May 22, 2007

Arming the World

Frida Berrigan has a good piece on one of the most lucrative businesses in the United States--selling arms around the world:
Just a few days ago, for instance, the "trade" publication Defense News reported that Turkey and the United States signed a $1.78 billion deal for Lockheed Martin's F-16 fighter planes. As it happens, these planes are already ubiquitous--Israel flies them, so does the United Arab Emirates, Poland, South Korea, Venezuela, Oman and Portugal, not to speak of most other modern air forces. ...In order to remain number one in the competitive jet field, Lockheed Martin, for example, does far more than just sell airplanes. TAI--Turkey's aerospace corporation--will receive a boost with this sale, because Lockheed Martin is handing over responsibility for parts of production, assembly, and testing to Turkish workers. The Turkish Air Force already has 215 F-16 fighter planes and plans to buy 100 of Lockheed Martin's new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as well, in a deal estimated at $10.7 billion over the next 15 years.
But she forgot to mention the best part! Right now, the Pentagon is paying Lockheed billions to build a new fleet of F-22 Raptor stealth fighters. The Air Force has justified the program, which has become something of a boondoggle, by pointing to the spread of U.S.-built F-16 and F-18 fighters around the world. Indeed, a few years back, Lockheed was circulating a promotional pamphlet for the F-22, which stressed the need to maintain U.S. "air superiority" by pointing to countries around the world that were either adversaries or potential adversaries. It turned out that most of those countries were worrisome because they had... fleets of U.S.-built F-16s. Arms sales really are the gift that keeps on giving.

In any case, Berrigan links to it in her piece, but the report she recently did with William Hartung deserves more attention. In 2003, the most recent year for which records were available, the United States sent weapons to 18 of the 25 countries involved in active conflicts around the world. I'm sure people can look through the list and come up with reasons why it was right to send weapons to this or that country, but I still think this deserves at least as much attention as the debate over whether or not armed humanitarian interventions should be a tool of U.S. foreign policy.

More fun facts: It's not uncommon for us to end up fighting against the same armies we equip. Everyone knows that the Iranian Air Force is basically made up of the same F-14s we sold to the Shah, but did you know that the last seven times the United States sent troops into conflict in substantial numbers (Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Haiti, Somalia, Iraq, and Panama), its adversaries possessed weapons or military technology made in the USA? In the run-up to the civil war, 31 percent of weapons sold to Somalia came from the United States. Then we went in. When the Haitian military staged a coup in 1991, nearly a quarter of its arms had been made in the United States. Obviously peace wouldn't break out around the world if we curbed our weapons exports, but at some point, the pattern starts to look utterly insane.

P.S. Here's the view from Britain.
-- Brad Plumer 8:27 PM || ||