U.S. 'Supplier of Choice' for Weapons Sales
Published on Tuesday, August 21, 2001
U.S. 'Supplier of Choice' for Weapons Sales
by Frida Berrigan
The United States remained the world's leading arms merchant in 2000, with almost $18.6 billion in sales, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service. Almost 70% of U.S. weapons were sold to the developing world.

The release of this authoritative report, Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1993- 2000, provides an opportunity to examine U.S. weapons sales to regions of conflict.

International arms sales totaled nearly $36.9 billion in 2000, an increase of 8 percent. The U.S. was responsible for almost half the weapons sold, but was not the only major arms merchant. Russia was second with $7.7 billion in sales, then France with $4.1 billion, Germany with $1.1 billion, Britain with $600 million, China with $400 million and Italy with $100 million.

In preliminary research for the forthcoming Weapons at War: Weapons Sales to Regions of Conflict report, the Arms Trade Resource Center found that:

  • The United States had supplied arms or military technology to parties to 39 of the 42 of the active conflicts worldwide, more than 92%.
  • While in some cases the levels of U.S. arms and training were relatively modest, in well over one-third of the conflicts -- 18 of 42 -- the United States was a major supplier, providing anywhere from 10% to 90% of the arms imported by the government party to the dispute.

Drawing on statistics from the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency on deliveries under the Foreign Military Sales and Commercial Sales programs during Fiscal Year 1999, the United States delivered roughly $6.8 billion in armaments to nations which violate the basic standards set out in the International Code of Conduct on Arms Sales.

There is a long way to go before the ideals of democracy and human rights become serious factors in Washington's decisions on which military forces to arm and train.

One small but important step that should be taken immediately is for the State Department to adopt the International Arms Sales Code of Conduct which has two main elements:

  • Calling upon the president to "attempt to achieve the foreign policy goal of an international arms sales code of conduct" by "taking the necessary steps to begin negotiations within appropriate international fora" toward that end.
  • Calling upon the Secretary of State to "describe the extent to which the practices of each country meet the criteria" of the Code of Conduct in the annual human rights report to Congress.

As the leading arms supplier - and as the world's oldest, most widely respected democracy - the United States has a special obligation to set strict standards about the kinds of governments that receive U.S. weaponry. If we don't do it, no other nation will. As Jimmy Carter put it in 1976, "we cannot have it both ways. We can't be both the world's leading champion of peace and the world's leading supplier of arms."

Frida Berrigan is a Research Associate at the World Policy Institute. For More Information: Email: Berrigaf@newschool.edu Phone: 212-229-5808 ext. 112

Also see: The Role of U.S. Arms Transfers in Human Rights Violations: Rhetoric Versus Reality, by William D. Hartung www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms/reports/testimony030701.htm