It seems that not so bad. We spoke with Antonio Mazzeo, a journalist who has been denouncing for years the arms trade, militarism and the resulting business. Activist in the Campaign No to Muos (campaign against the installation of satellite telecommunications systems by the USA Navy), Mazzeo is the author of numerous publications on the plundering of the environment, international conflicts and transnational criminal mafias.

How is the arms trade doing worldwide?

Imports and exports of deadly systems do not seem very affected by the global and structural crisis that is affecting the planet. Indeed, the international financial capital holds the crazy belief that conflict and the subsequent reconstruction of bombed countries can be the engine to break the deadlock and boost demand, the economy and development. Too bad the crisis, the speculative bubbles and unsustainable financial expansion of public debt may have arisen largely as a result of the model of permanent global war started with the first international adventure against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf in the early 90s, subsequently presented as the “war against terror” anywhere and at any price after September 11, 2001. That is, the weapons have also generated the crisis that now is to be “won” with more weapons. Scenarios that could bring humanity to a Holocaust, the destruction of the environment and people’s starvation.

How can you quantify the arms trade level of business today?

Although we can assume that the business of death is characterised by a lack of transparency in terms of of official information and the large shadowy area where producers, intermediaries, intelligence agencies, military and transnational criminal organisations move illegally, we have fairly reliable data . According to the latest yearbook on world military expenditure published by SIPRI (International Institute for Peace Studies in Stockholm) in 2011 1740 billion dollar were spent in weapons systems worldwide. For the Swedish Institute this is the largest expenditure since 1989, the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Just to make us more aware of the scandalous level of turnover of the merchants of death, we note that wars cost $ 3.3 million per minute, equivalent to 198 million dollars an hour or 4.7 billion dollars a day. Every person on the planet is thus deprived of approximately $ 250 per year, money that could be used instead for food production, education and health. So guns kill also without shooting.

What countries are involved?

In 2011 the United States of America (USA) were the largest buyers of weapons systems in the world, with an estimated cost of 711 billion dollars. China comes second as an emerging global power, at a cost of around 143 billion dollars, but with a pronounced growth rate over the years, 170% in real terms in the period between 2002 and 2011. Far behind in third place is Russia with 72 billion dollars.

The U.S. controls 40% of the world export market. Last year, the giants of the military industrial complex of the U.S. exported arms worth 46.1 billion dollars, a figure four times higher than the sum of exports in early 2000. Another confirmation that behind the “war on terror” and the ridiculous propaganda about “defence of human rights” and “humanitarian intervention” are primarily the business of manufacturers and merchants of death. The classification of exporters is slightly different from the buyers: in this, Russia comes second, followed by China. But considering all the member countries of the European Union (EU), we find, however, a little known fact. The turnover of exports from EU countries is closer to the U.S., nearly 32 billion euros per year with a record 41 billion dollars in 2009. As reported in the journal Missione Oggi (Today Mission) in an investigation by Giorgio Beretta of the Italian Network for Disarmament, the bulk of the transfers (over 45%) goes to the South. In the five years between 2006-2010, among the main recipients of European weapons he highlights in particular the authoritarian regimes in the Arabian Peninsula (Saudi Arabia has bought European arms worth $ 12 billion, UAE 9 billion dollars, Oman and Kuwait, 4.3 billion and 1.6 billion, respectively), as well as some Middle Eastern countries in the midst of bloody internal conflicts (4 billion dollars to Pakistan, Turkey 3.5 billion); different nations of the African continent are also listed (Morocco, 2.5 billion, Algeria, 1.8 billion, Egypt and South Africa, 1 billion, each and Libya, 1 billion).

In the special world ranking of “consumers” of warfare systems acquiring a leading role in recent years we find countries that have experienced high rates of economic growth and gross domestic product. In addition to China, India impresses in particular, according to SIPRI, as being already the world’s largest customer of the merchants of death. Also South Korea, Pakistan and Singapore, while gradually increasing their role sub-Saharan African countries, some with unimaginable levels of poverty and underdevelopment, who came to spend 18 billion dollars a year in weapons systems.

What is the role of Italy in this market?

We have already discussed the increasingly important role of the EU in the world of weapons. Italy ranks third among the member states of the EU with regards to turnover, slightly behind France and Germany, but ahead of Britain. In the last five years we have sold weapons systems by 23.2 billion and much of the business is the prerogative of the two financial companies controlled in part by state capital, Finmeccanica (which occupies the 8th place in the world amongst producers and arms exporters) and Fincantieri.

