US Arms: Promoting Freedom or Fueling Conflict?

August 10th, 2006 - by admin

Frida Berrigan and William D. Hartung / World Policy Institute – 2006-08-10 23:37:57

US Military Aid and Arms Transfers Since September 11

A World Policy Institute Special Report (June 2005 )
by Frida Berrigan and William D. Hartung, with Leslie Heffel

Perhaps no single policy is more at odds with President Bush’s pledge to “end tyranny in our world” than the United States’ role as the world’s leading arms exporting nation. Although arms sales are often justified on the basis of their purported benefits, from securing access to overseas military facilities to rewarding coalition allies in conflicts such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, these alleged benefits often come at a high price.

All too often, US arms transfers end up fueling conflict, arming human rights abusers, or falling into the hands of U.S. adversaries. As in the case of recent decisions to provide new F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan, while pledging comparable high-tech military hardware to its rival India, U.S. arms sometimes go to both sides in long brewing conflicts, ratcheting up tensions and giving both sides better firepower with which to threaten each other.

Far from serving as a force for security and stability, U.S. weapons sales frequently serve to empower unstable, undemocratic regimes to the detriment of U.S. and global security.

Among the key findings of this report are the following:

In 2003, the last year for which full information is available, the United States transferred weaponry to 18 of the 25 countries involved in active conflicts. From Angola, Chad and Ethiopia, to Colombia, Pakistan and the Philippines, transfers through the two largest U.S. arms sales programs (Foreign Military Sales and Commercial Sales) to these conflict nations totaled nearly $1 billion in 2003, with the vast bulk of the dollar volume going to Israel ($845.6 million).

In 2003, more than half of the top 25 recipients of U.S. arms transfers in the developing world (13 of 25) were defined as undemocratic by the U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report: in the sense that “citizens do not have the right to change their own government” or that right was seriously abridged.

These 13 nations received over $2.7 billion in U.S. arms transfers under the Foreign Military Sales and Commercial Sales programs in 2003, with the top recipients including Saudi Arabia ($1.1 billion), Egypt ($1.0 billion), Kuwait ($153 million), the United Arab Emirates ($110 million) and Uzbekistan ($33 million).

When countries designated by the State Department’s Human Rights Report to have poor human rights records or serious patterns of abuse are factored in, 20 of the top 25 U.S. arms clients in the developing world in 2003 — a full 80% — were either undemocratic regimes or governments with records of major human rights abuses.

The largest U.S. military aid program, Foreign Military Financing (FMF), increased by 68% between 2001 and 2003, from $3.5 billion to nearly $6 billion. These years coincided with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the run-up to the U.S. intervention in Iraq.

The biggest increases in dollar terms went to countries that were directly or indirectly engaged as U.S. allies in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, including Jordan ($525 million increase from 2001 to 2003), Afghanistan ($191 million increase), Pakistan ($224 million increase) and Bahrain ($90 million increase).

The Philippines, where the United States stepped up joint operations against a local terrorist group with alleged links to al-Qaeda, also received a substantial increase of FMF funding ($47 million) from 2001 to 2003.

Military aid totals have leveled off slightly since their FY 2003 peak, coming in at a requested $4.5 billion for 2006. This is still a full $1 billion more than 2001 levels. The number of countries receiving FMF assistance nearly doubled from FY 2001 to FY 2006– from 48 to 71.

The greatest danger emanating U.S. arms transfers and military aid programs is not in the numbers, but in the potential impacts on the image, credibility and security of the United States.

Arming repressive regimes in all corners of the globe while simultaneously proclaiming a campaign for democracy and against tyranny undermines the credibility of the United States in international forums and makes it harder to hold other nations to high standards of conduct on human rights and other key issues.

Arming undemocratic governments all too often helps to enhance their power, frequently fueling conflict or enabling human rights abuses in the process. These blows to the reputation of the United States are in turn impediments to winning the “war of ideas” in the Muslim world and beyond, a critical element in drying up financial and political support for terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda.

Last but not least, in all too many cases, U.S. arms and military technology can end up in the hands of U.S. adversaries, as happened in the 1980s in Iraq and Panama, as well as with the right-wing fundamentalist “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan, many of whom are now supporters of al-Qaeda.

At a minimum, the time has come to impose greater scrutiny on U.S. arms transfers and military aid programs. The facile assumption that they are simply another tool in the foreign policy toolbox, to be used to win friends and intimidate adversaries as needed, must be challenged in this new era in U.S. security policy.

