NEW YORK -- May 25 -- A report released today by the New York-based World Policy Institute finds that a majority of U.S. arms sales to the developing world go to regimes defined as undemocratic by our own State Department. Furthermore, U.S.-supplied arms are involved in a majority of the world's active conflicts.|
"Billions of U.S. arms sales to Afghanistan in the 1980s ended up empowering Islamic fundamentalist fighters across the globe," notes report co-author William D. Hartung. "Our current policy of arming unstable regimes could have similarly disastrous consequences, with U.S.-supplied weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, insurgents, or hostile governments."
"Perhaps no single policy is more at odds with President Bush's pledge to 'end tyranny in our world' than the United States' role as the world's leading arms exporting nation," said Frida Berrigan, the report's co-author. "Although arms sales are often justified on the basis of their purported benefits, from securing access to overseas military facilities to rewarding coalition partners, these alleged benefits often come at a high price."
As in the case of recent decisions to provide new F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan while pledging comparable high tech military hardware to its rival India, U.S. arms sometimes go to both sides in long brewing conflicts. And the tens of millions of U.S. arms transfers to Uzbekistan exemplify the negative consequences of arming repressive regimes.
Among the key findings of this report are the following:
In 2003, the last year for which full information is available, the United States transferred weaponry to 18 of the 25 countries involved in active conflicts. From Angola, Chad and Ethiopia, to Colombia, Pakistan, Israel and the Philippines, transfers through the two largest U.S. arms sales programs (Foreign Military Sales and Commercial Sales) to these conflict nations totaled nearly $1 billion in 2003.
In 2003, more than half of the top 25 recipients of U.S. arms transfers in the developing world (13 of 25) were defined as undemocratic by the U.S. State Department's Human Rights Report: in the sense that "citizens do not have the right to change their own government." These 13 nations received over $2.7 billion in U.S. arms transfers in 2003, with the top recipients including Saudi Arabia ($1.1 billion), Egypt ($1.0 billion), Kuwait ($153 million), the United Arab Emirates ($110 million) and Uzbekistan ($33 million).
When countries designated by the State Department's Human Rights Report to have poor human rights records or serious patterns of abuse are factored in, 20 of the top 25 U.S. arms clients in the developing world in 2003 -- a full 80% -- were either undemocratic regimes or governments with records of major human rights abuses.
The largest U.S. military aid program, Foreign Military Financing (FMF), increased by 68% from 2001 to 2003, from $3.5
billion to nearly $6 billion. The biggest increases went to countries that were engaged as U.S. allies in the wars in Iraq or
Afghanistan, including Jordan ($525 million increase from 2001 to 2003), Afghanistan ($191 million increase), Pakistan ($224 million increase), and Bahrain ($90 million increase). The Philippines, where the United States stepped up joint operations against a local terrorist group with alleged links to al-Qaeda, also received a substantial increase from 2001 to 2003 ($47 million).
Military aid totals have leveled off slightly since their FY 2003 peak, coming in at a requested $4.5 billion for 2006. The number of countries receiving FMF assistance increased by 50% from FY 2001 to FY 2006-from 48 to 71.
"Arming repressive regimes while simultaneously proclaiming a campaign against tyranny undermines the credibility of the United States and makes it harder to hold other nations to high standards of conduct on human rights and other key issues," argues Frida Berrigan.
Arming undemocratic governments often helps to enhance their power, fueling conflict or enabling human rights abuses. These blows to the reputation of the United States are in turn impediments to winning the "war of ideas" in the Muslim world and beyond,
undermining efforts to dry up financial and political support for terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda.
"The time has come to impose greater scrutiny on U.S. arms transfers and military aid programs," says William Hartung. "They are not simply another tool in the foreign policy toolbox, to be used to win friends and intimidate adversaries as needed."
A good starting point towards a more sound arms sales policy would be to implement the underlying assumptions of U.S. arms export law, which call for arming nations only for purposes of self-defense and avoiding arms sales to nations that engage in patterns of systematic human rights abuses. This shift could come either via new legislation or Executive Branch policy initiatives.
Equally important, the automatic assumption that arms transfers are the preferred "barter" for access to military facilities or other security "goods" sought from other nations should be seriously re-considered. Economic aid, political support and other forms of engagement should be explored as alternatives whenever possible.