded twice in the 20th century and many other threats to use them have been made. The first bomb, on 6 August 1945, destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima and killed about 100,000 people at once. The second, on 9 August, destroyed the city of Nagasaki and killed about 70,000 people. Many more have died since then as a result of the radiation effects of those bombs.

There are 30.000 nuclear warheads in the possession of the declared nuclear weapon states USA, Russia, France, UK and China on top of that there is worldwide proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology which is being deployed by countries such as India, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and Israel. When so much military hardware is available around the world terrorists can easily create mayhem by indiscriminate mass killing and destruction. Political violence, organised crime and inciting fear in the civilian population are becoming the hallmark of new terrorism.

Terrorism and weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, biological and chemical, its prevention and future

Nothing could have anything like the impact of a nuclear explosion, which could be more physically damaging, psychologically shocking, and politically disruptive than any event since World War II. Although the casualties from a single act of nuclear terrorism might not match those of a nuclear war, they would still dwarf other forms of terrorism by many orders of magnitude and could easily exceed those of most conventional wars.'

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 brought home the willingness of a new breed of terrorists, now sometimes called 'new terrorists', to kill as many people as possible and cause the maximum amount of social and economic disruption. To discuss future terrorism it is useful and important to distinguish between the 'old' terrorists, who are likely to continue with 'business as usual', using conventional weapons to 'kill one and frighten thousands', and the 'new terrorists', who aim to 'kill thousands to frighten the hemisphere' with Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Different types of 'old' terrorism can be identified:

• Political terrorism, usually with separatist or nationalist aims;

• Terrorism by far right- and left-wing political groups;

• Terrorism by single-issue groups, such as right-to-lifers and radical environmentalists; and

• Terrorism by an individual.

Current trends suggest that political terrorism with separatist or nationalist aims is likely to decrease in the future and terrorism by single-issue groups is likely to remain roughly constant, but the other types of terrorism are likely to increase.

Terrorist actions by the 'new' terrorists - religious fundamentalists, particularly Islamic Fundamentalist groups and American Christian white supremacists - are likely to become increasingly frequent and violent. Whereas secular terrorists are likely to exercise constraint, and to avoid killing many when killing a few suits their purposes, religious fundamentalists are unlikely to feel any moral constraint about killing very large numbers of people.

In fact, mass killing by WMDs may fit well into the Armageddon and apocalyptic visions of some religious groups, some of which believe that they are under divine instruction to maximize killing and destruction. The likelihood that terrorist violence by fundamentalist groups will escalate to indiscriminate mass killing is the greatest future terrorist risk, the main consequence of increasing religious terror and decreasing radical political terror.

The best way the new terrorists can achieve their objective is to use a WMD. There is, therefore, clearly a danger, some would say an inevitability that new terrorists will acquire, or develop and fabricate, and use WMDs - chemical, biological or nuclear.

Recent experience - for example, the use of nerve agents by the Aum Shinrikyo in Tokyo and of anthrax in the United States - shows that biological and chemical weapons are unpredictable and difficult to use effectively, that is, to cause a large number of casualties. Effective dispersal of both biological and chemical weapons is very difficult, so these weapons may not well serve the purposes of the new terrorists.

To fulfill their aims, therefore, I believe that future new terrorists are more likely to make nuclear attacks; these are not only more likely to succeed, but their Armageddon nature is likely to appeal to fundamentalists. Nuclear terrorism may be the most likely future use of nuclear explosives, replacing the spread of nuclear weapons to countries (nuclear-weapon proliferation) as perhaps the most serious threat to national security. The success of recent attacks against American targets indicates that nuclear weapons do not deter terrorism by protecting countries armed with nuclear weapons. Nuclear deterrence has no role in dealing with the new terrorism.


So much for the past: what of the future? As interpreted by the ICJ (International Court of Justice), the NPT (Nuclear-Non Proliferation Treaty) commits the Nuclear Weapons States (NWSs) to achieve nuclear disarmament and at the Review Conference in 2000 the NWSs committed themselves to elimination. The British Pugwash Group reviewed the options and the most feasible possibility is to undertake now not to replace Trident. Unless military nuclear facilities are opened to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection, this is not verifiable and implies that the UK, although now the smallest of the five NPT NWSs, will remain a nuclear power until perhaps 2030 - scarcely an encouragement to the others. Indeed, press reports suggest that plans for the immediate future of the Aldermastoin Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston at least leaves open its capacity to prepare for a successor to Trident.

