Friday, May 27, 2005

U.S. Arms Sales to Undemocratic Countries Has Increased Sharply Since 9/11

The New York Times
May 27, 2005
U.S. Has Loosened Rules for Arms Sales, Study Says

The sale of military weapons to other countries, including many that were once barred from making such purchases, has increased sharply since the attacks on Sept. 11, according to a study by a New York research group.

As the United States is trying to secure new allies in its fight against terrorism, the study by the World Policy Institute - a research group based at the New School University - says that the nation has expanded the sales of weapons to countries that were once prohibited from receiving American-made goods because of their poor human rights records.

Among the countries are Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as Algeria and Uzbekistan. Some two dozen countries have either become first-time recipients since Sept. 11 or have been readmitted to the program after long absences.

The study found that the largest aid program, Foreign Military Financing, increased 68 percent from 2001 to 2003, to reach $6 billion - a peak amount - before trending back to a current $4.5 billion.

More than half of the top 25 recipients in 2003, either through the commercial sales program or through foreign military sales, were countries that the State Department has defined as undemocratic.

They included Saudi Arabia (purchases of $1.1 billion); Egypt ($1 billion); Kuwait ($153 million); and the United Arab Emirates ($110 million).

In other cases, weapons were sold to countries having internal conflicts, including Angola, Chad and Ethiopia, or where the human rights record was "poor," according to the State Department; this category included Nigeria, Tunisia and Nepal.

Policy makers in Washington have said that the aid is necessary to secure overseas military bases or reward allies.

But the author of the report, William Hartung, said the equipment could end up "fueling conflict, arming human rights abusers or falling into the hands of U.S. adversaries."

Charles Pena, a military specialist at the Cato Institute, a Washington research group that promotes free-market policies, said that while arms transfers were preferable to sending troops, there are risks.

"If a regime can use these arms to subdue their own population," Mr. Pena said, "this could come back to haunt us. We need to be more mindful of the long-term implications, especially in the Muslim world."

While the overall increase in these military sales may make for some good strategic policy, said Michael O'Hanlon, a military specialist at the Brookings Institution, the approach could be a "missed opportunity" if not accompanied by other forms of aid.