As part of my international relations module I have had to write an essay on the threat posed to security by small arms. Since my contributions to the blogosphere have of late been poor to say the least, here is a copy of said essay/discussion. I’d be intersted to hear people’s thoughts. Do you think arms pose the greatest threat? Or do nuclear weapons still present the greatest danger?

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The threat to security posed by small arms outweighs that of nuclear weapons by a considerable margin. Unlike nuclear weapons, small arms are easily of available, low in cost and simple to use. It is estimated that there are 600 million small arms in circulation worldwide as of 2006. Small arms provide a constant challenge to both human security and that of the state throughout the world through conflict, civil war, crime and genocide to name but a few. Whilst in theory a nuclear weapon could be used to achieve many of the objectives conventional small arms are used for, the reality is that nuclear weapons simply do not threaten security to the extent that small arms do on a daily basis.

For the purpose of this essay, “Small arms” are defined as “weapons that fire a projectile… [that may] be carried by an individual, a small number of people, or transported by a pack animal or a light vehicle”. “Security” will be defined as the measure of “the absence of threats to acquired values … [and] the absence of fear that such values will be attacked”. It is important to outline these definitions before justifying the threat of small arms, as the concept of security is a debated term and clarifying which definition is used will give the perspective from which the argument will be made.

From the creation of the first nuclear weapon to present day, there have been only two direct uses of nuclear weapons against another state or peoples. Both of these took place at the end of World War Two, dropped on Hiroshima on the 6th August 1945 and Nagasaki on the 9th of August 1945. Since the 6th/9th of August, it is estimated that the two bombs are responsible for approximately 354,394 deaths in the last 65 years. In contrast, small arms are responsible for approximately 400,000 deaths every year, of which at least 100,000 are in conflict zones. Based on this statistic, over the same period as the two nuclear attacks, small arms are potentially responsible for some 23,035,610 deaths worldwide. This shows that small arms pose a constant threat to human security across the world, as backed by a World Health Organisation (WHO) study that stated:

The threat of attack or violence alters social relationships in
communities and changes social behaviours as people are forced to adapt to increased risks as part of their daily lives.

The WHO also found that the existence and spread of small arms had “long term implications… [for the] health, social and psychological development [of] individuals, families, communities and countries”. This finding directly opposes the definition of security, as individuals are forced to change their behaviours in response to threats to their acquired social and emotional values. Small arms are now recognised to be so detrimental to human security that the availability and use of small arms is now recognised as a “Global Health Problem” by the World Health Assembly.

The threat to human development is not the only way in which small arms threaten human security. The availability of small arms also enables other illegal acts to be committed. For example, small arms have played a key role in facilitating genocide, a blatant abuse of human security. This challenge to an individual’s religious, ethnic or political values has been repeated across the world, including places such as Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, Bosnia and Cambodia. In Rwanda alone small arms contributed to the genocide of some 500,000 Rwandans. The perceived threat of nuclear weapons for these people would have been almost none existent. On the other hand, small arms dictated their very lives.

The abundance of small arms in parts of the world continue to threaten the security of individual’s futures, as small arms postpone and divert money away from vital development projects. The existence of armed factions within a state or region can cause an increase in military spending. This spending uses money that could otherwise be spent on developing and protecting the future security of its citizens through healthcare or education. The imminent threat that armed factions pose leaves the population in a state of fear and uncertainty. One should also consider the threat that states themselves can play in threatening the security of their own people through direct military acts or through the police and sponsored gangs. These mediums allow states to manipulate and to challenge the security of its citizens. In Zimbabwe for example, Zanu-PF gangs intimidated and coerced voters before and after their presidential elections, threatening both the physical security of ordinary Zimbabweans and obstructing them from voting freely and fairly (a challenge to their acquired values of democracy).

The availability and possession of substantial arms also makes it possible for national or regional tensions to expand into civil war. An example of this is the Sudanese Civil War. The conflict has killed approximately 400,000 people, although many more civilians have died as a result of starvation and disease. The impact of conflict on human security has been studied by the Red Cross, who found that “the ease of access to small arms increased the risk of civilian deaths substantially”. Without access to small arms, many of these conflicts would be unable to be acted out, securing the safety and security of thousands of people by avoiding death, displacement and damage to a state’s socio-economic development. The Red Cross also concluded that the availability of small arms and their ability to ignite and perpetuate conflict contributed to civilian deaths accounting for 60% of all deaths in modern day warzones.

