Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 11/24/2003
Category: Book Review
Objectives of BICC: “The transfer of resources from the military to the civilian sector represents both a social and an economic challenge, as well as offering an opportunity for the states concerned. The sustained process of disarmament during the decade following the end of the Cold War has made defense conversion an important issue in many countries today. This process has now slowed down considerably, but the problems faced by those affected are far from solved. BICC’s main objective is to make use of the chances offered by disarmament, whilst at the same time helping to avoid-or lessen-the negative effects.”
The Bonn International Center for Conversion, directed currently by Dr. Peter Croll, was founded in 1994, and, among its many activities associated with disarmament and conversion largely funded by the State of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany, it has published the Conversion Survey 2003.
The Center’s key feature of methodological originality lies in its BIC3D Index that aims to produce a consistent year on year measure for judging across national economies the extent to which there has been significant arms rearmament or disarmament.
It has been a fact that very generally speaking disarmament has been feature of the post Cold War period in many parts of the world. The report crammed with figures is difficult to summarise sensibly but some points stand out markedly. Military bases round the world have been closed or converted. Many countries reduced their expenditure, at least in relative terms, on arms and armies. Rearmament though is beginning to grow again. One interesting statistic, however, is that the number of men in uniform of their governments continues to decline and fewer than ever are engaged in combat. “The number now stands at 21 million, of which more than half are found in Asia. Between 1999-2001 troop numbers declined on all continents.” Africa as a whole has been the exception. While troop numbers in Europe has fallen by 40% in the last ten years, African troop number has risen by 11%. Can we ask the question, then, to what extent and what is the process whereby war is being exported to that continent?
One future trend is viewed unhappily. “The United States seems to be in an arms race with itself…Given that the United States already has by far the largest military sector, US dominance is likely to grow as military expenditures are translated into quantities. Nevertheless only a few countries are more likely to follow its lead…Thus it looks as if the gap between the United States and the rest of the world will widen…” (pp.27-34) However, delving more deeply into the text, significant growth is taking place in some European countries. While some countries continue to disarm, particularly in Eastern Europe, some countries regard their arms industries as important leading sectors. Thus in Britain BAe Systems continues to be of great importance and consistently looks for expansion. Thales in France continues to gobble smaller companies while EADS is a French-German-Spanish conglomerate. These three companies together are about half the size of the comparable three biggest US arms corporations but are real heavyweights as far as influencing policy is concerned and for pressing for maintaining high levels of arms expenditures. China employs the most workers of any one nation state in the arms industry, though growing productivity in that country may lead to the reduction of the absolute numbers employed leaving the US as the world’s number one employer of arms based workers.
Other useful observations include the realisation that the concept of the arms race is still useful and that regional disarmament leads to results as agreements among neighbours to reduce arms work rather than trying to induce unilateral arms reduction. Another observation relates to the increasing maturity of peace-makers who realise that political solutions have to come before demobilization, and generally speaking “the practical and political understanding of post-war demobilization and reintegration has increased significantly over the past decade.” (p.71)
The Survey also looks specifically and usefully at Afghanistan: Reorienting the Mujahedin, at reshaping Arms Manufacturing in India, and at problems associated with Men, Women and Guns (Understanding How Gender Ideologies Support Small Arms and Light Weapons Proliferation). All are worth reading, though the most surprising is to find that, in terms of employment, India has one of the largest defence industries in the world, and, what is more, it almost entirely under government control. Though cumbersome and inefficient and not properly meeting the needs of its armed forces, and knowing that there is a relationship between arms production and violent conflict, the future of the Indian sub-continent in terms of likely armed conflict is problematic.
Worth reading and keeping on your shelf for reference.