Do Arms Sales Make the State and People More Secure or Less Secure?


The increased integration of the countries has led to the whole world getting affected even if one country is struck with a major incident. This is what happened after 9/11, the effects of which are still being faced by the world. The war against terrorism and the security of citizens have become the top priorities of the nations.

Acquisition, procurement and possession of the weapons and arms charged by the gluttonous need for power, wealth and victory in times of war are not new to the human race but after the incident that hit the superpower in 2001, governments are convinced to increase their defense spending tremendously as the security of their citizens is at a greater stake.

The U.S. started the war against terrorism and was ready to help any country which will support its efforts. It ended embargos on arms sales of certain countries after they showed their consent towards America’s aims (Ciarrocca and Hartung, p3, 2002). This has in turn increased the arms sales, making it trade with many benefits to the governments and arms companies but a threat for the world, as a whole.

Arms are increasingly being considered a major source of security by the governments. These claims are, however, subjective. This paper would discuss the explicit as well as implicit reasons for increasing arms sales. To whom and how arms are providing security are questions to be asked. This paper would discuss the objectives governments have behind this trade and arguments would show that arms sales may not be the ultimate source of international security.


The biggest culprits of this trend of arms sales are the powerful and wealthy nations, who have the resources to acquire these arms. However, recent times have seen the less endowed nations engaging in the same trend. The general consensus is that not only is the political will of any given nation instrumental in determining the engagement in arms acquisition, but also the economic endowment (Krause, p13, 2005).

In the period between 1994 and 2001, an estimated $10 billion worth of weapons were sold to developing nations by the European Union (Le monde diplomatique, 2006). In 2005, there was a 3% increase in the production and sales of arms among the top 10 largest arm producing nations. Forty U.S. organizations alone accounted for a whopping 63%, of the combined 2005 purchase. This equated to a staggering $290 billion.

Thirty-two West Europe organizations, nine Russian and a combination of Israel, Japan and India based companies accounted for 29%, 2% and 6% respectively. The US, British and Italian companies increased their purchases by $1 billion while some companies increased their acquisitions by 30% (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2007). Overall, in the arms market, the U.S. takes the lead followed by the UK, Russia, France, Germany and Israel. (Stevenson, p1, 2008)

To date, the commitments of more powerful nations to arms reduction is under fire. This is because these nations are not reducing their arms claiming that it is all for the sake of national interest and are buying more and more weapons. Anup Shah (2006) has had vast experience in dealing with nuclear weapons programs and his disapproval of the U.S. nuclear policy has been vocal. He was quoted saying “I have seen how easy it is for nuclear contamination to occur, and how hard it is to clean it up…. Do nations possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons because of fear of attack from some other nation, or is it mainly because without them the stronger cannot otherwise exploit the weaker?” Shah insists this has adversely affected other nations and the resultant effect has been an increased resistance towards them.

According to him, nations increase their defense capabilities by purchasing more weapons because they feel threatened, so they arm up just in case. These powerful nations seem like young children brandishing their latest toys and will so often claim that the other nation has more sophisticated weapons. It is this arms race that increases insecurity in the world because of the action-reaction effect it creates. When one opposing state acquires weapons, the other does the same as a build-up. This creates tension and has immense destabilizing effects. The west has found itself between a rock and a hard place because of this arms race; on one hand, they know that the possession of arms is a strong deterrence for unwelcome aggression. On the other hand however, the arms race is in itself, a cause of war (Lee, 1999).

The Bush administration saw the fight against the trade of arms become worse, with every member of the evil axle becoming significantly more dangerous since 2001. The invasion of Iraq was under the claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, specifically, nuclear warfare. This action did not do unnoticed by the rest of the world, with nations such as North Korea and Iran making significant advances on their nuclear programs.

The US-Russian relations are strained, with the Russians warheads ready to retaliate within minutes in the event of an invasion. South Asia has since the invasion embarked on an arms race. Basically, the invasion under claim, “for the greater good of society” has seen nations across the globe secretly seeking weapons and technology to counter any invasions on their soils (Arms Control Association, November, 2008).