Alongside their threat to human security, small arms also pose a grave threat to state security. Due to the availability of small arms and a lack of effective weapon constraints, small arms easily and frequently fall into the hands of groups that wish to challenge the recognised authority of the state. One tool for measuring the threat of small arms is to follow the price of an AK 47 assault rifle across world regions. Studies have been conducted in which the price of a rifle is found to correlate with the probability of civil war. Unsurprisingly, where AK 47 assault rifles are plentiful and cheap, the probability of civil war is very high. A study of AK 47 prices found that regions in which civil war had occurred or had the potential to occur averaged a price of $US348, compared to the significantly higher price in low risk regions of $US655. The difference in price highlights the role of small arms in undermining the security of those regions, mainly through a lack of proper arms controls. Without easy access to small arms, it would be very difficult for any group to threaten the security of a state and subsequently the security of its citizens. In comparison, nuclear weapons are subject to high control and scrutiny. They are subject to constant surveillance by neighbouring states, as well as being difficult to procure and operate. This is another reason why small arms pose a greater threat to security than nuclear weapons.

The greatest threat to both human and state security is the threat posed by small arms. They are recognised by many institutions as a primary threat to both human security and an obstacle to socio-economic development. The ease of which small arms can be obtained and their ease of use means that they can be operated by anybody, in almost any environment. In the areas where potential threats to a state’s security are greatest, small arms are cheap and in good supply. In regions where this is the case, civil wars are a common phenomenon, causing mass displacement, famine and disease in their wake. It is recognised that small arms are directly linked to the loss of millions of lives across the globe, as well being responsible for the maiming of millions more, the majority of which are sustained by civilians. Small arms also allow factions within societies to control and manipulate others, threatening citizen’s rights and values through intimidation and violence. It is is for these reasons and the statistics behind them that small arms cause a greater threat to security than nuclear weapons.

The release of Lord Browne’s report into tuition fees does not make happy reading for students, especially those looking towards university in the near future. The cost of tution fees at top “red brick” universities could potentially double under the proposal, with £6000 p/a being the top price a university could charge without facing a reduction in support from state funding. Currently students like myself are paying around £3,255 a year in tuition fees, a substantial sum for an individual who has yet to build any substantial capital of their own. Agreeably the majority of students are supported by their parents, but the burden in terms of debt is still predominantly on the student themselves. If that price doubled p/a for a top university, that is potentially another £8325 in cost on a standard three year degree.

The idea that a free market system would best solve the University dilema is to me totally irresponsible. Free markets do not always result in the best possible outcomes, certainly not for the allocation of students to universities. What a free market will do will seperate the “haves” from the “have nots”. Where places at competitive universities will not be allocated on merit, ability and potential but on an ability to pay. With this pool of “haves” the university will then look at the previously ignored factors, the ones that count. We are still in a position in the current system where lower income families and their children still feel that university is beyond their capabilities, that it is something that they cannot afford. If Lord Browne’s proposals are inacted then it will dis-incentivise many more prospective students from applying to top universities, even if on merit they have more right to be there than a more wealthy student who feels able to carry the financial burden.

However, it will be the middle income families that will be hit the hardest, as is so often the case by changes such as these. I am in no doubt that if these changes are introduced that they will be accompanied by a scheme to support those at the very bottom, possibly negating the worst effects of my previous point. But there will be nothing for those in the middle, whom will be pressed into further debt and pressure as they attempt to keep pace with climbing fees. Is it right that middle-classes suffer the most because they aren’t the worst off? I think many of the families that voted Tory (or Lib Dem) may well change once they feel the pinch of the new proposals, especially for those with multiple children with apirations of higher education.

After reading around Browne’s new proposal, it makes the graduate tax look a great deal better than it did a a month or so ago. At least with the tax the rate you pay is tied to your earnings. Under the increased fee system, a 23 year old with a degree in nursing could potentially have the same level of debt as a graduate with a degree in accounting & finance. I wonder who will find the debt the biggest burden.

