Arms sales, beauty contests and Exxon Mobil

Dominic Hilton
14 August 2002

Arms and a legacy

Last year, arms sales to the developing world reached their lowest level in seven years. Arms sales overall dropped to the lowest total since 1997.

The report Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1994-2001, was published this week in the US by the Congressional Research Service. The US continued to top the list as the world’s leading arms supplier. Russia came in second, with its controversial sales to Iran.


The largest buyer of weapons was Israel.

Agreements signed with developing nations last year for the transfer of arms totalled $16 billion. Arms deliveries totalled $14.4 billion. These are the lowest figures for the eight year period the study has covered.

The report put the value of all arms transfer deals world-wide at nearly $26.4 billion. In 2000 that figure was more than $40 billion.

A cause for quiet celebration?

Well no, actually. Not only are these figures still astronomically high – plus, over the eight-year period 68.3% of arms transfer agreements are made to developing nations – but the stated reason for the drop in sales is not a loss of appetite, or a more peace-loving world, but the global economic downturn. Says the report, “Given the tenuous state of the global economy, even some prospective arms purchasers with significant financial resources have been cautious in making major new weapons purchases.”

In first place, way out in front, the US signed almost $7 billion in arms deals with developing nations last year, 43.6% of all contracts. Russia was next, with $5.6 billion, 26.9%. In third place, China, with $600 million, or 3.8%.

The US also led overall. Arms deals last year totalled $12.1 billion. That’s 45.8% of the whole market. In 2000 that figure was $18.9 billion. Russia was next with $5.8 billion (down from $8.4 billion in 2000). France was third in total world-wide agreements, with $2,1 billion (down from $4.3 billion in 2000).

Of nations categorised as part of the developing world, Israel came top, purchasing $2.5 billion in conventional arms. China was second, signing contracts worth $2.1 billion. And Egypt third, with $2 billion.

(Source: New York Times)

Miss World (of trouble)

Clash of civilisations? You’d better believe it.

The Miss World contest is not usually Diary fare, but this week the Nigerian authorities, set to host the nation enriching pageant in November, felt required to warn the contestants against tottering into areas of the country where Islamic Sharia law is practised.

Good advice.

Miss World 2001. Agbani Darego

“We have told the people (organisers) not to allow the ladies to go to Zamfara and other Sharia states because of the risks involved,” said Boma Bromillow-Jack, Culture and Tourism Minister.

Miss Nigeria (better known as Agbani Darego) won the Miss World crown last year. As a result, this years contest is to be held in the Nigerian capital Abuja. Abuja is not under Sharia law.

Muslim groups have voiced their opposition to the event, declaring it immoral and vowing to prevent its taking place. They are said to particularly oppose the swimsuit section.

Ms Darego is the fourth African to win the Miss World contest. White South Africans were victorious in 1958 and 1974, and an Arab Egyptian picked up the crown in 1954.

(Source: BBC)


In the first of two oil-rich manoeuvres by the Bush administration this week, the US State Department urged a federal court to throw-out a lawsuit brought by a human rights group against Exxon Mobil over its operations in Indonesia. The argument was that the case would damage Washington’s war on terror.

Indonesian flag

The New York Times reported that the International Labor Rights Fund, a Washington-based non-profit group, is representing eleven villagers “who allege that Exxon Mobil, the world’s biggest energy company, was complicit in the murder, torture and rape of residents near the plant located in the northern province of Aceh.”

But State Department legal man, William Taft IV, had other concerns. Indonesia, he said in a letter to the judge, “serves as a focal point for U.S. initiatives in the ongoing war against al-Qaida and other dangerous terrorist organisations.” He insisted these efforts would be “imperiled in numerous ways if Indonesia and its officials curtailed cooperation in response to perceived disrespect for its sovereign interests.”

But, in what the NYT describes as “a more surprising conclusion”, Taft also expressed his concern that the suit against Exxon Mobil would further scare-off Western investors. In their place, he said, would step the Chinese. The Bush administration are concerned about Chinese economic power in the region.

Exxon Mobil lawyers sought the State Department’s opinion in the case, claiming that the suit would undermine the war on terror. The NYT says that Taft’s letter was a “matter of contention” within the department. Some favoured the protection of human rights in Indonesia, others were more interested in the war on terror. The State Department could, if it had wanted, have rendered a neutral opinion.

