January 03, 2005

Arms Control

Information taken from www.controlarms.org

As arms kill one person in the world every minute, this is a problem worth giving our attention too!
I have saved you time by summarising a document called ‘Shattered Lives : the case for tough international arms control’ which was published by Amnesty International and Oxfam in 2003 and is 90 pages long. My summary should present the key ideas and help to illustrate the world arms problem, it’s dangers, and suggest action which we can take to gain further control of the situation.

The five permanent members of the Security Council – France, Russia, UK, USA and China – account for 88% of the world’s conventional arms exports, and these exports regularly contribute to great violations of human rights.

FACTS AND STATS – There are approx 639 million small arms in the world today, produced by over 1000 companies in 98 countries. 8 million new weapons are produced every year. Nearly 60% of small arms are in civilian hands. In 2001 alone more than 16 billion units of military ammunition were produced, enough for at least 2 bullets to every man, woman and child in the entire world.
Weapons possession is becoming more widespread and destructive in many societies.
Violence escalates as more people own guns and traditional controls break down.
The ‘war on terror’ has fundamentally shifted some governments policies. More arms are being exported with little regard for the recipient’s past track record of human rights, simply because they may now share a common enemy.
By 2020 the numbers of deaths and injuries from war and violence will overtake those caused by killer diseases such as malaria and measles.
Private military companies contracted on behalf of governments or opposition forces play an increasing role in the provision of arms around the world. In one case, the same company supplied arms to both sides in the Sierra Leone conflict.
The USA dominates the industry, contributing 45% of the world’s exported weapons!
FACT - From 1998 to 2001, the USA, the UK, and France earned more income from arms sales to developing countries than they gave in aid.

HYPOCRISY – It’s shocking that while governments in rich countries are happy to sell arms to countries that commit gross violations of human rights, they aren’t quite so accommodating when it comes to welcoming asylum-seekers from those same countries. Of the more than one million asylum applications lodged to the EU between 2000 and 2002, the highest numbers were from Iraq, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Turkey. EU states exported weapons to all these countries during the 1980s and 1990s.

CASE STUDY – The Americans supplied military aid to the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan until 1991 despite the fact that thousands of Afghan citizens were being unlawfully killed. Some of these arms were subsequently used by the Taliban and Northern Alliance who committed serious human rights abuses.
CASE STUDY – Covert arms shipments to the Anti-Vietnamese factions in Cambodia began in the late 1970s by China and the USA. Around 500,000 small arms are believed to remain in Cambodia today
CASE STUDY – The Israel/Palestine conflict. During the 1990s, Israel was the largest recipient of US-exported military rifles, including M16s.
CASE STUDY – In June 2003 there were thought to be 24 million guns in Iraq – enough to arm the entire population, and they could be bought for $10 a piece.
CASE STUDY – The UK, USA, France, Germany, Canada and Italy have all supplied enormous amounts of arms to Saudi Arabia despite knowing that it’s authorities permit no criticism of the state, that all political organisations are illegal and that thousands of political and religious people are being arbitrarily detained.
CASE STUDY – During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s America supplied Iraqis with military intelligence, advice and weaponry and it even used a Chilean company to supply cluster bombs.

QUOTE – “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 DEFENSE – Many arms-exporting governments, including the UK, cite the importance of the arms industry for the country’s economy and claim that a tightening of arms control to suit humanitarian legislation would result in serious economic damage. Yet the Ministry of Defence Economists disagree and believe that a one-off adjustment would be made (an economic cost of £2 billion), that would mean job losses, but that these could be compensated for elsewhere.

TONY BLAIR QUOTE – “What would actually happen if we refused to sell parts is not that the parts wouldn’t be supplied, is that you would find every other defence industry in the world rushing in to take the place that we have vacated” (when asked why Britain were selling parts to Israel when there had been clear evidence that they were being used directly against civilians). Hardly a moral answer – If we don’t do it, someone else will.