To be frank, reading about the review has got me quite down. As a new student at a well respected “red brick” institution, I am already experiencing the benefits of attending a good university. The idea that an individual may not get the same opportunity to access the same educational establishment as me purely as a result of financial restriction is disgusting. It is elitist and will lead to a even greater divide in our society. The Lib Dems look incredibly uncomfortable about the whole situation following an election campaign in which students were to be protected, but this move is clearly a Conservative innitiative. I sincerely hope that Browne’s proposals are not innacted as I fear that it will be a crushing blow to equal opportunities here in the UK and for the future of what I thought was a progressive society.

Today Vince Cable voiced once more that the treasury is looking to cut spending on funding research projects here in the UK, aiming to focus on projects that are “commercially useful”. I’m not surprised that research has come under scrutiny from the treasury, but I can’t help but feel that it is short sighted to cut research that has the potential to drive the restructuring of our economy that we so sorely need. The idea of “commercially useful” is in my view the governments way of indirectly saying that it will support economically beneficial research. But the fact of the matter is, if a research project hasn’t begun and is looking for funding, how does anyone know whether the results will be “commercially useful”?

No one is clairvoyant at either the treasury nor the research council, yet it would appear they are going to be able to tell which projects are worthwhile. That aside, I would expect that projects and departments that do produce “commercially useful” research are already maximising their research in the private sector to raise much needed funds. The assertion by Cable that universities should endeavor to maximise post research revenues is ridiculous, since most already will be. Since many projects that in their infancy appear to lack “commercial usefulness” yet result in discoveries and advancements that could not have been foreseen, we risk losing out on potential gains. When you look back at many of the great advancements in technology and science, many came through accidents and mistakes whilst looking for something entirely different.

The potential for a cut in research funding has another potential drawback. The UK has many top research departments located within many of our universities, driving forward technology and our understanding and equipping our graduates with the latest knowledge and expertise. If funding is cut top lecturers and researchers may well look elsewhere to undertake their research, providing a longer term decline in top researchers within the UK. Recognition as a world leading research establishment is not a reputation built overnight and I fear that these cuts could have long term effects that directly oppose the idea of focusing on support for the economy in advancing it structurally and enabling a strong and well equipped labour force.

I may be completely wrong: as per usual this is a complex issue. But as a student on the cusp of starting a degree at a university with strong research links in areas such as science and engineering, I can’t help but feel a growing concern for the opportunities I may have when I come to look at continuing my study post-degree.

It is now approximately 6:30pm on a rather sunny Tuesday evening. I had a nice bit of dinner and watched a programme on the history of body armour in the military (too much spare time?). As I sit here now, I am reeling from a blow dealt to me through email, from a rather impersonal email from Andrew Mitchell, the new minister in charge of the Department for International Development. No, it wasn’t addressed to me personally, but it has left me saddened that the recession and the “current economic climate” has led to the demise of one of the 2 magazines that I read on a regular basis.

Developments Magazine” has become the latest victim as Government tightens its belt, cutting out “unnecessary marketing from public projects”. I’ve been told the magazine cost £400,000 a year to run, money which I am told will now be used to directly fund DFID projects instead. If I wasn’t such a sceptic I wouldn’t feel so bad, but I fear that rather than an additional £400,000 being spent funding projects that the DFID will lose £400,000 worth of funds. Ring-fenced eh?

I have been parked in my kitchen for the last couple of days babysitting my new dog. As a result, I have listened to a lot of Radio 4 (which is no bad thing). Amidst programmes about the poets of Shetland Island and the recent cricket scandal, I found myself listening to a phone in discussion regarding organ donors and the availability of infomation regarding the health of the “unknown” donor. The debate has risen following the criteria for viable donor organs being widened, increasing the potential for receiving organs that recipients may not accept should they know the health of their donors.

Clearly people who are waiting for donors are incredibly ill and the donation of an organ is a matter of life and death. Yet it would seem that for many potential receipients, knowing that the donor was a smoker or had other forms of illness could be enough to make them turn down the organ. I understand that given the option, I wouldn’t want a lung donation from a smoker. But if the alternative was an ongoing deteriation in my health and eventually death, that organ is surely still the best option? I can’t imagine the dificulties of being in the position of a waiting donor patient (nor do I want to), but I couldn’t imagine not accepting the organ and taking the risk. Some of us are more risk averse than others and there is a huge spectrum of personal views and religious influence. But thinking rationally, if you were willing to take the risk of the complex operation in the first place than surely taking a chance on the quality of the organ is also worthwhile. The fact that you need a donation suggests your own organ is in a pretty bad way.

