This article was originally published in the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade magazine, Press for Conversion!, March 1999, Issue #36.

Military Exports, Human Rights and Liberals
By Richard Sanders, Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT)

There is tremendous pain and seemingly endless, human suffering represented by the data in "COAT's Report on Canada's Military Exports versus Human Rights, 1999. Unfortunately, many of those who are most directly involved in this deadly production and trade, whether factory workers, corporate executives, marketing managers or government bureaucrats, do not realise the effects of their daily actions on people in far away societies. Most Canadians are completely insulated from the daily strife experienced by Third World activists struggling for their democratic rights. It's as if we don't even live on the same planet.

As shown in the table, "Canadian Military Exports: Aiding and Abetting Ongoing Armed Conflicts' (page 14), the Canadian government has busily provided military hardware to numerous governments which were involved in internal, armed conflicts. It is easy to criticise such blatant excesses. It is almost as easy as ignoring owns own complicity in repression and war. Through the daily consumption of of goods pilfered from the Third World by transnational corporations, Canadian citizens benefit from the unjust, global economic order which is perpetuated by neo-liberalism and militarism. But rationalisations abound. We are, after all, providing them with jobs, aren't we?

Likewise, the creation of jobs in Canada is always seen as positive, even if these jobs destroy the lives and work of others. Canadians employed by military companies are constantly encouraged by government and the media to see their work as a valuable contribution to the high tech engine which supposedly drives the growth of our nation's prosperity. Other popular myths about Canada's global role as the great peacekeeper add yet another veil of deception. Many Canadians are also blinded by the economic blackmail of their paychecks, perks and prestige.

There seems to be a giant wall of ignorance and denial between those who control and benefit from the arms trade and those on the other side of the ledger--the other side of the planet--who must pay the real price for our relative prosperity. This wall isolates the "haves" from the anguished cries of the 'have nots." It is an iron curtain protecting us from the shame we might feel if confronted with the reality of our society's effects on the worlds poor.

Liberals or Conservatives?

Our current government and its leaders are obviously cornplicit in the atrocities and violations of human rights summarised in COAT's annual report. And yet, many continue to believe that in foreign and domestic policies, a Liberal government is far less inclined to exhibit the right-wing excesses of previous Conservative governments.

The tables here expose a different reality. No previous Canadian government has been so proficient in supplying weapons systems to states which are guilty of mass murder and the flagrant abuse of basic human rights. The data here shows that military exports increased dramatically after the Liberals came to power.

"Canada's Small Arms and Military Exports" (page 14), shows that the Liberal government has far surpassed its predecessors in the total value of military exports approved, and in the number of countries receiving Canadian weapons systems. This table also shows that the percentage of all arms export permits which were issued for the sale of small arms, has also dramatically increased throughout the decade, from less than 1% in 1990 to 7.6% in 1997.

Despite their success in significantly increasing Canada's military exports, the Liberal government has tried to retain the progressive facade they cultivated while in opposition. Their efforts to rid the world of anti-personnel landmines is an undeniably valuable contribution to international peace and human development. However, it must also be recognised as a major public relations victory. It serves as a brilliant decoy to distract us from the reality of Canada's overall arms trade policy. When examining the reality behind the puff, the government's actual policy seems to be: "Export as much military hardware as possible, except anti-personnel landmines."

And then there's the Liberal government's apparent crusade against small arms. Much has been made of this government's posturing to take an international stand against small arms exports. Unfortunately, our government is only opposed to the illegal sales of small arms, i.e., those which are sold by or to criminals, terrorists and armed opposition groups. This ignores state terrorism, i.e., when governments use small arms against their own civilians. This definition is very convenient for the Canadian government and its friends in the small arms business. Canada's small arms exports have boomed since the Liberals formed the government (See "The Export of Canadian Small Arms (1990-1997)" on page 15.)

So, when people tell me that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is our friend, I despair. How can the very department that is most responsible for actively promoting the arms trade be a friend of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade? With friends like that...