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World Govts Arms Export Goals Intensifies Poverty

Governments are sacrificing development goals for arms exports

Major arms exporting governments are breaking their promises on arms sales by failing to assess the impact such exports are having on poverty, according to new research published today. As a result, arms sales are being authorised which are diverting much needed resources away from areas such as health and education, as well as undermining the security and human rights of the population.

The report shows how governments can assess the impact of arms sales on poverty. It argues that ultimately governments must agree to an international Arms Trade Treaty to control the arms trade and safeguard sustainable development and human rights.

“Government failure to stick to their own promises on arms exports means that children are denied an education, AIDS sufferers are not getting treatment and thousands are dying needlessly.” said Barbara Stocking, Director of Oxfam.

The report is written by Oxfam for the Control Arms campaign with research by Project Ploughshares and Saferworld. It is one of a series of reports produced by Oxfam, Amnesty International and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) during the campaign.

The report, Guns or Growth?, surveyed seventeen of the world’s main arms exporting countries.* All of these countries had previously signed agreements promising to take account of the impact on poverty of arms deals before agreeing to export arms. Despite their promises:

Nearly 90% of governments have no policy of consulting the government department of development in the export decision-making process (only the Netherlands and the UK do). **

Only four countries had ever denied a sale on the grounds of sustainable development.***

Only 10 countries would even consider doing so - despite all 17 being signatories to agreements obliging them to do so.****

“Governments should be ashamed at their broken promises. Inappropriate arms sales are responsible for entrenching and exacerbating poverty. Despite assurances, most governments are still only paying lip service to assessing arms sales against their impact on poverty. To ensure we have strict international controls we need an Arms Trade Treaty.” said Paul Eavis, Director of Saferworld.

The report reveals the impact that arms sales can have on poverty:

Six developing countries (Oman, Syria, Burma, Pakistan, Eritrea, Burundi) spend more on arms than they do on health and education combined.

In 2002, arms delivered to Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa constituted over two thirds of the value of all arms deliveries worldwide.

An average $22 billion is spent on arms by countries in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa every year. This sum would have enabled those countries to put every child in school and to reduce child mortality by two thirds by 2015 (fulfilling two of the Millennium Development Goals).

In 2002, 90% of all arms deliveries to Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa came from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

In sub-Saharan Africa, military expenditure rose by 47% during the late 1990’s while life expectancy has fallen to just 46 years.

In 2002, Pakistan’s total defence expenditure consumed half of its GDP (this includes the amount spent on servicing the interest on loans for previous arms deals).

The world currently spends between $50 and $60 billion on aid and $900 billion on defence.

In 1999, South Africa agreed to purchase armaments – including frigates, submarines, aircraft and helicopters. The six billion dollars spent could have purchased treatment with combination therapy for all five million South African AIDS sufferers for two years.

In 2001, Tanzania spent US$40 million on the military Watchman radar system - according to experts, including the World Bank and IMF, this was vastly too expensive and inappropriate for its use. US$40 million could have provided healthcare for 3.5 million people in Tanzania.

In 2004, India signed a contract to buy the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier from Russia at a cost of US$1.5bn. This money could have provided basic survival income for one year for 1.1 million families.

“The countries of Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East account for two thirds of all arms imports. This is a massive sum of money that could be used to make real progress in the fight against poverty.” said Ernie Regehr, Director, Project Ploughshares.


The report and more details on the campaign can be found at

The Arms Trade Treaty would create legally binding arms controls and ensure that all governments control arms to the same basic international standards. Article 4c of the ATT states that, excepting legitimate security needs, an arms transfer must not go ahead if it is likely to adversely affect sustainable development.

*The 17 countries contained in the survey were signatories to OSCE or EU agreements containing commitments to assess arms exports against their impact on sustainable development. These were Argentina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Turkey, UK, Ukraine, US.

** New Zealand does not have such a policy either.

*** These were Bulgaria, Netherlands, Sweden, UK.

**** The 10 countries which clearly said that they might conceivably deny an export on sustainable development grounds alone were Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, Turkey, UK, US. The other seven were Argentina, Belgium, France, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine.

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