A good starting point would be to find a way to reinforce and implement the underlying assumptions of U.S. arms export law, which calls for arming nations only for purposes of self-defense, and avoiding arms sales to nations that engage in patterns of systematic human rights abuses, either via new legislation or Executive Branch policy initiatives.

Equally important, the automatic assumption that arms transfers are the preferred “barter” for access to military facilities or other security “goods” sought from other nations should be seriously re-considered. Economic aid, political support and other forms of support and engagement should be explored as alternatives whenever possible.

“The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom…[and] America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”[1]

These words, delivered by President George W. Bush in his 2005 State of the Union address, drew cheers and applause. But shaping this noble rhetoric into concrete policies will mean reversing a decades-long policy of selling weapons and providing military aid to some of the world’s worst tyrants and dictators.

This report demonstrates that under President Bush’s leadership, this trend has accelerated and freedom and democracy have suffered as a result.

The United States transfers more weapons and military services than any other country in the world. Between 1992 and 2003, the United States sold $177.5 billion in arms to foreign nations.[2] In 2003 alone, the Pentagon and State Department delivered or licensed the delivery of $5.7 billion in weaponry to countries which can ill afford advanced weaponry — nations in the developing world saddled with debt and struggling with poverty.

Despite having some of the world’s strongest laws regulating the arms trade, almost half of these weapons went to countries plagued with ongoing conflict and governed by undemocratic regimes with poor human rights records.

In 2003, $2.7 billion in weaponry went to governments deemed undemocratic by the U.S. State Department’s Huma n Rights Report, in the sense that citizens of those nations “did not have a meaningful right to change their government” in a peaceful manner.[3]

Another $97.4 million worth of weapons went to governments deemed by the State Department to have “poor” human rights records.[4] See TABLE I: Human Rights Records of Top 25 U.S. Arms Recipients in the Developing World for more information.

It is not enough to condemn tyranny and terror. President Bush must act to remove the tools of repression from the hands of tyrants and terrorists. Al-Qaeda and other non-state actors are real threats. But, for many, the central source of tyranny and terror is their own government.

The United States provides the military hardware and know-how and then all too often turns a blind eye as governments suppress rights, squash legitimate dissent and sustain repression. In all, four of the five top U.S. arms recipients in the developing world had major issues, ranging from undemocratic governments, to poor human rights records across the board, to patterns of serious abuse.

Does U.S. policy of providing military aid and selling weapons contribute to fighting the war on terrorism? Is it a sound policy for strengthening democracy and self-reliance, as U.S. documents purport? Or does this policy conflate terrorism with human rights abuses and repression by putting more money and high-tech weaponry into the hands of leaders who violate human rights, repress their citizens and wage war on their neighbors?

Weapons at War
For many, war is synonymous with Iraq or Afghanistan, but our research enumerates 25 ongoing conflicts throughout the world. In the last decade, the U.S. has transferred some $8.7 billion in arms and military services to these war zones, $970.5 million in 2003 alone. During that year (the last year for which full data is available) the United States transferred weapons and military hardware into 18 of 25 conflict zones.

This is despite the fact that these transfers appear to violate the spirit (if not the letter) of the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act, which bar the transfer of U.S.-origin military equipment into active areas of conflict.

The 1976 Arms Export Control Act stipulates that arms transfers can only be used by the recipient nation for self-defense, internal security and in United Nations sanctioned operations.

The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 bars military aid and arms sales to countries that demonstrate “gross and consistent” patterns of human rights abuses. And the Export Administration Act, passed in 1979, regulates the sale of “dual-use ” items that could have civilian or military application.

While some arms transfers are relatively small — a few hundred thousand dollars — they carry significant political weight. A transfer of $301,000 in weapons to Angola, for example, does more than provide military hardware. It suggests that Luanda is an ally and that Washington supports or acquiesces in the actions of their military.

In the case of conflict zones like the Philippines or Colombia, where tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons are sold, Washington supplements military hardware with deployment of U.S. troops, advisers, military aid, or training programs, representing an even greater level of U.S. involvement in these wars.

Military Aid
In times of crisis, like the tsunami that killed more than 100,000 people in the last days of 2004, the American people are very generous. And they assume their government is as well.

While the United States doles out billions in foreign aid every year, Washington tends to favor military aid and weapons sales over other forms of aid, deprioritizing humanitarian, health or development aid, even though these types of foreign aid have long-term constructive impact.

