How America supplies the world with weapons
The United States is by far the world's largest dealer of arms, which often fall into the wrong hands.
It's not groundbreaking to propose that war, unfortunately, means business. While it was devastating, World War 2 also reduced the unemployment rate in the United States, still recovering from the Great Depression, from 25% to 10% almost immediately. People were put to work making weapons and supplies for the war effort, and the phenomenal economic boom of the postwar economy brought prosperity back to the country.
But how much business is war now for the United States? The country and the world at large have been experiencing a rather long period of relative peace, with armed conflicts more regional than global in nature. While the overall transfer of major weapons has not hit the highs of the 1980s, it has overall been growing in the past two decades. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the size of the global arms market is at about $100 billion. And it's dominated by the United States.
"Quite frankly," says Danny Sjursen, US Army strategist and historian, "the war—selling arms—is one of the last American industries that's left. It's one of the last things the United States does well, that we're still number one at—number one at dealing arms in the world."
Research by SIPRI shows that exports by the U.S. accounted for 34% of the major arms exports from 2013 to 2017. Russia was second at 22%.
Writing in The American Conservative, William D. Hartung notes that “the U.S. share has fluctuated between one-third and one-half of the global market for the past two decades, peaking at an almost monopolistic 70 percent of all weapons sold in 2011." Hartung also points out that “arms deals are a way of life in Washington" and that significant part of the government, starting with the president, “are intent on ensuring that American arms will flood the global market."
If you're wondering, most of the sales go to what are called “developing nations," which is a pretty broad category that includes all countries except the United States, Russia, European nations, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. According to the SIPRI report, America supplied arms to 98 countries, with most of them (49%) going to the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia buys the largest amount of arms sold by the U.S.—about 18% of the total. The next closest is the United Arab Emirates at 7.4%.
Here's where the largest arms sales by the U.S. go:
Arms in the wrong hands
With all the arms it's outputting into the world, there have been some alarming recent examples where America's weapons ended up in the wrong hands. As the U.S. combated the spread of ISIS since 2014, it has increasingly found itself fighting against its own weapons, reported Task and Purpose.
How did that happen? Lack of oversight of foreign-made weapons by the U.S. and its allies ended up causing a great influx of arms and ammo into Iraq and Syria. Once the weapons were in that region, “distributed like candy to battlefield partners," as writes Jared Keller, they often found their way into the hands of ISIS.
A 2015 Amnesty report showed that the majority of ISIS's weapons arsenal “comes from stockpiles captured from the U.S.-allied Iraqi military and Syrian rebels."
A three-year study published in late 2017 by the arms control group Conflict Armament Research (CAR) saw a clear connection between the weapons of international players and the strength of ISIS:
“International weapon supplies to factions in the Syrian conflict have significantly augmented the quantity and quality of weapons available to IS forces—in numbers far beyond those that would have been available to the group through battlefield capture alone," stated the report. “These findings are a stark reminder of the contradictions inherent in supplying weapons into armed conflicts in which multiple competing and overlapping non-state armed groups operate."
In what is a crazy loop demonstrating the intermingling of the international weapons trade, the report found that 90% of the 40,000 firearms and ammo caches CAR could document originated in Russia, China, and other countries that produced Warsaw Pact-era weapons, which were purchased by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and EU nations but eventually acquired by ISIS through unauthorized transfers.
An ISIS fighter with an American rifle. Credit: YouTube/VICE News.
ISIS, which also repurposed U.S. weapons to make new ones, like IEDs, is not the only unintended beneficiary of American arms. In Afghanistan, a similar scenario exists with U.S.-made weapons ending up in Taliban hands. According to a 2016 Department of Defense audit, bad record-keeping and regulations were responsible for letting up to half of the 1.5 million firearms supplied to Iraqi and Afghan security forces after 2002 go missing.
Where do we go from here in the arms trade? American arms exports are growing, expanding by 25% in 2013-17 compared to the previous four years, according to the SIPRI study. Russia's exports, on the other hand, fell by 7.1% over the same period. President Trump has made selling more weapons to allies a priority that he reiterates in calls to international leaders. It's hard to imagine this industry contracting right now but it's possible to call for much stricter oversight of where the arms are going and a broader discussion of how America makes its money. You know what happens when you live by the sword.
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Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
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