Apparently, governments claim to have reasons which are more related to security. Politically, the governments argue, this trade is feasible to help their allies and contribute towards protection of the world. These governments also think that arms sales help them fulfill their strategic aims regarding their own security. By producing and selling arms, they actually develop their own ‘Defence Industrial Base’ which would be useful in protecting their own country in case the need arises.

They also agree with having certain economic objectives behind this business as well. However, the economic objectives seem to overwhelm the other ones. The increased demand of arms from all over the world has made it a lucrative business and no country wants to miss the opportunity of becoming a huge supplier. (CATT, p1, 2006)

There is another implicit reason behind the increased exports of arms sales as well. Apparently, the solution of security problems found by the world is military action. This has increased dependence of countries on their arms producing companies resulting in the formation of formal arrangements such as Defence Export Services Organization. (CATT, p1, 2006).

In addition to that, due to the large effects they can create on the economy, large companies are always successful in turning the governments’ policies in their favors. Due to these reasons, governments try to facilitate these companies in any possible way and one of those facilitations is certainly the increased arms sales (CATT, p1, 2006). To see this power of large companies, the example of BAE systems can be considered. In 2007, BAE which is the largest arms contractor of the UK government (Webb, p1) was successful in persuading the government for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Tanzania although these countries are considered suspicious as far as their support for terrorism is concerned. (Ludford, p1, 2007)

When governments claim that the arms sale provides security. The question to be asked is which security they are actually talking about. If they are considering security in economic terms, arms sale certainly provides it. For an example, Britain exports can be looked at which, in 2008, were worth ten billion pounds and took the lead (Stevenson, p1, 2008) and even in recession that is still continuing, arms industry is experiencing extremely good sales (Jones, p1, 2009). If they are talking about strategic and political security, then the answer is in affirmative again. They can gain approval of their allies and develop their own industry for emergencies.

However, there are many other types of protections which are required for people besides these. For instance, arms perpetrate societal violence such as homicides. In fact, 40% of the world’s homicides are caused by a small firearm (Small Arms Survey, 2008). The sale of these arms, even though at times legal, usually ends in blood loss and fatalities. There is also heated debate over the role of fire arms in suicides. The impacts of arms as far as economic implications are concerned serves as the perfect avenue for the evaluation of violence reduction and prevention measures. Violence caused by arms of any nature usually results in injuries, which often demand medical intervention. (Small Arms Survey, 2008)

Most of the new diseases that are being discovered are actually caused by the increased exposure of people to explosives. These diseases, no matter where they originate, spreads to different countries. There are other health related issues as well such as environmental pollution causing breathing problems; water pollution causing stomach problems and the list goes on. These have trickle down effects especially on the economy of a country as it directly suffers when the health problems of its people increase. (Korb, p1, 2003)

The arms sales present difficulties for sustainable development. To incorporate this aspect while making decisions regarding export licenses, some states have established special control units such as Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Wassenaar Arrangement, etc (Chanaa, p1, 2004).

However, these organizations and their associated countries are being doubted on fulfillment of their commitments and their lack of transparency in making arms deals. The deals are made in secrecy which leads to corruption. As the arms sale is a debatable topic so governments and companies prefer to make it complex in an effort to snub the rising issues. They certainly do not succeed in that but there is no doubt that their secret activities lead to corruption. (Garden, p1, 2000)

Adding to this worst scenario, there are countries like China and Russia who avoid the aspect of sustainable development completely in their grant of export licenses. By avoiding this concern, these countries are actually escaping the evaluation process of their deals. (Chanaa, p1, 2004)

The resources used for the development of arms cause certain social concerns as well. The increased defence budget allocations results in overlooking developmental and social programs. The funds which could have been used for development of constructive industries are directed towards arms industry. The money could be put to better uses by spending it on sectors like education, public services, etc. In this way, the strength of a country can be developed through the basic roots and welfare of society would be promoted. Strengthening the military base only may not prove to be the best option in the future. (Webb, p1)

The shifting of budget toward defence purposes especially poses problems for the developing nations which are characterized by high mortality rates due to poor health care, acute hunger and uncharacteristically high poverty levels. Yet, their arm purchase budgets and military allocation are often staggering. Propositions by the World Health Organization and associated agencies to improve human life in these nations are highly cost effective.

