The NY Times reports that the leader of the free world accounted for 68.4% of all international arms trading in 2008, netting $37.8 billion, about $30 billion of it from the developing world. Thirteen of the top 25 buyers "were either undemocratic governments or regimes guilty of major ongoing human rights abuses," often with weak internal arms controls. A New America Foundation report says, "U.S. arms transfers are undermining human rights, weakening democracy and fueling conflict around the world." The top five nations that profit from the global arms trade happen to be the five original members of the nookiller weapons club: USA, UK, France, Russia, and China. They are also the only five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and the only five with veto power. No pattern there.
Even a US President, Jimmy Carter, noted as far back as 1976, "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." Now one might say that the US is just fulfilling demand that exists out there. If it doesn't sell, someone else will, such as Russia, or Italy. One might say that the leaders of developing countries are responsible, who either have their priorities all messed up or have a legitimate desire for security. The demand side of the market is the problem, warlike human nature is the problem. The problem is not the merchant of weapons.
This strikes one as almost reasonable until one recalls the US State Department's attitude to drug trading, and the moralistic war on drugs it has taken to the supply side for years, to the jungles of Colombia and to Afghanistan, while locking up hundreds of thousands of drug dealers at home. (Of course, the rise of international drug cartels was largely due to US Cold War politics and its need to finance proxy wars around the world, but that's another story.) For now, let's just reflect on this neat reversal in attitudes: when it comes to drugs, the supply side of the market becomes the problem, profiteering from it becomes the problem. The messed up priorities of American consumers, or their legitimate desire for recreational intoxication is not so much the problem. The problem, they declare, is the merchant of drugs.