There are currently no biding laws or regulations that oblige arms-exporting states to respect international human rights when authorising the transfer of arms to other countries.
The availability of arms should be reduced

THE SOLUTION – All Governments must co-operate to control and limit the flow of arms and the spread of arms production. Arms exporters should certainly not export to agencies or countries likely to use the arms to violate international human rights.
Governments are being urged to commit to a new Arms Trade Treaty by 2006 to prevent arms being exported to countries which could abuse them dangerously.
The Arms Trade Treaty would be an international means of control. Arms exports would be in breach of international law if the exporter had reasonable knowledge (or ought to have done) that the arms might be used to violate humanitarian law. It gives any state exporting arms a sense of responsibility – they become morally culperable! The state has clear responsibilities to ensure the arms are used in a manner consistent with respect to human rights. The Arms Trade Treaty would be legally binding.

A STARTING POINT – Join the ‘Million Faces’ Petition on the Control Arms website to add your voice to an international call for better control of arms and to voice your support for the Arms Trade Treaty!

Landmines – a summary of the issue and problem

All the facts on this page have been taken from www.landmineaction.org

I feel passionately about this issue, particularly since visiting Cambodia, which I believe is the country with the most landmines. Every day that I was there the paper had stories about deaths resulting from unexploded landmines. All the tourists were warned never to stray from unmarked paths and populated spaces, so grave are the dangers of these mines. Yet the local people are poor and have no alternative but to go out and work the land, risking their lives daily. Dismembered people and amputees are everywhere in Cambodia and it’s harrowing to see. Even on the beaches, legless people would lie by your deckchair begging for money. Their injuries make them redundant in a country of subsistence living. Landmines need clearing all round the world, NOW! Please do what you can to support mine clearance and pressure governments to cease production of such weapons. Here is the situation –

Firstly, a definition of an anti-personnel mine is that it is victim-activated and thu cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants.
20,000 casualties occur every year from unexploded ordnance and landmines (that’s around 40 a day)
85% of all injured children die before reaching a hospital
Landmines are a developmental disaster as they deny people the use of their own land and resources.
82 countries are affected by landmines. Only a few render land unusable, and it only takes one to end a human life.
The most affected territories include: Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia, Eritrea, Iraq, Laos, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Sudan.
In 2003, countries where mines were still used included: Burma, Burundi, Columbia, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia (Chechnya), Somalia, Sudan and Nepal.

The Ottawa Treaty was set in motion in March 1999 and it bans the use of anti-personnel mines around the world, obliges member countries to destroy stockpiles within four years and clear their own territory within ten years. It also urges governments to help poorer countries clear land and assist landmine victims.
To date, 143 states have joined the Ottawa Treaty. A further nine have signed but not yet ratified. Those who have still not signed include the US, Russia, China, Pakistan, Finland and India. Forty two countries are yet to join the Treaty. China, Russia and the United States comprise three of the five members of the UN Security Council and they still haven’t signed. Russia continues to use anti-personnel mines in Chechnya.
The US can still use anti-personnel mines until 2010 by presidential instruction, but have not done so since 1997.
The UK signed up, but has still not met it’s obligation to clear landmines in the Falkland Islands. This is not an example to set.

Unexploded cluster bombs have similar effects to landmines, and are killing civilians in many countries, but are currently not banned or covered by any humanitarian law. Any weaponry that causes these kind of indiscriminate deaths should be stopped (the UK still manufactures mines that can be triggered by civilians and yet it claims that they are not included in the Treaty).

December 12, 2004

The other side of the argument….

Follow-up to Conscientious Objection to War through taxes from Cutcher's Blog

Just wanted to thank the people that commented on this piece. I appreciate that it is a controversial idea that raises it's own problems. By giving tax payers the right to determine how areas of their taxes are spent you do 'open up a whole new can of worms'. I admit that this could lead to people opting for the way their money is spent and this could damage the running of our government. Obviously, we ultimately do democratically elect our governments and they are then responsible for the whole pot of money,to be used for the common good. If we don't like the way it is spent then we can protest, lobby and apply democratic pressure. I admit that when some people opt for a peace tax, others may opt for more nuclear weapons and it is possible that the situation could get worse. I understand this is a very valid argument. Nonetheless I do feel uneasy about my taxes funding military programmes that I morally disagree with, and so, I feel this issue is worth noting. Like much in life, it is a hazy and uncomfortable area. The time to throw ideas about is at university, so lets do it! I'm certainly more unsure and undecided on the issue than I was originally.

