09/29/2010 10:02 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Madness of U.S. Arms Sales: Good Business, Bad For Planet

The madness in the world can best be boiled down to this: at the same time that we are told there is not enough money to create jobs or pay for real health care, our government is fueling an even more aggressive weapons spree around the world--and that spree, while it will mean robust new profits for the weapons industry, apparently contradicts, or at best is oblivious of, even the most mainstream view of what our country's goals are.

Here is the latest--reported at length by the Financial Times but, as far as I can tell, getting very little coverage in the traditional press here:

The US administration has concluded multibillion-dollar arms deals with Gulf states without establishing whether they were in the national interest, according to a congressional investigators' report seen by the Financial Times.
...In its audit of authorisations of weapons exports to six Gulf countries, the non-partisan report suggests the administration has failed to ensure the deals are in the national interest.

"As arms transfer authorisations increase to this part of the world, the US government needs to ensure that it reviews requests for arms transfers, especially for significant military equipment, for their foreign policy and national security implications," it says.

...The Pentagon proposed on Monday to sell weapons worth $4.2bn to Iraq, including 18 F-16 fighter aircraft, Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, laser-guided bombs and reconnaissance equipment.

The administration is also imminently expected to notify Congress of exports to Saudi Arabia that could total $60.5bn - including the sale or refurbishment of more than 150 F-15 jets. Overall, recent and pending US arms sales to the Gulf could total more than $120bn.

You can read the General Accounting Office report. If you get beyond the dry language, the upshot should be clear: the United States--and this is true of Republican and Democratic Administrations (i.e., Bush and Obama)--is dispensing weapons like candy without even making sure that the sales of the weapons advances anything but the bottom lines of the weapons industry.

I happen to think that it is hard to see any weapons sales being, in the end, a good use of money or very smart diplomacy. The examples of so-called "blowback"--where weapons sold end up being turned against the sellers--is too long to list. But, it is enough to mention two crystal-clear examples: the arming of Saddam Hussein by the U.S. (who can forget the photo of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands enthusiastically with Hussein) and the arming of the anti-Soviet Union forces in Afghanistan, including Osama bin Laden.

But, simply debating the issue within the narrow confines of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, the GAO is saying that much of the arms sales taking place is doing so without matching the country's foreign policy goals or policies--or at the very least, there appears to be no criteria applied.

And that comes at a time when there is a massive spending surge on arms. Just look at the Gulf States, again via the FT:

The Arab states of the Gulf have embarked on one of the largest re-armament exercises in peacetime history, ordering US weapons worth some $123bn as they seek to counter Iran's military power.

A package of US arms worth more than $67bn for Saudi Arabia accounts for the largest single component of this military build-up, providing a huge boost to the American defence industry.

The first phase of this agreement - soon to go before the US Congress for approval - is estimated at about $30bn.
...Saudi Arabia will receive 85 new F-15 jet fighters and another 70 will be upgraded. Boeing will be the principal supplier, allowing the US company to strengthen its ability to manufacture advanced military jets, an area where it has been slipping under competitive pressure. A successor agreement is expected to provide for the upgrade of radar and missile defence systems and an ambitious modernisation of the Saudi Navy's eastern fleet.
...Other US allies in the Gulf are also involved. Theodore Karasik, from the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said that the United Arab Emirates had signed contracts to buy military equipment worth $35bn-$40bn.

The UAE has received clearance to buy Thaad, a high altitude missile defence system being developed by Lockheed Martin. The UAE and Kuwait have each signed contracts for upgrades to their Patriot missile defence systems, developed by Raytheon, which cover lower levels of an air defence "curtain".

Elsewhere, Oman is expected to spend $12bn and Kuwait $7bn in the period until the end of 2014 on replacing and upgrading warplanes and new command and control systems, according to Blenheim Capital Partners, a consultancy that arranges offset deals. Oman's package will include 18 new F-16 jet fighters and upgrades for another 12. This will benefit Lockheed Martin, reinforcing its position as the leading US manufacturer of warplanes.

The total value of all US arms deals with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Kuwait is estimated at $122.88bn over the next four years[emphasis added]


The U.S. controls 40 percent of the $60 billion arms trade. It is number 1 in that business.

In one sense, the number is trivial when one compares it to, for example, the need to spend $200 billion a year for the next fives years--minimally--to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.

But, there is a multiplier effect to the arms trade--the vast increase in instability, death and destruction, and declaration of new "enemies" fuels our own out-of-control military budgets, draining money from schools, health care, and all the rest of what makes for a decent society.

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