According to the report on arms exports, full of gaps and omissions, presented to Parliament by the Government in 2011, 2497 export licenses were issued for a total of just over 3 billion euros, compared to 2 billion and 906 million in 2010, with an annual increase of 5.28%. And this in a period of crisis with a drastic reduction in employment among workers of Italian factory arms. The decisive factor in the expansion of sales promotion that has been made in Italy by the ministers, the arms dealers and Monti Berlusconi’s government. They have been very effective when traveling across the world in supporting the export of weapons and the establishment of partnerships with the most corrupt regimes or those responsible for numerous human rights violations. In fact, it is no coincidence that in 2011 there has been a significant increase in the number of authorisations compared to the previous year, for so-called “intergovernmental cooperation programmes” and we can bet that the data for 2012 will be even greater given the history of activism of the Defence Minister, Admiral Di Paola, tireless in missions and visits abroad and participation in major international fairs of the arms industry.

There has also been an escalation of Italian arms exports to areas of greatest tension in the world, from North Africa, to the Middle East, to Southeast Asia. In 2011 over 64% of the weapons, with a value of nearly 2 billion euros, ended in countries that are not part of NATO. The list of major clients begins with Algeria (477.5 million euros in military systems of Italian production), Singapore (395.28), India (259.41), Turkey (170.8). Even the poor and abused African continent are gradually becoming Eldorado of Italian arms dealers. In the last five years we have sold rifles and light weapons to Cameroon and Somalia, and trucks, airplanes and helicopters to Libya, Morocco and Nigeria. It must be said that Italian law regulating the export of weapons does not stipulate the obligation to document all transfers of light weapons, for “common” or “civilian use”, of which Italy is one of the largest producers in the world. So to the figures quoted above must be added the volume of export industries producing rifles, pistols and ammunition, which in the Disarmament file amounted to no less than one billion euros in 2009-2010.

Again, the main customers are non-European and not members of NATO. The report emphasises especially Asian countries, which have been importing in the past two years “light” weapons worth 142 million euros, including different internationally embargoed countries (China, Lebanon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan), belligerent or accused of committing serious violations of human rights (the Russian Federation, Thailand, Philippines, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Colombia, Israel and Kenya). Shortly before the outbreak of the conflict in Libya, Muammar Gaddafi’s regime had bought weapons to Italy for 8.4 million euros, mostly “Beretta” and “Benelli” pistols and rifles while Yemen, another civil war-torn country, imported Italian weapons for 487,119 euros. As reported by the Centre on Small Arms in Brescia (OPAL), in 2011, the year of the Arab Spring uprisings, only in the province of Brescia were exported to North Africa arms and ammunition for a total of 6.8 million euros, and the Middle East for 11 million euros. The OPAL has also shown that in the same year Brescia also made exports of weapons to Belarus for more than a million euros, just before the EU embargo was decreed following the innumerable violations and repression imposed by the regime of President Lukashenko. In many parts of the world crowds are shot at with Italian guns and bullets, but this seems not to enrage politicians, unions, the media and intellectuals.

What sells the most at this time?

Everything. Wars and popular repression, increasingly numerous, need “light” weapons tear gas, tanks, armoured vehicles, attack helicopters, fighter jets, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons (for the latter it has launched a very costly modernisation program and miniaturisation to make them more flexible and can be used in scenarios geographically “limited”). But those who devour enormous financial and human resources are mainly air warfare and space systems for their stratospheric costs. In addition, to meet the new intervention strategies and military intelligence, drones, the vaunted drones, are now the well of St. Patrick for arms producers and negotiators. This explains why in the special classification of industries producing at the top by turnover includes American and European giants operating in the aerospace, nuclear and missiles. In 2010, the number of orders for Lockheed Martin (the largest arms exporter in the world, dedicated, among other things, to the completion of the F-35 fighter and satellite telecommunications system MUOS) amounted to 26.6 billion euros. Second is BAE Systems (24.8 billion) and then Boeing (23.4), Northrop Grumman (21.3) and General Dynamics (18.1). In eighth place, as we have said, is the Italian Finmeccanica with exports worth 10.9 billion euros.

What is the relationship between banks, financial speculation and the arms trade?

