(Reprinted with permission
from the Resist
Newsletter 259 Elm Street, Somerville, MA 02144) "Resist"
has been funding social change since 1967.
As the end of the millenium approaches, the United States
is doing well, globally speaking-acting as economic exemplar,
rich old uncle, and global policeman. Increasingly, the U.S.
has added another leadership role: generous and enthusiastic
arms merchant to the world.
Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States has
dominated the global arms market. During 1994-1996, the United
States exported $67.3 billion dollars worth of armaments: 55%
of global arms exports, quadruple the share of its closest competitor.1 With one year left to go, we have already
sold tens of billions of dollars more weapons during the 1990s
then we did in the entire 1980s.2
Our reward is weapons globalization-like McDonalds and Coca-Cola,
American arms and training have found their way to virtually
every country on earth. Of the 24 countries which experienced
at least one major armed conflict in 1997, the United States
sold arms or provided military training to 21 of them at some
point during the 1990s.3 In exceptions
such as Iran and Afghanistan, plenty of U.S. hardware no doubt
remains from previous decades.
But omnipresence of U.S. weaponry hasn't come easily. The
global arms trade has shrunk since the 1980s, due to the end
of the cold war and economic turmoil. Governments have been buying
less weaponry, resulting in excess arms industry capacity. Inventory
cuts have also left many countries with large holdings of surplus
weaponry; between 1990-95, for instance, the United States exported
an estimated $7 billion of surplus arms for free or deeply discounted.
Regional economic instability has further tightened the market
for U.S. arms. In East Asia, many U.S. customers are feeling
the pinch and cutting back on weapons imports. Most Latin American
countries, only recently allowed to buy U.S. advanced weapons,
have so far wisely decided that big new weapons systems are not
a top priority right now (though U.S. arms gifts are another
matter). Europe and the Middle East, the main buyers of big-ticket
items, absorbed nearly two thirds of the total dollar value of
U.S. arms exports during 1994-96.
Yet despite these constraints, the United States has dramatically
increased its market share and even increased its total arms
exports (see chart). That the United States can export so much
so consistently is a tribute to U.S. weapons manufacturers' advanced
technology, governmental support-and willingness to cater to
In today's commercially driven arms bazaar, U.S. customers
demand special price and financing packages, technology to produce
subcomponents, components, or entire weapons systems themselves,
and ultra-high-tech weaponry-and they get it.
SPREADING WEAPONS AROUND THE WORLD
Arms transfers have been a primary instrument of U.S. foreign
policy since the Nixon Doctrine, an "easy" way to win
friends and influence people. Recipient nations are said to need
U.S. arms in order to take responsibility for legitimate self-defense.
In reality, the U.S. uses arms exports and joint military exercises
to gain access to overseas bases and to establish the infrastructure
and interoperability necessary for U.S. intervention. Other strategic
rationales include maintaining "regional stability"
and preserving the U.S. defense industrial base, regardless of
the risk that weapons exports may undermine regional peace and
Recent arms deals in the works reveal an increased willingness
to sell top technology regardless of the effects of proliferation:
Middle Eastern countries have been regular U.S. customers,
but low oil prices have intensified competition for their patronage.
Pentagon officials have recently allowed introduction of Advanced
Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles-a deadly state-of-the-art missile
system-and other ultra-high-tech armaments to the region. Since
first agreeing to sell AMRAAMs to Saudi Arabia and Israel in
April 1998, the Pentagon has offered:
$3.2 billion of arms to Egypt, including the most advanced version
of the F-16, paid for with U.S. military aid;
and associated technology to Bahrain, worth $110 million;
billion of AMRAAMs, ammunition and bombs to complement a previous
$6-8 billion F-16 fighter jet sale to the United Arab Emirates.
The U.A.E. has also demanded the computer coding for the F-16s
which would enable it to modify or replicate the jet's intelligence.
If the U.A.E. gets the source code, other buyers will be sure
to want it too.
Secretary of Defense William Cohen explained that he had to
sell friendly Gulf states whatever they requested because otherwise
they "would take it as an insult" and seek another
supplier. Meanwhile, some in the Arab media allege that the U.S.
is "exploiting the issue of the so-called Iraq-Iran danger"
to sell more arms in the Gulf.
