You are herecontent / Butter Battles, But Guns Sell
Butter Battles, But Guns Sell
One bright spot in the otherwise dismal U.S. economy is the brisk sale of weapons to other countries. The value of major arms exports, according to government figures, nearly doubled from fiscal 2005 to fiscal 2007 — from $62.7 billion to $112.1 billion — and is expected to increase more this year.
Defense contractors were licensed to sell $88.8 billion worth of military goods directly to foreign governments in fiscal 2007— a 71 percent increase from fiscal 2005, if all the sales took place. These direct commercial sales are supervised by the State Department.
Weapons sales overseen by the Defense Department increased 120 percent in the same time period to $23.3 billion. The figure includes deals the Pentagon brokers, called foreign military sales, and U.S.-made weapons the government pays for and gives to countries such as Israel and Egypt, a category called foreign military financing.
In fiscal 2008, arms sales appear to be even stronger, including some recently announced contracts such as the proposed sale of 25 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Israel for up to $15.2 billion, a $6.4 billion package of anti-missile systems and aircraft to Taiwan, and an assemblage of F-16 fighters, transport planes, helicopters and tanks that Iraq plans to buy, probably for least $14 billion.
Several economic and foreign policy factors have contributed to the boom, which has grown steadily in the Bush years.
The Sept. 11 attack “really was the spark that reinvigorated the global arms market,” said Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst with the non-partisan Center for Defense Information, a research center.
The United States accounts for more than half of arms deliveries to developing countries, and both Russia and China have reacted by stepping up their own sales.
Remy Nathan, the Aerospace Industries Association’s assistant vice president for international affairs, thinks that most of the recent increase is in sales to traditional allies such as the United Kingdom. Other countries, he says, want equipment that is compatible with U.S. weapons, which makes multinational operations easier.
But many experts contend that arms sales are driven mainly by the push to arm countries perceived to be allies in fighting terrorism and waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Despite the commercialization of the arms industry,” says Paul Holtom, a researcher with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “foreign policy considerations continue to play a leading role in U.S. arms export decision-making.”
To Stohl and others, the United States has undermined its values and interests by selling too many weapons to regimes with questionable human rights records — weapons that can destabilize a region and might even be turned on U.S. forces at some point.
But arms exports proponents such as Nathan say the U.S. government weighs those perils before it permits any military export. “The risks,” he says, “are considered in advance.”