December 11, 2004

The Tobin Tax (kind of a feasible Robin Hood initiative)

Now, I am certainly no economist, but the 'Tobin Tax' has been persistently brought to my attention over the past year and seems to be a fantastic idea that needs to be brought into mainstream awareness. I understand that in our 'virtual' financial market, trillions of dollars change hands every day. I also understand that despite great wealth in the world, thousands of people die from poverty every day. This is lunacy at it's most disgusting level. The Tobin Tax actually seems to benefit our own economies by offering stability, and it is a huge opportunity to generate aid for the third world. Below I will explain the reasoning behind it and the international support that it is receiving. It was talked about a great deal at the European Social Forum which I attended, and my Dad has banged on about it for a while now.
The information below was taken from
War on Want
Tobin Tax

ORIGIN - Proposed by Nobel-prize-winning economist James Tobin in the 1970s.

Over one trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000) changes hands every day on global foreign exchange markets. More than 80% of this trading is speculative – buying and selling money for the sake of profit. It involves financial institutions betting on changes in exchange rates in short periods of time.
An internationally agreed tax on currency transactions would be positive. A Tobin Tax would help calm speculation on markets while simultaneously producing revenue to combat world poverty.
We are only talking about a minimal tax, say 0.1%. This would not hold back productive business transactions for trade and investment, but speculative transactions would be hit harder because they rely on very small margins of difference between currencies.
Presently 84% of all foreign exchange transactions occur in just nine countries. A Tobin Tax introduced in these nine would initially provide a workable regime.
The idea is being considered by the UN and EU. Several national governments have called for it's introduction. It has the support of over 350 economists and 900 parliamentarians around the globe. The Canadian Government are pioneering the idea internationally, and France have agreed to introduce the tax when other EU countries sign up to it. Gordon Brown has said the UK have 'an open mind' to the idea but has been non-commital.
The Tobin tax could fund a huge increase in anti-poverty programmes and provide aid in the form of education, healthcare, food, water and sanitation. Estimates predict that a minimal tax of 0.1%, even after it's calming effect, could provide between $50 and $300 billion a year. This pot of money could be governed and distributed by a new democratic body under the UN. Such a body would have to work transparently, with genuine partners in developing nations.
The Tobin Tax would mean a system with more stability and less poverty.

WINTER 2004 - The Presidents of France, Brazil, Spain and Chile with UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, have said that: “a tax on foreign exchange transactions is technically feasible on a global level”.
Presidents Chirac, Lula and Zapatero then made a formal declaration on hunger and poverty, saying "the greatest scandal is not that hunger exists, but that it persists even when we have the means to eliminate it. It is time to take action. Hunger cannot wait”.

2005 is an unprecedented window of opportunity for the currency transaction tax to be at the forefront of ways to finance international development as Britain hosts both the G8 summit and the presidency of the European Union.