It has been established that for an annual investment of $57 billion, 8 million lives could be salvaged. This is a small investment in comparison to the annual world military and related affairs expenditure of 2006 which stood at $1204 billion. The point of this illustration is to highlight the gravity of the global prioritization situation. If more investment could be directed at improving the mortality and poverty situation, particularly in developing nations, international security is likely to improve (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2007).

Apart from these macro issues, there is an economic issue that might be there at individual level as well. To fund the arms research and development, governments have to take money from tax-payers. This is quite unfair as when these taxes increase, it is the individual who suffers due to his money being transferred to the arms companies because of the reason that government is supporting this trade. (CATT, p1, 2006)

The countries try to develop their foreign policies with ethical considerations. The objectives of these policies are focused on provision of rights and freedom to humans (Perkins and Neumayer, p2). When the proponents of human rights and ethical foreign policy sell weapons which are a constant danger to the security of people, the whole situation becomes perplexed. How can governments claim the very thing they themselves are putting at stake?

Is it not their duty to watch the usage of weapons by the buyers? Who will look after the misuse of arms? Are the material interests profound enough to make moral duties trivial? The end users of arms might be those terrorists which initiated the upsurge in this industry in the first place. (Smith and Light, p3, 2001)

In the same context, another concern is the sale of arms to terrorists-supporting countries by the allies of these countries. The U.S., for instance, is worried about the sale of weapons to Venezuela and Iran by Russia. The U.S. has threatened Russia to block its membership to international organizations such as world trade organization in case it does not control these arms sales. According to the U.S., Iran and Venezuela are great threats to international security and hence they should not be provided with arms. (Halpin and Mostrous, p1, 2008)

However, the point of concern is whether the danger of arms sales is caused only in case of sale to the so called ‘terrorist-supporting countries’ or does it bring a threat no matter where arms are being sold. The government officials think that it is only the irresponsible arms sales that are perilous to the democracy, economy and society. They think the unmonitored sales are one of the causes of corruption. (Ludford, p1, 2007)

Another major question to be asked is ‘Whose security is at stake?’ If the answer is related to only the citizens of those countries who are producing and exporting arms, then these countries should not claim to be proponents of international security. And if they are really concerned about security of all humans, then their justification for the arms sales are immediately invalidated. This is because when they supply arms to one country, they are actually providing a resource for killing people in some other country. In fact, they are not putting other people’s lives at stake only rather the lives of their own people are being put to risk. Who can confirm that the arms being used in terrorist activities, for instance, in the U.S., were not made by U.S. itself in the first place?


In conclusion, it can be said that the primary driver for arms trade, acquisition and transfer is the pursuit of power especially among states that are in conflictive relationships. The survival of any state is directly influenced by its power and the capacity of its military to rally international policy requirements. This sufficiency is determined by the state’s manpower, economic endowment, technology and importantly, the level of its weapon technology (Krause, p15, 1995).

There is doubt that the pursuit of power facilitates the sale of arms and makes the world significantly unsafe. The danger of terrorism inflicted on countries increases. The nations actively engage in an arms race and the researches and experiments in secret labs quickly degenerate to arms production. The control of arms is the central element in the creation of sustainable international stability (Lee, 1999).

When responding to activists regarding reduction of arms sale, governments argue that it has become a large industry and provides jobs to a lot of people. If the activities are cut in this business, it would result in loss of many jobs. However, experts estimate that this loss would be a one-time loss with only short term effects (Brittan, p1, 2000). They also argue that when the funds will be put to other industries, jobs would automatically be created. (Smith and Light, p2, 2001)

Predictions regarding what or when this trade would reduce are not currently possible to be made. If terrorism and constant threats to the security of nations would reduce, the governments might give greater weights to the arguments against this arms trade which apparently is an impossible choice in the current security situation of the world.

Works cited

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DemoEssays. "Do Arms Sales Make the State and People More Secure or Less Secure?" January 4, 2023.