The United States has ramped up arms sales to some of the world's most repressive and undemocratic regimes in a misguided attempt to bolster counter-terrorism efforts since the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. soil, says a new report from leading arms trade researchers.
The report, from the Arms Trade Resource Center at New York-based New School University's World Policy Institute, says increased weapons sales and grants have been used to reward countries that have either joined what the White House calls its ''war on terror'' or have backed the U.S. administration's military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The United States ranks top among the world's arms exporters and in developing countries, a majority of its arms are sold to regimes ''defined as undemocratic by our own State Department,'' says the study released Wednesday.
The study acknowledges that the increased weapons transfers are aimed at rewarding coalition partners and ensuring continued U.S. military access to overseas bases.
But in the long run, it adds, the strategy risks undermining--not enhancing--U.S. security.
''Arming undemocratic governments all too often helps to enhance their power, frequently fueling conflict or enabling human rights abuses in the process. 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, a critical element in drying up financial and political support for terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda,'' the report says.
''In all too many cases, U.S. arms and military technology can end up in the hands of U.S. adversaries, as happened in the 1980s in Iraq and Panama, as well as with the right-wing fundamentalist 'freedom fighters' in Afghanistan, many of whom are now supporters of al-Qaeda,'' it adds.
''At a minimum, the time has come to impose greater scrutiny on U.S. arms transfers and military aid programs,'' the report concludes. ''The facile assumption that they are simply another tool in the foreign policy toolbox, to be used to win friends and intimidate adversaries as needed, must be challenged in this new era in U.S. security policy.''
The United States transfers more weapons and military services than any other country in the world, according to the report. Between 1992 and 2003, the last year for which complete data are available, it sold $177.5 billion in arms to foreign nations.
''In 2003 alone, the Pentagon and State Department delivered or licensed the delivery of $5.7 billion in weaponry to countries which can ill afford advanced weaponry--nations in the developing world saddled with debt and struggling with poverty,'' the study says.
''Despite having some of the world's strongest laws regulating the arms trade, almost half of these weapons went to countries plagued with ongoing conflict and governed by undemocratic regimes with poor human rights records,'' it adds. In 2003, for example, $2.7 billion in weaponry went to governments branded as ''undemocratic'' by the State Department.
U.S. programs are supplying arms to 18 of 25 countries embroiled in ''active conflicts,'' or warfare against domestic or foreign foes, the study says. These include Angola, Chad, Colombia, Ethiopia, Israel, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
Additionally, U.S. arms transfers to Uzbekistan--where at least 169 anti-government demonstrators were killed last week--''exemplify the negative consequences of arming repressive regimes,'' it says.
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Countries deemed undemocratic by the State Department that nevertheless rank among the largest recipients of U.S. military aid and sales include Saudi Arabia ($1.1 billion in 2003), Egypt ($1.0 billion), Kuwait ($153 million), United Arab Emirates ($110 million), and Uzbekistan ($33 million).
The largest U.S. military aid program--known as Foreign Military Financing (FMF)--grew by 68 percent from 2001 to 2003, the latest full year for which data are available, rising from $3.5 billion to nearly $6.0 billion.
Under FMF, recipients get outright U.S. grants on condition they use the money to buy U.S. weapons systems. The foreign countries get nearly-free weapons (they incur the operating costs and additional expenses for parts and in some cases, training) and the money is churned back into the U.S. defense industry.
The biggest FMF increases have gone to countries engaged as U.S. allies in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have included Jordan ($525 million increase from 2001 to 2003), Afghanistan ($191 million), Pakistan ($224 million), and Bahrain ($90 million).
Afghanistan, Algeria, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Uruguay are among two dozen countries that either became first-time FMF recipients or were allowed back into the program after long absences. In all, the number of countries receiving FMF aid increased from 48 to 71 over the past four years, the study says.
''Perhaps no single policy is more at odds with President (George W.) Bush's pledge to 'end tyranny in our world' than the United States' role as the world's leading arms exporting nation,'' it says. ''All too often, U.S. arms transfers end up fueling conflict, arming human rights abusers, or falling into the hands of U.S. adversaries.''
The World Policy Institute's veteran analysts make recommendations they say ''would further the Bush administration's counter-terrorism agenda much more effectively than the disastrous arms deals documented in this report.''
First, they urge the U.S. government to follow the Arms Export Control Act, which requires that U.S. arms transfers be used only for self-defense, internal security, and in United Nations sanctioned operations; the Foreign Assistance Act, which bars military aid and arms sales to countries with poor human rights records; and the Export Administration Act, which regulates the sale of items with both civilian and military uses.
Washington also should ratify an Organization of American States firearms convention that it helped draft, and it should cooperate with other governments to ratify an international arms trade treaty that would create legally binding arms controls and ensure that all governments control arms to the same basic standards, the authors say.
They further urge enactment of the Conventional Arms Threat Reduction Act. Proposed by Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, the measure would authorize the State Department to eliminate or secure surplus and unguarded stocks of conventional weapons.
Finally, the report recommends that the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies publish regular reports on the use of U.S. weaponry in ongoing conflicts and assess how arms transfers are affecting counter-terrorism operations.
Individuals and philanthropies including the Colombe Foundation, Deer Creek Foundation, Kligerman Foundation, Stewart R. Mott Fund, Ploughshares Fund, Proteus Fund, Rockefeller Brother Fund, Rockefeller Family Fund, Samuel Rubin Foundation, Secure World Foundation, Strachan Donnelley Trust, and Town Creek Foundation funded the report.