Saturday, October 20, 2012
War is Big Business
By William Fisher
When armed conflict breaks out in one of the world’s developing nations, members of the UN Security Council often sit late into the night searching for solutions. They rarely find them.
The Council members appear to be – or pretend to be -- unaware that their problem has been self-inflicted. The irony they miss is that the conflict likely began with military hardware sold to the warring factions by members of the same Security Council – with the enthusiastic government support of the sales campaign.
We can infer all this because of a report prepared annually by the Congressional Research Service to provide Congress with official, unclassified, quantitative data on conventional arms transfers to developing nations by the United States and foreign countries for the preceding eight calendar years for use in its policy oversight functions.
Ordinarily quasi-confidential, we can study this report thanks to the Federation of American Scientists, which made it available. The principal focus is the level of arms transfers by major weapons suppliers to nations in the developing world.
What do we learn from the CRS Report?
We learn from the authors, Richard F. Grimmett and Paul K. Kerr of CRS, that in 2011, the United States ranked first in arms transfer agreements with developing nations with over $56.3 billion or 78.7% of these agreements, an extraordinary increase in market share from 2010, when the United States held a 43.6% market share. In second place was Russia with $4.1 billion or 5.7% of such agreements.
We learn that in 2011, the United States ranked first in the value of arms deliveries to developing nations at $10.5 billion, or 37.6% of all such deliveries. Russia ranked second in these deliveries at $7.5 billion or 26.8%.
We learn that “developing nations continue to be the primary focus of foreign arms sales activity by weapons suppliers.” And we learn that, during the years 2004-2011, “the value of arms transfer agreements with developing nations comprised 68.6% of all such agreements worldwide.”
More recently, CRS reports that “arms transfer agreements with developing nations constituted 79.2% of all such agreements globally from 2008-2011, and 83.9% of these agreements in 2011.”
CRS added, “The value of all arms transfer agreements with developing nations in 2011 was over $71.5 billion. This was a substantial increase from $32.7 billion in 2010. In 2011, the value of all arms deliveries to developing nations was $28 billion, the highest total in these deliveries values since 2004.”
Recently, from 2008 to 2011, the United States and Russia have dominated the arms market in the developing world, with both nations either ranking first or second for each of these four years in the value of arms transfer agreements.
From 2008 to 2011, the United States made nearly $113 billion in such agreements, 54.5% of all these agreements (expressed in current dollars). Russia made $31.1 billion, 15% of these agreements. During this same period, collectively, the United States and Russia made 69.5% of all arms transfer agreements with developing nations, ($207.3 billion in current dollars) during this four-year period.
In worldwide arms transfer agreements in 2011-to both developed and developing nations-the United States dominated, ranking first with $66.3 billion in such agreements or 77.7% of all such agreements. This is the highest single year agreements total in the history of the U.S. arms export program. Russia ranked second in worldwide arms transfer agreements in 2011with $4.8 billion in such global agreements or 5.6%. The value of all arms transfer agreements worldwide in 2011 was $85.3 billion, a substantial increase over the 2010 total of $44.5 billion, and the highest worldwide arms agreements total since 2004.
In 2011, Saudi Arabia ranked first in the value of arms transfer agreements among all developing nations weapons purchasers, concluding $33.7 billion in such agreements. The Saudis concluded $33.4 billion of these agreements with the United States (99%). India ranked second with $6.9 billion in such agreements. The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) ranked third with $4.5 billion.
The authors point out that “data in this report provides a means for Congress to identify existing supplier-purchaser relationships in conventional weapons acquisitions. Use of these data can assist Congress in its oversight role of assessing how the current nature of the international weapons trade might affect U.S. national interests.”
For most of recent American history, maintaining regional stability and ensuring the security of U.S. allies and friendly nations throughout the world have been important elements of U.S. foreign policy. Knowing the extent to which individual arms suppliers are transferring arms to individual nations or regions provides Congress with a context for evaluating policy questions it may confront. The nations of the Middle East are America’s largest customers, particularly Saudi Arabia.
The CRS report says ”the value of all arms transfer agreements worldwide (to both developed and developing nations) in 2011 was $85.3 billion. This was an extraordinary increase in arms agreements values (91.7%) over the 2010 total of $44.5 billion. This total in 2011 is by far the highest worldwide arms agreements total since 2004.”
In 2011, “the United States led in arms transfer agreements worldwide, making agreements valued at $66.3 billion (77.7% of all such agreements), an extraordinary increase from $21.4 billion in 2010. The United States worldwide agreements total in 2011 is the largest for a single year in the history of the U.S. arms export program. Russia ranked second with $4.8 billion in agreements (5.6% of these agreements globally), down significantly from $8.9 billion in 2010. The United States and Russia collectively made agreements in 2011 valued at over $71 billion, 83.3% of all international arms transfer agreements made by all suppliers,” the Report says.
For the period 2008-2011, the total value of all international arms transfer agreements ($261.8 billion in current dollars) was higher than the worldwide value during 2004-2007 ($206.1 billion in current dollars). During the period 2004-2007, developing world nations accounted for 66.7% of the value of all arms transfer agreements made worldwide. During 2008-2011, developing world nations accounted for 79.2% of all arms transfer agreements made globally. In 2011, developing nations accounted for 83.9% of all arms transfer agreements made worldwide.
In 2011, CRS ranks the United States first in the value of all arms deliveries worldwide, making nearly $16.2 billion in such deliveries or 36.5%. This is the eighth year in a row that the United States has led in global arms deliveries. Russia ranked second in worldwide arms deliveries in 2011, making $8.7 billion in such deliveries. The United Kingdom ranked third in 2011.
So the bottom line is that international arms sales are big, very big business and, rather than doing anything to discourage it, the richer nations of the world are doubling down to increase the volume and type.
So why should we have been surprised when, during the Egyptian Revolution last spring, a teargas canister marked “made in USA” turned up in the hands of Mubarak loyalists in Tahrir Square.
OK, it’s time now for Ike. Dwight David Eisenhower tends to be remembered for three things only.
He was a Republican, yet an unbending champion of Social Security. In 1952, he said:
"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.”
In the same year, Ike became the father of the Federal Interstate Highway Program.
And in his 1961 Farewell Address, he delivered a stern message unusual for a plain vanilla politician, much less a 5-star general. Here’s what he said:
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
Well, our politicians got it pretty much right on Social Security, despite the privatizing efforts of George W. Bush and Republican vice presidential contender Paul Ryan.
But they all got it wrong on international arms sales. How could they resist? Manufacturing military hardware would create jobs in Congressional Districts. Abroad, military capability could help developing nations to discourage aggressors, perhaps even push them back. They could also use their shiny new toys to slaughter innocent demonstrators in Tahir Square, exactly the way Mubarak and his henchmen did.
The National Rifle Association is fond of repeating its favorite mantra, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”
Geopolitically, they’re right. From a Washington DC perspective -- or Moscow or Tehran, or Jerusalem or Pyongyang – arms sales become a matter of survival. That’s when people kill people.
With the guns and tanks and planes and rockets we sold them.