2016 certainly started with a bang, with North Korea claiming to have detonated a hydrogen bomb – for purely defensive purposes, of course. Whether they actually did is a matter of some dispute but there can be no doubt that the belligerent and somewhat bizarre little state is making significant progress in its quest to be a nuclear power. One might wonder where an impoverished country like that could get the resources for an arms program (they probably got the technology from Pakistan) but poverty has never stopped countries from arming up.
And there are plenty of countries willing to supply the tools and even the finished products – at least for more conventional weapons. The number one arms dealer in the world – with a bullet – is the United States. They supply roughly 31% of known arms exports (the black market is probably small and mainly in small arms). Russia is not far behind with 27%. The next four – China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom – are relative pikers, shipping only about 19% of weapons between them. Do you notice how the five permanent members of the Security Council are doing their bit to increase world security? Yeah, right.
Of course, they each have their own favoured customers, preferring not to sell arms to countries that might eventually use the weapons against them (but with secondary sales who can say? ISIS mostly uses American guns). However, they have no difficulty in supplying arms to both sides of potential future conflicts. Russia is the main drug, I mean, arms dealer to both India (the largest importer) and China – two countries that have never been on the best of terms and will, in future, fight over influence in the same backyard.
Canada is a bit player in this drama, ranking 13th in the arms trade. We supply less than 1% of total arms sales, though that’s not bad for such a small country. We specialize in small arms and provide nearly 13% of the weapons imported by, guess who? Our number one trading partner – the United States.
And of course, we also have a $15 billion contract to supply armoured cars to Saudi Arabia. Some think we should never have signed such a deal and I agree. We really shouldn’t be fuelling the conflicts in other places by ensuring they have the weapons to wage serious war. Unserious war is bad enough.
That doesn’t mean I think the new government should cancel the deal. I’ve never been a big fan of governments canceling contracts made by previous administrations, unless they can demonstrate a serious reason for doing so – like corrupt practices or violation of international treaties. While governments come and go, The Government has a continuous existence that exceeds political parties. Countries that cancel contracts whenever the government changes soon find their customers go away or, at the very least, incorporate punitive penalties into the deals. Think of it this way: suppose the current government signed a deal with the provinces on health care – should the next government cancel it for no other reason than their political enemies made it.
Going forward, however, we need to think more carefully about the whole business of arms sales and what role a so-called peace-loving country should play in that. We could ask Sweden I suppose – except they rank number 11 in shipping weapons.
And that’s ten minutes.