Majority public opinion has always opposed the UK becoming a non-nuclear-weapons state until all others do likewise. However, the nuclear threat has not been a matter of public concern for several years. Scrapping Trident would certainly be a nine-day wonder, but in today's political climate it surely need no longer make a political party unelectable. The UK should announce the decommissioning of the Trident nuclear programme at the 2005 NPT review conference. Doing so would transform the debate on nuclear disarmament and perhaps earn the Prime Minister of the day a Nobel Peace Prize.

Of course, the nuclear powers also have individual reasons for wanting to maintain nuclear capability and there can be no certainty that others would follow our lead. Additionally, as many nuclear apologists have pointed out, knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons will always be with us. This implies an even more radical need - an end to war and opening of opportunity to do better.

Arms Trade and World Military Spending- A Major Cause of Suffering

World Military Spending Out Does Anything Else

Global military expenditure and arms trade form the largest spending in the world at over $950 billion in annual expenditure, as noted by the prestigious Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SPIRI), for 2003. Furthermore:

World military spending in 2003 increased by about 11 per cent in real terms. This is a remarkable rate of increase, even more so given that it was preceded by an increase of 6.5 per cent in 2002.

The major players involved in the global arms trade are governments and their foreign affairs/defence departments, civil servants, politicians, multinationals, arms manufacturing and related arms servicing industries and the gun lobby, all working with each other for greed and profit building up a vast industrial complex.

The main reason for the increase in world military spending is the massive increase in the United States, which accounts for almost half of the world total.... In the absence of [appropriations for the new war on terror, and on Iraq], US military expenditure would still show a significant increase, but at a much slower rate, and world military spending would show a rise of 4 per cent rather than 11 per cent in 2003.

... While US military expenditure is set to continue to grow and will continue to propel world military spending, the pace is likely to fall back somewhat in the next few years. In the longer term it is doubtful whether current levels will be economically and politically sustainable.

The illegal international drugs trade is estimated to be worth more than $400 billion, coming second only to military expenditure.

And consider a few more items:

Global priorities in spending in 1998.Source: Consumerism, Volunteer Now! (undated)

Global Priority $U.S. Billions
Basic education for everyone in the world 6
Cosmetics in the United States 8
Water and sanitation for everyone in the world 9
Ice cream in Europe 11
Reproductive health for all women in the world 12
Perfumes in Europe and the United States 12
Basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world 13
Pet foods in Europe and the United States 17
Business entertainment in Japan 35
Cigarettes in Europe 50
Alcoholic drinks in Europe 105
Narcotics drugs in the world 400
Military spending in the world 780

It would seem ironic that the world spends more on things to destroy each other (military) and to destroy ourselves (drugs, alcohol and cigarettes) than on anything else.

America's military is the country's biggest business. According to the House Budget Committee, in 2000, defense expenditures represented 16 percent of discretionary federal spending. Excluding entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, all nondefense spending combined was only 19 percent of the federal budget. In the Department of Defense's most recently published report, the 2001 defense budget will be more than $300 billion. The budget for national defense is expected to exceed $360 billion by 2006.

The above was mentioned before the horrible terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. At beginning of 2002, the George Bush Administration announced that they would be requesting $396.1 billion. A lot of money by any standards. Compare this military spending with the entire budget of the United Nations:

The United Nations and all its agencies and funds spend about $10 billion each year, or about $1.70 for each of the world's inhabitants. This is a very small sum compared to most government budgets and it is just a tiny fraction of the world's military spending. Yet for over a decade, the UN has faced a debilitating financial crisis and it has been forced to cut back on important programs in all areas. Many member states have not paid their full dues and have cut their donations to the UN's voluntary funds. At the end of December 2003, members owed the UN $1,602 billion, of which the United States alone owed $762 million (48% in total and 73% of the regular budget).

The UN was created after World War II with leading efforts by the United States and key allies.

Control Arms is a campaign jointly run by Amnesty International, International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and Oxfam. In a detailed report titled, Shattered Lives, they highlight that arms are fueling poverty and suffering, and is also out of control.

The lack of arms controls allows some to profit from the misery of others.