The judge’s decision is pending. Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, spoke for many human rights groups in condemning the State Department decision. “Corporate responsibility shouldn’t stop at the water’s edge,” he said.

The water’s edge

Speaking of which, Roth’s words proved remarkably prescient later in the week when, in another article (first reported in the Times-Picayune of New Orleans), the New York Times described how the Bush administration is seeking to bypass the National Environmental Policy Act, arguing that it does not apply to the oceans beyond the nation’s territorial waters (traditionally extending three miles beyond shore). This would leave open the “exclusive economic zone” (two-hundred miles from shore) to “military manoeuvres, oil and gas pipelines, commercial fishing, ocean dumping and scores of other activities to escape public environmental review.”

Picture of the pacific

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 requires federal agencies to review the environmental implications of all their projects. It was signed by Richard Nixon, as is “often referred to as the Magna Carta of environmental law.”

The White House case is being made by the Justice Department, who questioned the Act in a Los Angeles court case that involves the testing of a new sonar system by the navy. In opposition is the Natural Resources Defense Council. Environmentalists argue that restricting the act to the three mile limit would open up the oceans to unregulated activity and serious environmental damage, ranging from marine life to energy resources. A decision in the case is expected in the late summer.

Leave a deposit

And in Cambridge, Massachusetts this week, a doctor was suspended from practice after he left a patient lying on the operating table as he whizzed out to deposit a cheque in his bank. He was performing spinal surgery.

David Arndt, an orthopaedic surgeon and graduate of Harvard Medical School acknowledged that he had “exercised remarkably horrible judgement.” However, he explained away his behaviour as the inevitable result of having overdue bills to pay, and needing to wrap up his surgery as swiftly as possible in order to dash to the bank before it closed.

Unfortunately, the spinal operation was taking longer than he had hoped for, and so, with the patient face-down and sliced open, Arndt took a thirty-five minute trip to the bank, leaving the operation in the hands of an unqualified surgeon.

On return, Arndt resumed the surgery and finished it in a few hours. The patient recovered well, but Arndt was accused of posing “an immediate health to the public health, safety and welfare.”

Painting of surgery in 1555
Surgery is thought to have come a long way since 1555. Source: Reuters. Click for bigger image

Quotes of the week

“You may think optimistically. There are prospects that the fruit can grow bigger and bigger.” Kim Ryong Song, chief North Korean negotiator, emerging from talks with his South Korean counterpart at a Seoul hotel.

“The road to the entire Middle East goes through Baghdad. Once you have a democratic regime in Iraq, like the ones we helped establish in Germany and Japan after World War II, there are a lot of possibilities.” Unnamed Bush administration official, quoted in the Washington Post.

“I don’t believe that America will justifiably make an unprovoked attack on another nation. It would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation.” US House majority leader, Representative Dick Amery, a Texan Republican, expressing his discomfiture over the prospect of a US attack on Iraq.

“The kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent…” A description of Saudi Arabia, the US’s chief Middle East ally, by Laurent Murawiec in a briefing given to a top Pentagon advisory board.

“Ridiculous.” The official response of Saud to Murawiec’s briefing.

“Where are you going to find a person loyal to the U.S. who’s willing to eat dung beetles and sleep on the ground in a cave for two or three years? You don’t find people willing to do that who also speak fluent Pashtu or Arabic.” Unnamed US counterterrorism official explaining why the CIA had problems recruiting assets to penetrate al-Qaida. Quoted in TIME magazine.

“He opens his mouth and the market goes down.” Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth, a political action committee that supports conservative Republicans, on the negative impact President Bush has on the economy.

“We have not made many strides since I’ve been here in improving the intelligence take.” US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in confessional mode.

“Every country is different. Even countries that are very close together can be very different.” US Treasury Secretary Paul O’ Neill talking to reporters in Montevido.

Figure of the week

$7.1 billion The overall total of WorldCom’s accounting irregularities.

