An Investigation into the
Geopolitics of Arms Trade
setup installation weapons exhibition

The Weapons’ Reputation questions the integrity of the arms trade as a legal transfer of weapons among countries.

Any armament employed in crimes, conflicts, or wars (except for weapons of mass destruction) is categorized as a Conventional Weapon, and its use is regulated by International Humanitarian Law. The production, sale, and transfer of these armaments is structured like any other type of commerce, with standards, codes of conduct, and laws, which are not properly enforced.  

Underlining the lack of accountability of companies and governments, the project examines the ongoing conflict in Yemen through the type of weaponry employed. Who should be held responsible for the continuation of a war that has led to the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, and is fought with weapons manufactured in wealthy northern countries?

yemen conflict geopolitics middle east

Houthi rebels in Sana’a after a reported airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition on Dec. 5, 2017 AFP-Getty Images

The Yemeni Civil War (2015-present)

Defined as one of the many proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the conflict sees the two countries militarily involved in a local clash between the Shia group Houthis and the local Sunni government. Five years of war led to the worst humanitarian crisis in the world worsened even by the Covid-19 epidemic. Despite the many allegations of violating humanitarian law and an arms embargo imposed in April 2015, thousands of weapons continue to be delivered yearly to the suppliers of the two belligerents.

The research took in exam only the forces of the Houthis and the Yemeni national army, guided by president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi (positioned by the Gulf Cooperation Council). But a third actor plays an important role: Al Qaeda is present in Yemen since 2009, known as AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula). Saudi Arabia pressures its control over Yemen (and the Middle East) to limit the spread of Shia and Jihadist groups.

film shot aircraft setup installation movie

The film narrates the war from the perspective of three weapons: an American laser-guided bomb, a combat aircraft manufactured by four European countries, and a missile of Iranian origin. The United States and Europe military support the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arms Emirates, while Iran backs-up the Houthis. It is from the debris of weapons that survived to the impact with their target that it is possible to investigate not only who "pulled the trigger" but also who designed, produced, acquired and delivered it.

The Repository of Weapons is a selection of arms transferred to the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi militia and employed in the conflict in Yemen, visualized as investigative case files. Fourteen dossiers for 14 manufacturing countries, listing weapons systems and components exported after the beginning of the conflict, and 25 video-evidence to prove their use against civilians and civilian infrastructure.

The Arms Trade Treaty has entered into force since December 2014 to establish common standards for the arms import-export and to prohibit sales to states that could use them for humanitarian crimes. All the weapons listed, and therefore the manufacturing countries, should be taken in the exam.

Go to the Repository ☞

The research thesis investigates conventional weapons through their military, economic, and political aspects.

Arms manufacturers are deeply rooted in the local industry: for the number of employees, for the products, parts, and technology developed as Research and Development and then flown into the Defence sector. Weapons are relevant economic goods used both as political tools to tie alliances and to bolster the reputation of states among other countries. To what degree is the business of arms trade influencing foreign relations and subsequently fuelling conflicts? And how can the role of weapons be highlighted in current events?

As a case study, the conflict in Yemen has been documented through the perspective of three weapons: by tracing their route, from the countries of origin to the end-users, it is possible to outline the dynamics of warfare, and which nations have a political and economic interest to feed it.

The publication is available here.
Edition: March 2020.

An Investigation into the Geopolitics of Arms Trade

The project has been realised by Cinzia Bongino as a graduation project during the Master in Information Design at Design Academy Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Publication and exhibition: Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven, October 2020.

Special thanks for the introduction to the topic to Bellingcat (Benjamin Strick), the EU Arms Project (Ludo Hekman, Klaas van Dijken), ваят, Leone Hadavi.

[email protected]

© Code & Design by Cinzia Bongino,