Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The nonviolent consumer

The sale of booty futures is a tool of the weak against the strong: it helps to fund groups that are too poor or too feeble to capture territory on their own and might otherwise be forced to surrender. 
Michael Ross (2003, p. 32)
From coltan to oil to gemstones and more, the discovery of merchantable natural resources in a country is regarded as great news. Exports, cash from abroad, jobs and infrastructure--this is progress.

Unfortunately, war profiteers frequently intercede, selling or providing (for future favors, including debt bondage) weapons in exchange for cheap raw materials. Warlords or dictators take the weapons, seize the land, treat laborers like slaves, pollute with impunity, and steal all the profits while ruining the indigenous lifeways. This is a common story, from Afghanistan to Sudan, Angola to Colombia, and on and on.

What does a peaceloving person do about this?

There are many suggestions made by Ross and others who helped construct the World Bank study on natural resources and violence. Most have to do with transparency, trade legitimacy verification and other supranational agency initiatives. And indeed, in 2009 legislation was introduced, killed in committee, and then added to another bill that passed in 2010 about the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular, and the Securities and Exchange Commission implemented rules to enforce the law, which requires conflict mineral auditing and reportage for materials coming from the DRC. Nice start--now go global with that sort of transparency. There are two more things Americans in particular can do to mitigate this general problem.

One, lobby relentlessly against any and all US arms exports. Period. Stop treating arms like rewards, which is what Obama did by shipping more guns to South Sudan (as if two million dead Sudanese wasn't enough). Just like legal domestic sales of arms, many quickly go underground. Sanctions against rogues and warlords are easily circumvented by the tsunami of weapons sloshing from sea to sea in containers and flying through the air in cargo planes. Stop it. Stop giving and selling weapons to 'friends' and anyone else. Make it a campaign issue. Quit pumping gasoline on the fires of war. Support any legislation that curbs or bans arms sales to anyone.

Two, consume much less new stuff. Go, Goodwill, go! Take a little while to go saling, as they say, in neighborhood garages and yards. Rummage at the thrift stores and churches. Check out Craig's List for those treasures that others have already purchased new. Buy locally made goods out of local natural resources when you can. Buy conflict-free products every chance you get. Bike, bus, and walk. The connections between oil and arms continues to devastate so many. Conflict oil, indeed, is a redundancy.

Ross, Michael (2003). The natural resource curse: How wealth can make you poor. In Ian Bannon and Paul Collier (Eds.). Natural resources and violent conflict: Options and actions. Washington DC: The World Bank.

1 comment:

Michael Beer said...

Here is a powerful overview of the corruption engendered by the world arms trade.

Michael Beer
Nonviolence International