As world trade globalizes, so does the trade in arms

The top five countries profiting from the arms trade are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China.From 1998 to 2001, the USA, the UK, and France earned more income from arms sales to developing countries than they gave in aid.The arms industry is unlike any other. It operates without regulation. It suffers from widespread corruption and bribes. And it makes its profits on the back of machines designed to kill and maim human beings.

So who profits most from this murderous trade? The five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China. Together, they are responsible for eighty eight per cent of reported conventional arms exports.

"We can't have it both ways. We can't be both the world's leading champion of peace and the world's leading supplier of arms." Former US President Jimmy Carter, presidential campaign, 1976

The third world is often the destination for arms sales as the Control Arms Campaign also highlights graphically:


vj sheffield map.gif (32402 bytes)


Against the backdrop of huge military spending we have very urgent and dire human security needs for billions of people who live on less then a dollar a day, and have limited access to food, drinking water, health care, education. To fulfill their basic needs, it will only need 50 billion per annum.

There are a number of organisations doing remarkable work on control, reduction and abolition of the arms trade. Among them, which deserves a special mention, are International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Amnesty international, Arms Control Association, Oxfam, Safer World, International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), Arms Reduction Coalition (ARC), and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). All these organisations are advocating against arms trade and its eradication, much in the way slavery and apartheid has been consigned to history.

CAAT, a broad coalition of groups and individuals in the UK, by there inventive initiatives, have advocated to end government subsidies and support for arms exports, end exports to oppressive regimes, and campaigning for clean investment practices by corporations.

ARC, is a network of organisations and supporters from all over the world calling on all governments and people of the world to pursue with greater vigour the implementation of Article 26 of the United Nations Charter in the UN Security Council, which calls for


"the establishment of an effective system to regulate armaments…" " promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources."

Building Civil Society

We need to see how conflicts arise in the world and how they are resolved by peace, education and other positive actions for developing a culture of peace.

All conflict is about difference and resolving all conflict is about respecting difference. If we genuinely resolve conflict, then it is not sufficient that we merely accept difference. We must grow to appreciate that diversity enriches us all, that there is no threat to our identity in understanding the identities of others. We share a common humanity that transcends all differences. In real terms, it is essential institutions that respect those differences, work in a way that harnesses the common ground. It is for this idea that the United Nations and the European Union were founded.


10 things we can learn from people engaged in resolving conflict:

  1. To meet and talk about peace, when others can see only violence as the solution, is no wimpish activity.
  2. The support of outsiders is often critical in ensuring the physical and psychological survival of those who dare to do this work.
  3. Nearly one half of the interventions were carried out by people with some spiritual basis for their activities.
  4. A slow steady process of trust-building is often necessary before official negotiations can start, if they are to succeed.
  5. Business has a powerful role to play.
  6. Traditional processes can be of key importance in peace making.
  7. Women frequently offer the ingredients essential to the establishment of peace, particularly in addressing the feelings involved.
  8. For this work to be extended, far more evaluation needs to be done.
  9. The effectiveness of NGO work in this field has increased dramatically, but it should not become a replacement for government action.
  10. The interventions described above are extraordinarily cost-effective.


20 positive actions to follow:

However, the world continues to become a more dangerous place and we concerned citizens and civil society has to work harder to find solutions. The following 20 positive steps are to kick start the campaign for building a culture of peace and civil society:

  1. Make the message simple and short like 'Drop the Debt' Campaign. Choose a name for the campaign, a catchy one.
  2. Have a policy statement to explain the issue and Action plan. It will include:

(a) Maintaining an Arms Register that is patents, quantity, future productions and sale records. There is a UN and Arms Register started in 1993, but it only takes into accounts tanks, ships and air planes. Small Arms and Land mines are not included.

(b) A reduction of Arms per year agreement

(c) A verification procedure followed by rewards for compliance and penalties/sanctions for non-compliance.

(d) UN or similar international body to link savings in human and monetary resources to be linked to economic and social development.

(e) ARC is campaigning for the establishment of a secretariat for running this vital campaign. The secretariat will collect and allocate funds for development and peace building projects; it will work on establishment of sites for collection and dispersal of weapons. It will start alternative schemes for conversion and diversification of defence industry and find alternative jobs for people employed in the arms industry. It will also work on changing the political climate for the adoption of ARC proposals to be built in the programme of the key arms exporting countries to phase out production and export of arms and change it to peaceful purposes.

