War kills and destroys but some thrive on it  

By Neil Behrmann

NO prizes for guessing the winners of the Iraq , Israeli-Hezbollah , Afghanistan , Sri Lankan and random African wars. The Merchants of Death are experiencing boom times.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which conducts independent research on armaments, disarmament and international security, estimates that world military expenditure in 2005 reached a staggering $1,118 billion, a 34 per cent rise in the past decade. This increase has been accompanied by a 15 per cent rise in 2004 of the combined armament sales of the 100 largest arms-producing companies.

That turnover, amounting to a whopping $268 billion, is well in excess of the gross domestic products of many a Third World nation that the firms supply. In today's instant world, we not only sit comfortably on our sofas in front of our television sets and watch reality war delivered by glamorous presenters near the front line of destruction and despair, we can also make money out of conflict.

The top arms producers quoted on Wall Street and London are Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, BAE Systems, Raytheon and General Dynamics. Other major companies range from Thales in France and Finmeccanica in Italy to United Technologies, KBR (Halliburton) and Rolls Royce. Of course, these giant corporations also make products for peaceful pursuits but you get the drift.

Armaments, mostly highly expensive sophisticated technology, including that which guide missiles towards the enemy and sometimes unfortunate civilians, are today's growth industries. Latest US defence returns show that today's numerous conflicts, the battle against terror and the huge amount of cash flowing into the coffers of oil producers and various governments of high priced commodity producers, have helped raise American military exports to their highest level since the first Gulf War.

According to The Times, the US Congress was notified that arms sales to foreign governments amounted to $12.9 billion in July - the largest monthly total since the beginning of the Bush administration six years ago. Arms contracts with the Pentagon in the seven months ended July 2006, amounted to $22 billion. The Lebanon ceasefire and need to replenish equipment imply that US armament producers could receive a windfall approaching the $42 billion boom in 1993, soon after the First Gulf War.

The US accounts for almost two-thirds of global arms sales and the UK , France , Russia and increasingly China are also active competitors, according to SIPRI.

Various dictators manage to obtain sophisticated weaponry from someone, somewhere. And while major nations talk peace, they trade war.

Amongst the biggest Middle Eastern spenders that we know about, Saudi Arabia bought around $14 billion of US weapons systems in the past five years; Turkey , $4.5 billion; Egypt , $4.3 billion and UAE, $3.1 billion. It doesn't require a leap in the imagination to estimate that Iran has bought billions of dollars worth of arms. The same applies to Syria.

Meanwhile, the US is also replenishing Israel 's military equipment. Other big buyers are South Korea , which purchased around US$9 billion; Taiwan , US$5.4 billion; Australia , $5.1 billion and Japan , $3.2 billion.

Foreign military sales to some suspect nations aim at gaining support for the war on terrorism. In June, for example, the Bush administration used the war against terrorism as justification for its sale to Pakistan of 36 F-16 fighter jets, and an upgrade of 60 more aircraft, in a $4.5 billion deal.

In the past, however, similar deals have backfired on America . In 1980, the US supported and supplied Saddam Hussein with arms to fight Iran . Ten years later, he repaid this generosity by invading Kuwait .

At the moment, Pakistan is happy to meet India on the cricket field but recall the war threats of the past. Small wars such as the Israeli-Hezbollah battle that destroyed Lebanon infrastructure, maimed and killed civilians on both sides and created a humanitarian upheaval, benefit the armaments traders in several ways. Accuracy and power of weapons are tested in action and encourage other nations to buy them.

Weapons that fail to achieve optimum accuracy are improved or replaced by new lethal products. The business of war is always profitable.

Neil Behrmann is the author of an anti-war children's novel, 'Butterfly Battle - The Story of the Great Insect War' (Readmore Books: www.readmore-books.com)

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