Published on Friday, October 20, 2000 in the Guardian of London
US Sells Half The World's Arms Exports
by Richard Norton-Taylor
The west's three permanent members of the UN Security Council account for 80% of the world's weapons sales at a time when it is incapable of mounting effective peacekeeping operations, according to a report published yesterday by a London-based thinktank.

The report, by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), is deeply sceptical about the EU's ability to realise its plans for an independent, 60,000-strong rapid-reaction force.

"European leaders speak of a European defence capacity but have not voted [for] the funds to finance it," said the IISS director, John Chipman.

The US increased its share of the international arms trade last year and now accounts for nearly 50% of the $53.4bn (£37bn) annual market, according to the IISS publication, the Military Balance.

Britain came second, selling nearly £7bn worth of weapons, while France was third at almost £4.6bn.

Much of these weapons systems were supplied to the Middle East, the world's biggest arms market. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest arms buyer, purchased more than £4bn worth of weapons last year.

Taiwan was the largest arms importer in East Asia.

Middle Eastern countries spent £42bn on defence last year, says the report, which also notes that the Israeli air force had set up its first anti-ballistic missile battery some 30 miles south of Tel Aviv.

The IISS damned the lack of government commitment to international peacekeeping.

"It remains the case that the UN continues to overreach, approving ambitious mandates and deploying inadequately supported forces in volatile situations," Mr Chipman said.

"The long-term aim of the UN operation in Sierra Leone is unclear and the capacity of the UN to make a sensible contribution to what is a hugely unstable situation in the Congo is questionable," he said.

UN member states were "incapable of producing the sometimes very large contingents that a proper operation would require," he said.

While defence spending increased in most regions of the world, including the US, spending by Nato's European members other than Britain and the three new entrants - Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic - continued to decline.

"Nato countries in Europe are feeling the strain of what looks like an increasingly lengthy commitment in Kosovo," the report said. "Even those with all-professional forces are finding they are over-committed in Europe and beyond."

"It remains doubtful whether the Europeans can realise their ambitions for a credible 60,000-strong independent force," it adds.

If the continent is unable to muster a credible independent force, Nato will have to remain strongly involved in EU security. "European defence, in all but the most trivial of cases, will remain a transatlantic affair," Mr Chipman said.

Britain and France have invested considerable political and diplomatic capital in setting up a joint EU military force, which would conduct peacekeeping operations without US or Nato involvement

France wants to cap its six-month stint as EU president at the European summit in Nice in December with a firm commitment to set up a credible force with at least 60,000 troops.

• 100,000 people were killed as a direct result of armed conflicts in the year up to August, 60% of them in sub-Saharan Africa, the IISS says.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000