In Europe, Turkey, another long-time customer, is also up
for a major purchase of U.S. equipment: they would like to buy
145 attack helicopters worth about $3.5 billion. When this deal
was originally proposed, vociferous criticism by human rights
and arms control groups forced the State Department to issue
a conditional license requiring that Turkey improve its human
rights record in order to buy U.S. models. State, Amnesty International,
and Human Rights Watch have all documented the use of U.S.-supplied
weapons in the commission of political and human rights abuses,
including indiscriminate attacks on Kurdish civilians. The economic
incentives for approving the sale may, however, impede an honest
assessment of Turkey's progress.
Meanwhile, the US is also arming Greece, Turkey's main rival,
with proposed deals worth over $5 billion in 1998. Perhaps arming
both sides equally is what is meant by the Pentagon's oft-used
phrase, "the proposed sale ... will not affect the basic
military balance in the region."
THE SMALL (BUT DEADLY) STUFF
Next to multi-million dollar missile systems, "small"
arms may seem like a minor problem, yet they are thought to be
responsible for most combat-related deaths today. Massive stocks
of these durable, portable weapons that were transferred to conflict
zones in the 1980s are now being re-circulated around southern
and eastern Africa, South Asia and Central America. As recently
as 1997, the State Dept. issued licenses for small arms to such
countries as Bulgaria, Colombia, El Salvador, Indonesia, Mexico,
South Africa, and Turkey, all of which are currently involved
in internal conflict, human rights abuses, or willful diversion
to suspect third parties. Recent small arms sales recently to
Albania, Bosnia, and FYR of Macedonia could come back to haunt
us sooner than we think.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced at a September
1998 United Nations meeting that arms exporting states "bear
some responsibility" for a trade which "fuels conflict,
fortifies extremism and destabilizes entire regions" in
Africa and worldwide. So far, however, the U.S. administration
has taken few concrete actions to live up to this responsibility.
MILITARY TRAINING AND ASSISTANCE
U.S. provision of training and equipment to foreign militaries
has long been a cause for concern to human rights and peace activists.
Last year, the Defense Department (DOD) trained over 7,000 members
of 120 foreign militaries, at a cost of $50 million, as part
of its "International Military Education and Training"
(IMET) program. Some past graduates of the "School of the
Americas," a Spanish-language training center run by the
U.S. military, have gone on to commit notorious human rights
crimes. Yet these better known training programs are just the
tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of millions of dollars are allocated
each year to the DOD and State Department for foreign militaries
under counternarcotics and "special operations" training
programs. Colombia and Mexico, two leading recipients, have received
millions of dollars worth of training and equipment to help fight
the "drug war."
President Clinton made history this year when he apologized
for the U.S. role in training and arming Guatemalan troops who
committed acts of genocide against the indigenous population.
"The United States must not repeat that mistake," he
warned. Yet his administration seems reluctant to take his advice
seriously. After Congress in 1992 banned provision of IMET to
Indonesia due to human rights abuses in East Timor and elsewhere,
the DOD evaded Congressional mandate by conducting "joint
exercises" between U.S. and Indonesian military forces.
YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK
U.S. weapons and training could not have made it so far around
the world without the help of U.S. taxpayers. U.S major weapons
systems occupy the "top end" of the global arms market,
and many poorer countries are unable to afford U.S. weapons outright.
For those unable or unwilling to purchase U.S. arms directly,
there are a variety of options. In its FY2000 budget request,
the Clinton administration asked for $6.5 billion in military
aid, including: $3.4 to underwrite foreign purchases of U.S.
arms; $2.4 billion in "security assistance," such as
arming Iraqi opposition groups; $295 million for counternarcotics
training and equipment; and $52 million for international military
education and training (IMET). Taxpayer subsidized loans and
surplus U.S. military equipment are also readily available.
ECONOMIC BENEFITS... AND COSTS
In the post-Cold War era, U.S. arms manufacturers appeal to
more overtly commercial motives for subsidies, export promotion,
and military assistance. Arms sales are promoted as a way to
cut down on U.S. military costs. John Douglass, president of
the Aerospace Industries Association, testified that "increasingly,
the Department of Defense looks to our [...] foreign sales of
military equipment to keep crucial defense lines open and reduce
unit costs to the military."