Conscientious Objection to War through taxes

Almost 10% of all your taxes, including VAT, go to the military. In 2003 that was £37 billion, ten times more than what we spent on international development.
Britain's Trident nuclear weapons system costs us £1.5 billion per year.
A group called 'Conscience' campaigns for the legal rights of those who conscientiously object to war to be able to spend the military part of their taxes on peacebuilding initiatives.
The right to refuse military service has been recognised in the UK since 1916. This right to conscientious objection is recognised by the UN as a basic human right. And yet we still have to support the military with our taxes.
We may not have to fight ourselves, but our taxes pay for weapons and the soldiers who weild them on our behalf. We supported the Iraq war, Trident nuclear missiles and the arms trade with our taxes! This is financial conscription with no means to object.
Modern wars are no longer fought with conscript armies, but with high-tech weapons paid for with our taxes.
There should be an 'alternative financial service' for the military part of our taxes. The money could go to a non-military security fund, used to help prevent and resolve conflicts. It would fund peace-keeping operations. Thus, everyone could still contribute to society's defence according to their conscience.
We should have the democratic right to choose how our taxes are spent. Rather than funding the military we should be able to support peacekeepers, projects that research the roots of conflict and work that strengthens arms regulations to prevent arms flowing into areas of conflict. Arms need to be better regulated and controlled and defence money would be well used in supporting this.
Essentially money should be spent on understanding the reasons and complexities behind conflicts rather than pouring money into 'false security' through developing more weapons.

Some objectors to the current system refuse to pay tax until receiving an assurance that it will not be used for military purposes. This is illegal. The Inland Revenue will insist on payment and instigate court action. In rare cases the objectors have been declared bankrupt or imprisoned.
A group called 'Conscience' believes that a 'Peace Tax Return' should be attatched to every Inland Revenue form, offering people the option of choosing how their defense taxes are spent.

To join the campaign for an optional Peace Tax and the right to conscientious objection, please visit –

Third World Debt

I have felt an incredible amount of frustration with politics recently – the "war on terror" strikes me as a huge wasted opportunity. It is the most-used phrase of my day, and as many have pointed out – it is a war on an emotion! Instead of this Orwellian, fear-mongering, elusive fight against infinite enemies we could have had a war on something tangible like POVERTY! We could have used all the moral authority, ridiculous amounts of money and media focus to have combatted poverty. That would have been an almighty war. We could truly have changed the face of our planet, made a real difference and made the world better. We could have saved lives. Instead, we created more fear and hatred and misunderstanding than ever before.
But let us not believe that we can do nothing about poverty. It is the world's largest crisis, it's largest killer (as many bad things stem from poverty, like disease). We could start by cancelling third world debt, and giving real aid and advice to help countries improve themselves.
The Band Aid single, regardless of what you think of it musically, has brought this issue back into the mainstream. 2005 is a year of opportunity, and I will be wearing my 'Make Poverty History' band every day. That is my pledge. We can shake people out of apathy and regain some compassion for all those less fortunate that we share the world with. Below are some basic pieces of information about the debt problem that I have gathered from the following websites. Check them out for more info, or for any questions you have or to see what you can do-
World Development Movement
Jubilee Debt Campaign
Make Poverty History

A little background and the basics -

  • 52 poor countries are in a debt crisis. Their combined total debt is $375 billion
  • Every day Sub-Saharan Africa pays $27million to the rich world in debt service
  • Many countries are forced to spend more on debt than on healthcare or education.
  • Poverty kills 30,000 people every day
  • Poor countries first got into debt in the 60s and 70s. They took out loans from banks, individual countries (including the UK) and groups of countries, through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
  • The debt became unmanageable in the late 70s and early 80s when interest rates shot up, increasing the size of the debt. For many countries the interest was so great that they were left with more debt than they had started with, despite repayments.
  • To make matters worse, the lenders attached demanding conditions to the indebted countries. For example, poor countries had to drastically reduce their spending on public services, including health and education. It is now widely accepted that many of these conditions were harmful to poor countries' economies and their people.
  • The loans given by the IMF, World Bank and rich countries were often for goods, particularly arms, that benefitted the industries of rich nations
  • As countries struggled to pay their debts the IMF and World Bank offered new loans to help pay back the old, this time with attatched conditions – for example, poor countries had to allow in foreign imports which wiped out many of their own young industries. Meanwhile rich countries put up devastating trade barriers that made it hard for poor countries to export their goods.