Readers’ Responses

Reader Robert Jensen was one half of a fascinating point/counterpoint with William Bennett published in the Virginian newspaper Free-Lance Star in June. This week openDemocracy republishes slightly revised versions of the pieces. The subject of the exchange is ‘moral clarity’ in US foreign policy – a stated claim of President Bush in a speech at West Point military academy.

From Washington, William Bennett argues that the US “defeated the twin menaces of fascism and Soviet communism. We advanced the well-being of people around the world, ameliorating suffering, improving human rights, and promoting democracy. Such achievements wouldn’t be possible without moral clarity.”

From Austin, Texas, Robert Jensen disagrees: “Given that no one really argues for moral unclarity, claiming moral clarity is really just a cheap way to dismiss other points of view without providing a compelling argument or dealing with the messy world of facts. The West Point speech shows just how morally murky the president is.”

Click here to read William Bennett’s ‘Moral Clarity is Essential’ Click here to read Robert Jensen's ‘Rhetoric Distorts Reality’

Meanwhile, Brian Taylor takes issue with Jem Bendell’s ‘Psychos in Suits’:

Dear openDemocracy,

Though sympathetic with Jem Bendell’s intentions in his ‘Psychos in Suits’ piece, many will find his use of the imagery of madness unfortunate, even offensive. Would you have been so amused if he’d denigrated those corporate CEO’s by calling them ‘cripples’, ‘poofs’, or ‘asylum seekers’?

There’s been an international psychiatric survivor movement for a long time now, and, I believe, an NUJ code of practice, about using negative stereotypes in this way. In the UK we face draconian new ‘mental health’ legislation this autumn, which will make it possible 1) for people to be incarcerated indefinitely on the basis of a diagnosis – of Personality Disorder (Pyschopathy) alone, and 2) for medication – which may be ineffective and have serious adverse effects – to be made compulsory in people’s own homes. (under ‘Community Treatment Orders’).

Users/survivors and most professionals are united in strong opposition to these proposals, which New Labour are forcing through on the basis of ‘bogus’ claims about public safety. For more information go to ‘Mad Pride’, Mental Health Alliance’, or MIND etc.

Keep up the good work!!

with best wishes,

Brian Taylor.

...and Jay Janson is not so sure about Gurhurpal Singh’s article on Kashmir:

Dear Editor Dominic Hilton,

Surprised to read such an non-objective article with no historical context as Gurhurpal Singh’s “On the Nuclear Precipice: India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Crises”. Mr Singh’s premise that the problem is one of Pakistan versus India leaves the desires of the people of Kashmir completely out of the discussion. This presentation has been heard continually in corporate media. openDemocracy would normally be exposing this lack of historical context.

UN resolutions calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir were passed (nearly unanimously) more than a half-century ago. Then came the time when we looked to India in leading the unaligned nations as a peaceful third force, and many were disappointed with blocking of the plebiscite.

Yours truly, while still a student, fifty years ago, wrote to Indira Gandhi, then Indian UN Representative, and got an answer, with her signature, saying something like… “if India acceded to the plebiscite demands, misfortune would result for the inhabitants of Kashmir who would vote against their best interests, and follow their emotions driven by reasons of religion and culture.”

Now a half century since receiving Indira Gandhi’s letter, the situation seems essentially the same, and it truly appears be somehow in the U.S. establishment’s interest to have Indian Kashmir remain Indian and festering, and weakening two large nations.

On most topics alternate media, especially openDemocracy, is replete with information which commercial media hides and distorts on hundreds of subjects world wide. However I have not been able to find anything at all on Kashmir history, without which little can be understood of today’s violence and hostility. Considering openDemocracy’s comprehensive coverage of areas of conflict, it looks like Kashmir does not get alternate media writer’s attention, what with the need to concentrate on more directly interventionist US foreign policies. (I have actually written to five progressive authors and journalists who confessed not being knowledgeable on Kashmir and asked to be kept abreast on anything I might come upon.)

I find it really odd that there is commentary on the tension between India and Pakistan, but nothing on Kashmir itself. If openDemocracy would just print a paraphrase of the Encyclopaedia Britannica article on the partition of Kashmir, Mr. Singh’s article would pale by comparison.

We can heed openDemocracy’s call for imagination, once we are clear about the present conditions which have taken seed two generations ago and before.

Appreciative openDemocracy reader,

Jay Janson

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