(f) The international community must adopt a global Arms Trade Treaty in time for the next UN arms conference in 2006

  1. Form a group or committee to start and maintain the campaign. Include other NGO's, Peace and humanitarian organisations.
  2. Make presentation about the campaign at other organisations and public events.
  3. Assist in challenging UK, EU (European Union) and policies of other states. On manufacturing, export licensing and illegal trafficking of Arms.
  4. Learn from the two most famous and successful campaigns i.e. Land mines and ICC (International Criminal court) There are at present 1900 NGO's working directly or indirectly for Land mines Campaigns in different parts of the world. This shows organisation skills, co-ordination and power of conveying your message to the public. Same is true of the ICC (International Criminal court) which; through diligence and hard work have resulted in the creation of International Criminal Court
  5. To start a monthly-newsletter, highlighting work already done and future plans.
  6. To stop glorification of war and military heroes. Make positive peace actions known to the world and establish peace museums, universities and memorials for peace activists.
  7. Lobbying Parliament and government ministers, MP and MEP's to bring legislation for the reduction of arms. Direct it at the government, arms manufacturers and civil society. Campaign for arms collection centre for destroying or burning the hardware. Make civil society, police, and the state part of a joint effort.
  8. Campaign for protocol/convention on 'reduction of arms by set percentage' and link savings to poverty reduction. The convention will be a starting point to discuss and review the finer points of the issue.
  9. Networking with other similar organisations to raise the issue in the press and the media. We are publishing the Arms No More discussion booklet which is available on ARC website –
  10. Speaking to schools, universities, and other educational establishments in order to promote greater understanding, especially amongst young people of the issue.
  11. Work on creating Cultures of Peace to end culture of guns. UN has designated 2001-2010 as a decade of culture of Peace and Non-Violence. All our efforts should be driven to fulfill what the UN defines a culture of peace as:

"all the values, attitudes and forms of behaviour that reflect respect for life, for human dignity and for all human rights, the rejection of violence in all its forms, and commitment to the principles of freedom, justice, solidarity, tolerance and understanding between people".

  1. We should embrace the "proportional and integrated approach to disarmament and development", which recognises that the security of the individual and freedom from fear, must be crucial guarantees in the development process.
  2. The International Community must engage states and civil society to implement sustainable, people-centred development policies in post-conflict environments to consolidate disarmament and demilitarization programmes.
  3. The world states should review existing legislation on civilian possession of firearms, following progressive models such as those of the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
  4. The world states should raise the level of professional behaviour of the military, police and custom officials, by ensuring that human rights training programmes are an equal part of initiatives to increase the capacity of the security sector.
  5. The world states should support programmes aimed at improving the registration and recording of firearms in civilian possession.
  6. Start a clean investment campaign by which business, government and local authorities do not invest in weapon manufacturing companies.
  7. Start a conversion of arms strategy by which arm factories can be converted for building ships of peace, windmills for sustainable energy creation, rail cars for public transportation and the like. Studies for economic conversion have long shown that the most effective way to create lots of good jobs is to invest in those things that are socially and environmentally beneficial.


Some general suggestions:



As long as there is arms trade there will be wars, hostilities and suffering. Warmongers will always invent or make excuses to wage more wars. These conflicts world-wide result in increased manufacturing, selling, and supplying of more arms and the spiral goes on, creating more and more hostilities and hatred.

Hatred between communities and nations can not be pacified by hatred, but only by love- that is the rule eternal. Civil society can only be built on love, education and a culture of peace.

The military budget of nations should never be bigger then the budget for health, education and development. At the moment the global spending on education is 6 billion USD against 950 billion USD on military spending. It should be the other way around completing the urgently needed 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDG): eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, develop a global partnership for development. Only then we are to have any hope and chance for a safer world and better international relations.

We need a united global peace movement to say loudly no to the global arms race and the suffering it brings to humanity. The increased world military spending cannot be sustained and if the powerful nations keep starting new wars one day it will be the end of humanity and civilization as we know it.

As we stand at the threshold of a new century, time has come to say loudly that we demand the delegitimation of war and military spending. The global arms race has to stop for the sake of peace and security for ourselves, for our children, and future generations.

Thank you very much.

 For further information please contact

Vijay Mehta MA

Co-chair World Disarmament Campaign

Vice-Chairman: Action for United Nations Renewal

Secretary: London CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament)

Editor: INLAP TIME (Institute for Law & Peace)

Founder Member: Non Violent Action Monthly Magazine