Without the international financial and banking system it would not be possible the existence of the military industrial complex, it would not be possible to guarantee the products, transactions and exports. Banks invest directly in the war industry, their shares reveal increasingly impressive progress and provide the necessary coverage for exports. Sovereign wealth funds, the countless investment funds to so-called “pension funds” managed by state security institutions and the main trade unions have invested aggressively on shares of the leading production companies of the sector. A flow of money stolen from the real economy meant to produce goods and welfare created huge speculative bubbles that rapidly fed and impaired the systemic crisis processes. A paradigm of complexity and perversity of the globalisation of markets and finance, where among the main shareholders of arms producers are regimes that tomorrow could be bombed and killed with weapons produced by the “controlled” companies. Here there are no limits or boundaries, and the choices of economic and foreign policy of states are strongly conditioned, subordinating them to the earnings of managers and owners of the factories of death. I am increasingly convinced that to fully understand the reasons for the total submission of all our recent governments (Prodi, Berlusconi, Monti, etc.) to the adventures and military projects in Washington we should carefully look at Finmeccanica & Co, in Italy. Always following the U.S. military wars in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, we accepted to transform Vicenza, a World Heritage Site of UNESCO, into a large base housing the U.S. military in Europe. We transformed the airport of Sigonella, Sicily, into the world capital of drones destroying an entire nature reserve, Niscemi (Caltanissetta) to install one of the four terminals of the dangerous ground satellite telecommunications system MUOS of the U.S Navy. And we went heavily into debt, compromising the future of our children and grandchildren, by buying hundreds of nuclear-capable bombers F-35 which other NATO countries believe to be useless, obsolete and over-costly. All this to ensure privileges and benefits for Finmeccanica companies, to which the Pentagon finally opened the door securing lucrative contracts and manufacturing licenses. A proof of the inextricable conspiracy between banking, finance and the merchants of death, is the fact of mutual funds and savings Italians used to purchase shares in companies producing weapons abroad, as documented in research by IRES (corporation tax) on Finance and Armament in Tuscany. “Credit institutions and the military industry, between the market and social responsibility” (Florence, 2010).

Military aircraft, war, and the arms trade: a perverse relationship?

Exactly, perverse, immoral, criminal and criminogenic as evidenced by a number of investigations opened by Italian magistrates on public corruption system generated around Finmeccanica’s subsidiaries and controlled companies. One company that looks increasingly like an ATM from where emerge bribes to feed the greed of politicians or parties and lavish salaries and bonuses delivered to their families, fans and customers of the usual suspects.

It has created a system which has already skipped all the mechanisms to differentiate between public and private sectors and controllers and controlled, disavowing any control that comes from the base as would be the duty of a true democracy endangering the common interests and the vast public resources, because among the actors it includes the transnational bourgeoisie and recycled mafia money, multiplying profits and controlling arrogant political, military and economic forces worldwide. One of the best examples of the level of degradation achieved in the complex financial-military-industrial is represented by the unstoppable revolving doors of arms factories of (former) generals, admirals and commanders. A recent report by the U.S. NGO Citizens for Responsibility and Brave New Foundation found that from 2009-2011, 70% of retired U.S. generals with three and four stars found work as staff or consultants in arms companies (in the case of 76 senior officers out of 108). The Board of Directors of the five major military contractors of the U.S. military (Again Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman), currently consist of nine former representatives of the highest levels of the military. With the aggravation that two of them continue to work directly with the Department of Defence (Gen. James Cartwright, a member of the board of directors of Raytheon and Admiral Gary Roughead of Northrop Grumman, who are officers of the Defence Policy of the US Government). In Italy, unfortunately, it’s the same: there is no Board of Directors of the war industry which does not include former heads of such departments or senior officials. This can promote the best possible “jewels” of the military death machine who until a few days before were subordinates. Obvious that proliferating of Yes Men approve even the most insane and unjustified costs.

Sometimes we are assaulted by feeling of helplessness, what can people like you and me do in this situation?

The international scene is, unfortunately, heartbreaking. The various attempts to force the United Nations to adopt policies and treaties to limit and control the production and export of weapons systems have failed in most cases or more that have been sweetened by the action of powerful lobbies of weapons manufacturers and banks. Governments and the international community are increasingly prisoners of war lords. For this reason, I think, that the word and the action should proceed directly from individuals, NGOs, associations and grassroots groups from the other world, that is, to the extraordinary transnational community that expects and believes that another world is possible. We have to multiply the efforts and campaigns against all wars and the militarisation of territories and space, against military spending and arms production, from light to superheavy.

We need to free the economy, politics, universities and knowledge centres from the increasingly suffocating control by military powers. We must act to hit the foundations of the complex financial-military-industrial, preventing our own savings or investment funds and pensions from feeding the merchants of death, forcing banks to “disarm” and become more ethical. The major international issues should again become the centre of political debate in parliaments, factories, workplaces, schools and universities. We must recover the spaces of culture and thoughts of peace, with the right and duty to resolve disputes and conflicts through dialogue and not by force. The movements in the South, and here in Italy, the Val di Susa in opposing to the TGV (high speed train) or in Niscemi MUOS opposition, with their practices of struggle, direct action and civil disobedience, daily showdowns, are the most effective methods for the detoxification pathway and debunking of the myths of easy profits, the plunder of the territories and war. Generalised Conscientious objection to military service, to militarisation, to arms production, as well as tax resistance not as mere personal testimony, but as a mass phenomenon of denunciation and closing the financial relationships with banking institutions that promote warfare systems can be important tools to show us the solution to turn around the balance of power between women and men and capital, and avoid the ever increasing speed and mad rush of humanity towards genocide. We have to try. Now.