The loss of the monopoly by the State over mass means of violence: a multifaceted, confirmed and concerning trend

Rafael Grasa
Rafael Grasa, president of the International Catalan Institute for Peace

This edition of Per la Pau/Peace in Progress focuses on the relationship between business and violent conflict and, more generally speaking, the ties between companies and the state of peace and human rights in the world, an issue ICIP has dealt with in the past and will continue to address. We are doing so, moreover, in a context marked by two news stories published in August. The first, the growth in weapons sales by the United States, which in 2011 reached 66.3 billion dollars, three quarters of the world's total (85.3 billion), much higher than Russia, the second largest exporter at 4.8 billion (The New York Times, 26 August 2012, based on data from the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan institution part of the Library of Congress). This figure is even more significant in comparative terms: it entails an extraordinary increase over the year before and is the second highest sales in a single year in history, in a year marked by economic crisis and recession. It seems that the main causes would be the tension with Iran and its impact on arms spending in the area of the Persian Gulf (Oman, Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia), with the buying of war planes and missile defence systems.

The second piece of news is the publication of Global Burden of Armed Violence 2011. Lethal Encounters, the leading report on the origins and outcomes of armed violence around the world using an integrated approach that considers the various forms of armed violence currently existing around the globe. Specifically, forms of violence in the context of conflicts or rebel uprisings, but also related to gang violence, killings associated with drug trafficking, transnational organised crime, and the various forms of non-political violence causing deaths and forcing people to leave their homes worldwide. The results, which for the first time dispense with compartmentalised accounts (interpersonal violence, organised violence, criminal violence…), can be summarised as follows: more than 526,000 people are killed each year as a result of lethal violence. A total of 369,000 people are killed by homicide, while only one in every 10 deaths is caused by armed conflict or terrorist activities. The report also contained other significant data: 58 countries in the world have violent death rates above 10 per 100,000 inhabitants. These countries account for almost two-thirds of all violent deaths, with El Salvador, Iraq and Jamaica as the areas most affected by lethal violence between 2004 and 2009. Homicides related to gangs and organised crime are significantly higher in Central and South America than in Asia or Europe. Moreover, there is a strong association between lethal violence and very negative development outcomes as well as quite negative results in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals

Both news items are related to two circumstances that have marked international relations for decades, one of which is closely related to the central issue of the journal: first, the loss of the monopoly by the State to control mass means of violence, a trait that Max Weber had used to define the State; and second, the dominance of private players in the realm of international security and in economic dimensions. Both traits are the basis, together with globalisation, of the complex relationship between business, armed conflicts, human rights, natural resources and, according to Global Burden 2011, lethal violence. As evidenced in the various articles, it is not enough to observe, analyse and condemn; action is needed. The conclusions of a recent international gathering attended by ICIP (Geneva 2012 UN discussion on the regulation of Private Military & Security Companies) say it very clearly: 'Further consider the possibility of an international regulatory framework, including the option of elaborating a legally binding instrument on the regulation of PMSC as well as other approaches, including international standards (…) to protect human rights'.