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10 Questions and 10 Answers concerning Small Arms

In the 21st Century, small arms such as those produced in Oberndorf have fallen into disrepute as weapons of mass destruction. The number of people killed by them is colossal in comparison with other weapons. Within the population, however, stubborn arguments for their production persist. The most important of these arguments are presented here with an attempt to rebut them. Additional information and comments are welcome.

The production and sale of small arms is a business like any other.
Small arms are not everyday articles, but are produced, sold and exported exclusively for the purpose of killing and exerting violence. For very good reasons, in contrast to the USA, there is no general consumer market open to everyone. No-one wants the violence of American civilian society in our country. These weapons bring death, destruction and suffering to all they hit. Not only single individuals, but whole populations, societies and countries are destroyed by the use and handling of these weapons. The earnings come solely from death and war with others. These weapons are therefore particularly destructive products.

If we don’t sell them, others will.
While it is true that if we merely prohibit the production and export of small arms in this country they will not disappear from the market, this argument opens the doors to lawlessness. If one comes to the conclusion that small arms have become one of the greatest plagues of humanity, then surely it is wrong to continue to deal in them.
Only when one country begins to call these products into question will it be possible to bring about a change in attitude. Participation in injustice is always a voluntary step, to which no-one can be enforced, especially not in order to make as much profit as possible from killing. Only social condemnation will force small arms from the market and eliminate them, as has already happened, for example, with chemical and biological weapons.

Police and the military need small arms in order to function.
They create peace and security.
Wherever small arms are produced, exported and used, violence against human beings increases. If small arms are traded either clandestinely or openly, then opposing sides in many third world countries (e.g. Latin America and Africa) arm themselves with them. Violence begins to spiral. This trend can be observed both in highly developed industrial countries with established controls, as well as in poorer countries.
As a rule, the ones who suffer are always those who are supposedly being protected.
Only consistent disarmament will force conflicting parties to develop alternative strategies for resolving their conflicts. Police and military will develop into violence reducing institutions of society, able to ultimately dissolve themselves. Small arms produce violence and war, insecurity and troubles wherever they are used. For a small, wealthy group of people they can bring at the most temporary pseudo-security and send out a phony signal for peace and freedom. For humanity, small arms are synonymous with persecution, violence, suffering and death.

It’s not the weapons that are the problem, it’s the people using them.
Its true that weapons only become deadly by the hand of the person using them.
However, the dynamics triggered by the production and use of weapons is not sufficiently recognized. People who are directly or indirectly exposed to the effects of small arms are traumatized and have great difficulty in developing any sense of security. Their feeling of powerlessness allows them to identify only with their enemy and its monopoly of violence. Therefore, the resort to violence measures increases enormously wherever violence exercises its greatest effect. The existence of small arms means that they are employed particularly in situations where they have had their most devastating impact.  It’s not the people who are the problem, but the existence of the means of violence under which people suffer and to which they therefore turn. The people affected can conceive no other means of security. This escalating vicious circle demands a resolute prohibition of production, since the mere collecting of weapons is a hopeless undertaking.

Small arms production secures jobs in the region.
A fairly safe and reasonably paid job is of elementary importance today for the working population. However, the question must be asked whether it is ethically acceptable to produce armaments. Employees in some armaments companies have therefore joined forces to develop meaningful alternatives; the problem is also being controversially discussed in the unions. The first important action steps would be to gather information, to increase awareness of the problem and to develop ideas in mutual and open discussions. Many components of weapons production are applicable to civilian fields. Apart from the fact that one has to ask oneself whether jobs in weapons production are amenable to the psychological and social health of the affected employees (since these jobs exist merely for the purpose of war and killing human beings), such jobs are extremely insecure. This was experienced in particular by arms-industry employees in Oberndorf, where jobs were cut by 80 % in this market segment due to rationalization and domestic market saturation (decline in demand). Small arms production is also extremely dependent on political and social demands. In Germany, it is only possible to continue to produce small weapons because the production facilities hold the monopoly. Heckel & Koch, for example, is dependent on one, sole, large-scale investor, who will only keep his capital in the company for as long as it shows a profit. Long-term secure jobs are only to be found in those companies that are flexible enough to diversify into mass-consumption products for civilian use.

We are not responsible for what a company (my employer) produces.
This argument is one part of the internal dissociation with which a weapons-producing company such as Heckel & Koch can stifle any discussion and cloak themselves in silence. Naturally, it is not a question of heaping the responsibility for their products onto individual employees and presenting them as the irresponsible “bad guys”. One can however expect them to consider the consequences of their products. To think about the alternatives would most likely be beneficial to psychological health. To engage in an open discussion with the dissidents would be a liberating experience for every single employee. It is patently evident that only a change in the public attitude in general ( as was the case with nuclear power plants) can lead to a cessation of small arms production. An early search for alternatives and the joint discussion of novel solutions can prove very helpful in quelling any fears that may arise in association with such transitions, instead of maintaining silence and avoiding such urgent questions by ducking away from them.

We export only within the scope of legal provisions and with the approval of the federal government.
How come, then, that in recent times, scandals have increasingly come to light in which small arms from Heckel & Koch have emerged in places where no would expect to find them- namely in all major and minor areas of conflict all over the world (e.g. Libya, Syria, Georgia, Mexico, etc.)? Either the approval practice is too lax or the export practice looks for legal and illegal loop-holes. In contrast to large-scale weapons, small arms products are so widely used because they do not require a complex infrastructure and can be very easily transported, even to the most remote part of the world. The handling of these weapons has become so refined that even children with little or no training have no difficulty in learning to use these fatal machines.

We need to maintain a high level of technology.
These days, the production of small weapons is in fact a matter of high-level technology. However, without much effort, many aspects of this technology could also be utilized for products for civilian purposes. Heckel & Koch employees would not even need much retraining and could be adequately employed in promising fields of high technology such as environment, energy, medicine and mobility.

He who keeps an army needs his own weapons production.
This assertion is regarded as an unwritten law. However, in reality it does not withstand scrutiny. There are many countries with their own army but no weapons production. What’s more, there is the question of whether an army really needs ever more deadly weapons. According to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, our army is for defence purposes only. As I have already remarked, the existence of an armed force for peace and security must be questioned. In addition, the existence of a weapons industry obscures the idea and the perception of new non-violent means to secure peace and balanced justice in a globalized world. The existence of weapons production in our own country virtually prevents us from achieving a new concept of security in a globalized world. It is anachronistic in the advancement of humanity.

It is not worth developing weapons solely for use by the German Federal Army or NATO troops. We can only maintain a domestic weapons industry by concentrating on exports.
The question is: Why do we need a weapons industry? Isn’t it superfluous? Even supposing that there is support for a domestic weapons industry, it can be limited by state control. The spread and export of weapons, with all the destructive consequences, are only possible due to commercialization and privatization of weapons production. If the consequences are unwelcome, then production should not be orientated towards export.

ViSDP: Ernst-Ludwig Iskenius, Großherzog-Karl-Str. 15 78050 Villingen