Military assistance and training, in turn, bring economic
benefits to arms makers. As then-Assistant Secretary of State
for Inter-American Affairs Alexander Watson explained to Congress
candidly, "[training programs] bring certain economic benefits
as well; they give Latin and Caribbean officials experience using
American hardware, and thus can influence their future procurement
decisions." And whenever Congress threatens to veto a particularly
objectionable arms sale, industry representatives are quick to
argue that refusal to export weapons will cost American defense
The Clinton administration has clearly taken this logic to
heart, and does what it can to promote U.S. arms sales. Arms
exporters have been pressing for reform of the government's export
control system, complaining about the length of time an arms
sale takes to make it through the requisite layers of bureaucracy
and Congressional oversight. The Defense Department has responded
with elaborate plans to streamline and speed up the arms sale
process-it even proposed that weapons be promoted on the web
in a planned DOD "Electronic Mall."
Yet the rationales of the defense lobby don't take the full
costs of exporting weapons and assistance into account. According
to William Hartung's report Welfare for Weapons Dealers: the
Hidden Costs of the Arms Trade, the American public spent an
estimated $7.6 billion to promote and finance weapons exports
in 1995 alone. Taxpayers underwrite the research and development
of weapons and employ a Pentagon sales force of several thousand
people here and abroad.
"Offsets," the trade concessions required by foreign
buyers as conditions of sale in today's competitive arms market,
significantly reduce the supposed trade and jobs benefits of
arms exporting. A recent Commerce Deptartment report found that
between 1993 and 1996, U.S. defense companies entered into offset
agreements valued at $15.1 billion in support of $29.1 billion
worth of defense contracts. In other words, for every dollar
a U.S. company received from an arms sale associated with offsets,
it returned 52 cents worth of offset obligations to the purchasing
Offsets may include agreements that will eventually increase
competition in the defense market by granting licenses to recipient
countries to produce parts or entire weapons systems. For instance,
both Greece and Turkey would like to develop an indigenous capacity
to build sophisticated weaponry. Taking advantage of the tight
arms market, they demand up to 100% in returned investment on
major arms deals, often in the forms of co-production deals.
Lockheed Martin already produces many F-16 fighter jets in Turkey,
and Boeing has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Greece
covering the "future production" of F-15s and "new
production and maintenance capabilities." This practice
not only exports US jobs abroad, but will also result in even
greater global surplus weapons production.
Finally, everyone ultimately pays a higher DOD bill because
of exports. Weapons proliferation, instability and warfare in
the developing world are used to justify Pentagon budget requests.
The development and production of next-generation U.S. weapons
are rationalized by DOD officials as necessary to keep up with
the high-tech weapons now being shipped to developing countries.
WHO'S TAKING RESPONSIBILITY?
The practice of treating lethal goods like just another product
to be promoted and sold is problematic on a more fundamental
level. While the United States is very concerned about its responsibility
to prevent nuclear proliferation, there is no corresponding acknowledgment
of the danger of filling the world up with conventional weaponry,
even when, as in the case of Iraq or Somalia, U.S supplied arms
later "boomerang" back to hit American troops.
Arms manufacturers take refuge in the amorality of the bottom
line-- they will sell whatever foreign countries willing to buy.
They don't need to worry about the global effects of their products,
they claim, because the U.S. government screens to prevent the
sales that would contribute to proliferation or could fall into
the wrong hands.
The administration, in turn, washes its hands of responsibility
for evaluating the overall effects of arms sales. As Defense
Secretary Cohen said during a recent arms sales promotion tour
in the Gulf, "to the extent that each country feels they
need to have measures to protect its population and its military,
then certainly we are in a position to, and are eager to, provide
whatever equipment that we can."
Both the arms industry and the Clinton administration are
reluctant to impose additional controls on U.S. arms exports
or military assistance. Someone will be sure to sell to those
who wish to buy, reasons the defense lobby, and unilateral controls
would be "damaging [to] our industry, while seldom preventing
the buyer from obtaining the desired technology or commodity."
Despite the uniquely dominant U.S. role in the arms market, they
claim, we still cannot risk losing market share over mere principles.
CAMPAIGNING FOR A CODE OF CONDUCT
An "Arms Sales Code of Conduct" is a solution championed
by a coalition of arms control, religious, and human rights organizations.