The Progress and Problems so far
The HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) Initiative was set up in 1996 by the World Bank and the IMF, to reduce countries' debts.
In December 2000, the UK Government agreed to cancel the debt owed to the UK by 26 countries that have reached the first stage (known as decision-point) of the HIPC Initiative.
$36.3 billion (of $300 billion) of debt has been cancelled to date, through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. But 90% of the debt still remains.
The HIPC process does not get countries to a stable long-term position. It is not designed to cancel 100% of debts but to make debt repayments more manageable. Unfortunately even countries which have completed the HIPC process are still struggling to meet their debt repayments.
Demanding conditions, like cuts in health and education spending, are attached to the HIPC process. They are designed to protect the assets and interests of creditors rather than promote growth, poverty-reduction or stability.
The HIPC defines 'sustainable debt' as the level that allows a country to be milked for the maximum amount possible without it's economy collapsing. So poor countries could continue paying without seeing any reduction in poverty.
Poor countries are also indebted to banks, corporations and some individual countries, which are not being addressed because they are outside of the HIPC process.

The Vision and what should be done
If the debt is dropped, poor countries will have more money to spend on public services, including education and healthcare, as well as in infrastructure and equipment. Without this investment they will find it very hard to competitively trade in world markets. Debt cancellation and fairer trade go hand in hand.

100% of the unpayable debts of the world's poorest countries must be immediately written off, not least as an essential step towards eliminating poverty. However, rapid steps must also be taken to ensure that from now on a just and open procedure is in place, overseen by an impartial body, to resolve debt crises whilst preserving fundamental human rights.
Currently decision makers have vested financial, capitalist interests.

It would cost the UK only £1.3bn to unilaterally write off its share of the multilateral debt of the 42 HIPC countries. Spread over ten years, that is equivalent to less than £3 per person a year. Such a sum would scarcely affect the UK economy, yet would bring about immense benefits to people living in absolute poverty worldwide.

2005 is a big year. The UK is hosting the G8 summit in Scotland in July (the G8 being the world's 8 most economically powerful states – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russian Federation, UK and USA). Third World Debt is on the agenda. The UK is also holding presidency of the EU next year. The UK is leading an International Commission for Africa. The UK have made their committment clear to eliminate 100% of third world debt, but have not done enough in encouraging others to do the same or putting pressure on the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank. The UK can be a moral authority on this issue and lead by example. Lets make it happen!

November 01, 2004

Changing the world!

Right, this is going to be passionate and real. I feel an obligation to combat apathy, to fight it in every form. The Iraq war woke me up a few years ago. I didn't want to go to war. I thought that we were being fed a lot of crap, I thought the media turned into a propoganda machine, I realised the extrent of media control, I felt frustrated by the lack of questions asked, I felt Tony Blair betrayed the country with his simplistic and flimsy argument, I felt concerned about the US motives for the invasion, I considered what the UN's role should be in the world and I learned about the Project for the New American Century. A consciousness was awakened within me. I was curious and realised that I would have to ask my own questions, wake up and educate myself – not rely on a simply being fed information. There was too much to consider and I was no longer going to meekly accept the mainstream voice.

Since then I have read a little Kafka, a little Pinter. I have been to some anti-war demos and listened to the speakers. I have learned more about the Socialist outlook. I have been to see John Pilger speak in Sydney and Greg Dyke talk in embittered terms at the Royal Festival Hall. Most recently I went to the European Social Forum in London. There are visionaries in this world, angry at the way things are going – privatisation and imperialism – while the nation dumbly, and in total disinterest, sits back and does nothing.
Giving people the impression that everything's hopeless, that there can be no change – it's a very powerful psychological weapon to stop people caring.
Well bollocks to apathy. It's crap. Let us use our youthful enthusiam, vibrancy and life force to believe in things again and work towards a better world. The first step is awareness of curent politics and international affairs. Soon I will put up some links and info of issues that interested me at the European Social Forum. I'm really keen to use this space to attract student attention to things that I think we should all be aware of. Oh, and go and see 'The Corporation' at the Arts Centre Cinema this month because that is very relevant.
Cheers, and I'll be updating this page soon (once reading week/holiday is over and all my essays are complete!)

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