Why Have so Many States Promoted the Sales of Its Arms Companies Abroad and Why Has Multilateral Action to Regulate the Arms Trade Been so Problematic? Essay

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Why have so many states promoted the sales of its arms companies abroad and why has multilateral action to regulate the arms trade been so problematic?
All states are in an inevitable self-help system; therefore, if they could they would produce their own arms. Due to the uneven distribution of economic, social and technological capabilities, there is a difference in a state’s ability to produce weapons which makes arms transfers a logical result of the quest to acquire modern means of warfare (Krause, 1992, p. 16).
The global arms trade is comprised of three different elements: 1) the trade in major systems such as combat aircraft, tanks and warships; 2) the trade in small arms and light weapons, from small ‘easy to use’ guns such as AK-47s to shoulder-fired missiles; and 3) the trade in ‘dual-use’ items with both civilian and military applications, including everything from shotguns and unarmed helicopters to equipment that may be used to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons (Williams, 2008, p. 346). Whenever an arms deal is made there is always a risk that the weapons may be used in violation of human rights or humanitarian law, end up in the hands of terrorist groups (and possibly used against the state providing the arms), hinder poverty-reduction and sustainable development or incite local and regional instability (Burki, 2012, p. 95). Currently there is no global framework to regulate the international trade of conventional weapons therefore it is generally the responsibility of individual governments to take decisions over its own exports (UNODA, n.d.). Quite rightly, the arms trade agenda had been very controversial in recent years and there have been calls for something to be done in terms of regulating and governing it on an international level. In July 2012 the United Nations (UN) held a conference in New York to develop an Arms Trade Treaty; however, despite the effort of the participating nations they could not collectively reach an agreement (UNODA, n.d.). Regardless of the societal calls to ‘shape-up’ the arms trade and of the obvious negative ethical implications that are attached to it, many states have actually been actively promoting the sales of its arms companies abroad. This can be largely put down to the economic incentives associated with arms sales, but there are also other factors involved that have strategic, political and ethical reasoning. Because the benefit of selling arms can be high, some states overlook the negative impact that it entails. With different states having different views, rationales and interests toward the industry than others, the multilateral cooperation needed to regulate the arms trade on a global scale has been problematic. Seemingly, as there is no universal agreement, if one state will not sell arms to the other on certain ethical grounds then it can be quite certain that another state will.
Military expenditure and the acquirement of arms have long been a priority determinant for states to address. When the Cold War came to an end global expenditure rapidly began to drop and former cold war enemies started the process of disarmament. This led a huge surplus of weaponry being flooded into the global arms market for comparably cheap prices (Baylis, et al., 2011, p. 217). Presumably the arms market would be relatively satisfied and military expenditure would fall progressively. However, since 1998 global military expenditure began to increase and went from $1 trillion to over $1.6 trillion in 2011 (Shah, 2012). A contribution to this could be the fact that newer and better arms technologies are being developed and promoted around the world.
An arms company is just like any other profit orientated business where their primary goal is to maximise profit, therefore the promotion of their product in new markets abroad is something that they will aim to pursue without question. Newer markets will especially be sought after when there is a lack of sales in…