May 2017 Books of Notes

Indefensible: Seven Myths That Sustain the Global Arms Trade
Paul Holden, ed., Zed Books, February 2017, 242 pages

In an unflinching assessment of the arguments that support the global trade in conventional weapons, editor Paul Holden holds this new book up to its title, finding such myths to be indefensible. Holden, the director of investigations at Corruption Watch UK, pulls together advice from multiple contributors to cover a wide array of issues, citing examples from the 20th century to current conflicts. He points to the blowback from U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, an arms race that contributed to World War I, and cost overruns for the F-35 fighter jet program in making a case that higher defense spending does not increase security nor is it necessarily driven by security concerns. Subsequent chapters delve into the difficulty of controlling where and how weapons are used, corruption in the arms trade, and the dangers of the secrecy that surrounds the business. A chapter devoted to dispelling the idea that the defense industry is critical to the economy finds that such spending makes up just a fraction of total economic activity and in comprehensive studies has an ambiguous or negative impact on growth. Further, he says that public investment in health, education, the green economy, and tax cuts creates more jobs than military spending and that advances in commercial off-the-shelf technology has diminished the value of military research to economic growth. The final section is written as motivation for advocates, tackling feelings that change is impossible and providing recommendations for improving transparency and better alignment of spending with threats. Although critics might draw different conclusions from its examples, this work makes a valuable contribution to discussions about curtailing the arms trade by pulling together so many arguments in one place. —JEFF ABRAMSON

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Disarmament Under International Law
John Kierulf, McGill-Queen's University Press, March 2017, 276 pp.

As the threats posed by unconventional and conventional weapons persist well into the 21st century, the body of international and humanitarian law and related institutions has evolved to keep pace. In this up-to-date and accessible guide, retired Danish diplomat John Kierulf succinctly describes the development and implementation of and compliance with major international disarmament and arms control instruments, institutions, and legal norms. The book focuses on nuclear weapons and nuclear arms control agreements, but also covers agreements designed to reduce the risks posed by chemical and biological weapons and missiles and drones, as well as heavy weapons, small arms, the global arms trade, and cyber- and space weaponry. Kierulf's volume is an excellent introduction to the "disarmament machinery" that was created to negotiate new instruments on weapons with adverse security and humanitarian impacts. The volume helpfully takes into account the often overlooked role of the United Nations and Security Council resolutions, along with formal and informal legal norms and the role of international humanitarian concerns. The author bemoans the lack of progress toward new arms control and disarmament agreements and the erosion of some existing ones. He embeds each section with brief, practical commentary reflecting his experience as a policy practitioner. Disarmament Under International Law is an essential reference tool to navigate the world of international arms control. —DARYL G. KIMBALL

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