UNITED NATIONS - The United States is a primary supplier of post-Cold War surplus weapons to Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, according to a new study.
The weapons, ranging from fighter aircraft and helicopters to armored personnel carriers and small arms, have either been sold at bargain basement prices or given without charge to cash-strapped nations fighting for economic survival, says the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), a think tank based in Germany.
The organization says that surplus American weapons have been transferred to Senegal, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Egypt, and also to such US allies as Israel.
The list also includes Argentina, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Grenada, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Lithuania, Mexico, Morocco, Oman, Peru, Poland and Thailand.
"In the United States, strategic interests and a strong producers' lobby directed the distribution of excess American weapons," the BICC says in a 175-page study entitled 'Global Disarmament, Demilitarization and Demobilization."
Released to coincide with the ongoing, two-week UN conference on small arms, the study says the development of new military technology is not only providing fresh tools for the military pre-eminence of the United States and Western nations but is also hardening resistance to disarmament, provoking rearmament, and "creating new waves of surplus weapons spreading out to poorer countries."
Despite the "decade of disarmament" that followed the end of the Cold War, most of the surplus weapons ended up in the global arms market, says BICC.
Virtually all of the older model US F-16 fighter planes have been offered to Eastern European nations, notes BICC, so that the US air force could use the proceeds to finance its own acquisition of new F-16 and F-18 fighter aircraft, and also F-22s with stealth technology.
"From the US perspective, the Eastern European market is of particular interest for the sale of used military hardware," the study adds.
Several of the Eastern European countries, including Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, are planning to modernize their armed forces after their recent membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
"The Cold War between Russian and American military technology is still going on in Eastern European arms markets, particularly among NATO's new and prospective member states," the study observes.
At the UN conference on small arms, scheduled to conclude Friday, US delegates have rejected a proposal to define "surplus arms."
Washington also has expressed reservations over a proposal in the draft program of action that calls for the destruction of surplus small arms and light weapons. "Surplus weapons retained for other purposes will be permanently disabled and decommissioned," the draft says.
In its latest 'Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations', the US State Department admits that most of the American surplus weapons are being transferred to developing nations under the Excess Defense Articles (DE) program
"The grant DE program operates at essentially no cost to the US with the recipient responsible for any required refurbishment and repair of the items, as well as any associated transportation costs," the document states.
Pointing out that the program has contributed to US "foreign policy successes," the State Department says the "equipment has helped our Latin American and Caribbean friends combat the threat of illegal narco-trafficking, and has permitted many South American and African nations to participate in support of US and UN peacekeeping operations."
But the BICC points out that Mexico has reportedly returned its gift of secondhand US helicopters because they were too expensive to maintain while Colombia has told Washington that the millions of rounds of 1952-vintage ammunition for US-supplied machine guns were found to be "unsafe."
The Washington-based General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the US Congress, has revealed that Washington has disposed surplus weapons with a book value of more than three billion dollars since the end of the Cold War in 1989.
According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), an arms control think tank based in Washington DC, the US "give-aways" included machine guns, grenade launchers and helicopters to Argentina, M60 battle tanks and missiles to Bahrain, surveillance aircraft and jet engines to Bangladesh, military transport planes to Botswana and Zimbabwe, combat helicopters to Jordan, assault rifles and ammunition to the Philippines and utility helicopters and assault rifles to Senegal.
Russia also sells surplus weapons, mostly for financial reasons. The Russians clinched a 1.2 billion dollar deal to sell weapons to China in an attempt to square off a debt owed by the former Soviet Union to Beijing. The aging Russian aircraft carrier, Minsk, has been converted into an amusement facility in China.
India has been identified as another key recipient of Russian military surplus, mostly military vehicles.
According to the BICC, Britain transferred about 70 secondhand military vehicles to humanitarian demining agencies last year. At the same time, Britain also gave Jordan 288 secondhand Challenger battle tanks from military surplus stocks.
Copyright © 2001 IPS-Inter Press Service