Given the rise of these”marginal organs”, it is to be expected that there will be great concern. But given that there is such a shortage of organs, surely being lucky enough to get one at all means it is worth the risk. Marginal organs do carry a higher risk than recognised “healthy organs”, but the probability of months lived with a new organ versus those without is almost always longer. I am all for allowing the donors to make the choice (after all they are the ones receiving it), but despite the potentially suspect nature of somee organs (and these are in the minority), the difference between the risk of future complications and death seems an easy choice to me.

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There’s a new arrival at my house. His name is Bobby and he’s a six week old lab/retriever, the new guide dog recruit to the Andover branch. He’s been a bit ill today. Will be a shame to leave him behind when I go to uni 😦

I’m going to start writing properly I promise. (really). Tomorrow anyhow!

I was dosing in the last hour of work today, musing of my Friday newspaper that was discussing the graduate tax that now appears to have been shelved. It has got a lot of bad press, as just about anything that is labeled “tax” or “charge” by the government. As a Lib Dem voter at the last election I have been disappointed that Government has turned towards higher education in this way, but on reflection I suppose that we have to raise some revenues and cut costs somewhere.

I have read many people saying that the graduate tax would penalise students and potentially put off potential HE students. I don’t agree with this at all. My understanding of the tax is that the level of repayment would be linked to the level of income that a graduate would be earning. If this is the case, why is would it put off students in the long run? It is well known reality that the workplace is becoming a tougher and tougher environment to break into and a degree is practically a prerequisite to most jobs. Therefore, whilst it may be unpopular the majority of individuals will recognise that the benefits of a degree still outweigh the cost of the progressive tax on their incomes.

Turning to the idea of the progressive system (where higher earners pay more) again seems reasonable. It is already the case that high earners pay more income tax, so the idea is nothing new. Under this system, there are a number of benefits:

  1. By allowing graduates in lower paying jobs to contribute less to the tax, those with degrees in lower earning but highly valued jobs such as nursing or teaching will not be pushed towards higher earning jobs in the private sector. I’m not sure to what extent this is true, but I imagine that for both vocational professions such as these there is an element of attraction beyond the salary and minimising their graduate tax would help keep them there where society can gain the greatest benefit. There are many highly qualified individuals work do excellent work for less money than they could earn elsewhere and that is good for us as a society. For this reason, I think it makes sense that the state caters for a greater proportion of their costs since the work they provide post degree is important and necessary. Clearly this argument has limitations (surgeon salaries anyone?) but even surgeons are providing a highly skilled service and reaching that level within the medical profession would occur long after they finish paying graduate tax.
  2. We know that the university system is in a bad way. I don’t like the idea of paying for education, but I think that is a concept that given the new economic outlook we need to get used to. If we need to give universities more financial support then I guess a graduate tax isn’t a terrible way of doing it (at least partially). It is certainly fairer than say raising everybody’s tax, where non university-goers would pay too. University graduates on average earn up to twice that of non graduates across their working lives, so in the long run paying a bit back seems reasonable, especially if you are earning a five or six figure sum in a top law firm. After all, you wouldn’t have the job without that degree. But at the same time, lets be realistic, how many graduates get jobs that well paid?
  3. I think the tax will put some individuals going to university, but I think this is a good thing. I’m no elitist but I think that currently there is an over subscription to higher education. Many go to do degrees that do little to increase their prospects and leave them with debt and wondering what the last three years were all about. I am all for social equality and narrowing the gaps between the top and bottom, but it is a simple fact that some people aren’t cut out for university. The opportunity cost of doing a worthless degree versus learning a trade for the same amount of time is a no brainer to me. I think the emphasis on encouraging greater subscription to HE is good, but it has gone too far. Maybe this graduate tax will make people consider the options properly (though this isn’t easy). I think a better careers system in colleges and secondary schools could help with this problem.

There’s plenty of arguments against what I have said, but these are only my thoughts. It’s clearly a difficult situation, with no easy solution. But if we are to continue to have quality HE provided (on the whole) then more will need to be done to support them financially. Compared to the USA, our HE system is a bargain. A year at MIT (Ok, it is a top university) without a scholarship is around $75,000 and that is subsidised. Sure the US has a warped view of public provision (just look at their health care) but still, it makes the UK seem a whole lot fairer.

Below an interview with Vince Cable of the idea of the tax: (sorry that it is ITV News)