Associated with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Oscar Arias' international
code of conduct campaign, it was introduced in the U.S. Congress
by Representatives Cynthia McKinney and Dana Rohrabacher. The
Code would prohibit arms exports to any government that does
not meet the criteria set out in the law unless the President
exempts a country and Congress does not overturn the waiver.
In order to be eligible for U.S. weapons or military assistance,
countries would need to meet the following criteria: democratic
government; respect for human rights of citizens; non-aggression
(against other states); and full participation in the U.N. Register
of Conventional Arms.
The Code's criteria are all primary foreign policy tenets
given lip service by past and present administrations. Nevertheless,
an estimated 84% of U.S. arms transfers during 1991-95 went to
states which did not meet the Code's criteria, according to analysis
by Demilitarization for Democracy. The Code of Conduct would
not necessarily prevent any given sale, but it would require
the administration to publicly acknowledge instances in which
it decided that closing an arms deal was more important than
democratic principles. The burden of proof would shift toward
those who wished to export.
The Code of Conduct's greatest success to date came on June
10, 1997, when the House of Representatives unanimously passed
the Code as an amendment to the State Department Authorization
Act. It was subsequently killed in conference committee.
Late in the summer of 1998, Representative Sam Gejdenson introduced
a "multilateral code of conduct" which imitated parts
of the McKinney/Rohrabacher bill. Code of Conduct supporters
dubbed this rival proposal the "faux Code," as it did
nothing to alter current U.S. exports or military aid. Pro-Code
advocates feared that Gejdenson's code would fulfill the arms
industry lobby's stated desire to "euthanize the Code."
Letters from Oscar Arias, McKinney, and grassroots activists
kept this from reaching a vote in Congress. This year, McKinney
and Gejdenson agreed upon the introduction a compromise bill
that would require additional transparency of the human rights
and democracy records of countries receiving U.S. arms exports
and assistance. McKinney will still introduce her more substantial
Code of Conduct later this year.
The vast majority of the general public supports a U.S. Code
of Conduct, but passively. The major players- the military, the
Clinton administration, the defense lobby-are not going to reverse
current export policy any time soon. Clearly, no major progress
will be made on the issue of limiting the global arms trade without
significant new grassroots pressure.
1. Unless otherwise noted, arms export statistics come from
World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 1997, US Arms
Control and Disarmament Agency, December 1998. There are several
annual sources of information about the international arms trade,
each measuring something slightly different. The ACDA report
doesn't have the most recent yearly information, but it does
include an estimate of industry-to-government direct commercial
sales (DCS)-for tens of billions of dollars of licenses are issued
but actual final sales are uncertain.
2. Foreign Military Sales Facts, Defense Security Cooperation
Agency, various years.
3. Based on a list of major armed conflicts in 1997 from the
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 1998 Yearbook.
Center for Defense Information-1779
Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20005, (202) 332-0600.
CDI has a conventional arms transfer project and produces "America's
Defense Monitor," a public television program on arms production/export
Federation of American Scientists' Arms Sales Monitoring Project,
307 Massachusetts Avenue, NE, Washington, DC, 20002, (202) 546-3300.
Publishes the Arms Sales Monitor and The Arms Trade Revealed:
a Guide for Investigators and Activists.
The Latin American Working Group, in conjunction with the
Center for International Policy, publishes information on military
assistance and training to Latin America at http://www.ciponline.org/facts/.
Peace Action Education
Fund, 1819 H Street, NW, Suite 425, Washington, DC, 20006,
(202) 862-9740, ext. 3004. Assists citizens in lobbying and bringing
local attention to arms production and trade issues.
William Hartung, World Policy Institute-65 Fifth Avenue, Suite
413, New York, NY, 10003, (212) 229-5808, publishes material
on the arms trade and militarism.
Anna Rich is a research assistant at the Arms Sales Monitoring
Project of the Federation of American Scientists in Washington,
DC. Material for this article is drawn from The Arms Trade Revealed:
a Guide for Investigators and Activists, by Lora Lumpe and Jeff
Donarski, recently published by the Federation of American Scientists.
Copies are available for $12 by emailing Anna at [email protected]
or calling 202-675-1016.