In depth

Central articles

Despite treaties, can we be sure that the manufacture of prohibited weapons does not persist?

Tica Font
ICIP Director
Tica Font

Tica Font

The countries that signed the mine ban treaty have made a commitment not to manufacture, sell, use, or stockpile mines, and to destroy those they possess. This commitment has only been made by the countries that signed the treaty. The countries that did not sign are free to manufacture, export, and use mines in their territory or in the territories where they operate. Companies manufacturing mines in countries that have signed the treaty cannot produce them inside the country itself, but can transfer technologies or hold shares in companies in other countries so that mines continue to be produced, exported and used.

Mines and cluster bombs are cheap weapons that require intermediate technologies. These two factors mean that for the governments of leading arms-producing countries, if public opinion wants prohibition, prohibiting their manufacture in the country itself is no major problem. In the Spanish arms industry, the economic volume generated by mines production is insignificant.

These factors - costs and low technology - are crucial in the international distribution of arms production. While countries in the industrialised world manufacture weapons requiring high technology, low or intermediate technology weapons are produced in emerging or developing countries such as Israel, Brazil, Egypt and South Africa. These countries are increasingly significant players in arms production and exportation.

The biggest arms trade fair in Latin America, LAAD, took place between 14 and 17 April 2009. The show was held in Rio de Janeiro and was attended by leading Spanish arms production companies, including EXPAL (which is part of the Maxam group). After the fair, EXPAL announced that it had signed a cooperation contract with IMBEL and ENGEPRON, two Brazilian companies manufacturing explosives and ammunition.

Of the two contracts, the bigger cause for concern is the one that Expal has signed with Imbel. Imbel is a company that supplies the Brazilian army with portable weapons, ammunition, explosives and communication equipment. Why is this contract a cause for concern? Although its terms have not yet been disclosed, because of the similarities in production between the two companies, it is possible that a technology transfer may take place, so that Imbel manufactures cluster bombs with technology developed by Expal, as the latter cannot produce these weapons in Spain due to Spain having signed the Ottawa and Oslo treaties.

The signing of the Treaties by the Spanish government means that two Spanish companies manufacturing mines and bombs, Expal and Instalaza, have to cease producing and exporting them. However, the Spanish government must go further and prohibit by law any type of relationship between Spanish citizens and mines and cluster bombs. This means Spanish financial institutions' financing of and shareholdings in military industries outside Spanish territory. It is unacceptable that while Spain undertakes not to manufacture and sell this type of weapon, Spanish banks finance production in other countries that have not signed the treaty.

Brazil is a country that has not signed the treaty against cluster bombs. Brazil also has an explosives industry capable of producing these bombs and exporting them. For this reason, one might think that with the signing of this cooperation contract between Expal and Imbel, the Spanish company is passing on the technology to manufacture cluster bombs to the Brazilian company. It needs to be made clear at this point that we are not saying that this has happened. But what is also true is that current legislation would allow it.

If this trend continues, this is a matter for grave concern, because as disarmament and control campaigns are successful in industrialised countries and commitments are made by governments, the industry transfers production to countries that are not party to any international commitments. The rich and industrialised countries produce sophisticated and expensive weapons, while developing countries produce intermediate weapons, which are cheaper and cause the most harm to human life. As a result, the most socially controversial weapons will continue to reach destinations that they should not reach.