Since the beginning of the war on terrorism, foreign military aid has increased precipitously. The Pentagon’s largest military aid program, the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, increased by more than one-third (34%) between 2001 and 2005, jumping from $3.5 billion to $4.6 billion over that time period. President Bush is requesting $4.5 billion in FMF for 2006.

Many countries previously barred from receiving U.S. military aid, because of nuclear testing, human rights abuses, or their harboring of terrorists, began to receive aid in 2001.

Two dozen nations — including Afghanistan, Algeria, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Uruguay — either became first-time recipients of FMF during this period or were restored to the program after long absences. As a result, the number of countries receiving FMF assistance increased from 48 to 71 between 2001 and 2006 — a 47.9% increase.

In that same time period, ten countries saw their aid at least triple, and seven had their FMF assistance increase by five times or more. The biggest gainers in FMF assistance in dollar terms were Jordan (+$127 million), Pakistan (+$300 million) and Afghanistan (+$396 million). None of these countries are democracies that fully respect human rights, according to the State Department’s Human Rights Report. For more details, see TABLE III.

In the conclusion of our report, we offer a number of recommendations to reverse this course and ensure that the United States lives up to its best ideals of freedom and democracy.

Briefly, following and fully applying laws like the AECA and FAA (explained above) and resisting efforts by the Executive Branch to make exceptions for the sake of political expediencies like currying favor with strategically located regimes is an important starting point. Congress can also strengthen international law by spearheading the effort to pass the International Arms Trade Treaty.

The convention, drafted by Nobel Laureates and supported by many non-governmental organizations, would create legally binding arms controls and ensure that governments control arms using the same basic international standards.

Adoption of these and the other recommendations outlined at the end of the report would further the Bush administration’s counter terrorism agenda much more effectively than the arms deals documented in this report.

The Canadian-based Project Ploughshares calculates that there are 36 armed conflicts being waged in 28 countries and defines armed conflict as “political conflict in which armed combat involves the armed forces of at least one state (or one or more armed factions seeking to gain control of all or part of the state), and in which at least 1,000 people have been killed by fighting during the course of the conflict.”[5]

In the tables that accompany this report, we provide information on U.S. weapons sales and military aid to 25 nations where conflict remains active. We have adapted the Project Ploughshares list of conflicts, excluding Sri Lanka and Serbia/Kosovo because conflicts there are coming to an end.

Additionally, Project Ploughshares defines the Israel/Palestine conflict as an interstate conflict between Israel and Lebanon, while we define it as an intrastate conflict. TABLE II has detailed data on U.S. weapons sales to these conflict nations.

The vast majority of countries involved in major-armed conflicts in 2003 received some military aid, training or weapons from the United States in the last ten years. In this report, we profile 12 countries involved in (or recovering from) major armed conflict which are top recipients of U.S. military aid and weapons sales.

Additionally, we profile Georgia and Uzbekistan, which are not considered conflict countries, but are included because they have received large increases in FMF/military aid since the beginning of the Global War on Terror.

A Closer Look
The United States transferred defense articles to 18 of the 25 countries involved in active conflict during 2003, the last year for which full data is available. In 20 of the nations in conflict in 2003, the United States supplied weaponry some time in the last decade.

In all, the United States transferred $970.5 million in weaponry and related hardware to nations in conflict during 2003. And in the last decade, between 1994 and 2003, the United States transferred a total of more than $8.7 billion worth of military machinery and services to these countries.

While transfers to many nations were relatively small, they have an important symbolic value. Weapons sales suggest U.S. government support for or acquiescence in the actions of the governments involved in these conflicts.

While the bulk of the value of the transfers documented in TABLE II represent shipments to Israel, other longstanding U.S. customers that received major transfers of def ense articles between 1994 and 2003 include India ($128 million), Indonesia ($121.2 million), Pakistan ($429.1 million), the Philippines ($380.8 million) and Colombia ($656.5 million). Given the durability of modern weapons systems, much of this weaponry has no doubt been used in the current conflicts in recipient nations.

Acceleration of Weapons Sales
And Changes in the Rules

Prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, 27 countries were banned from purchasing U.S.-made military equipment, including Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Syria, and Tajikistan.[6]

In the aftermath of terrorist attacks, bans on security assistance to many of these countries have been lifted or suspended, giving the President broad power to provide military aid and weapons to nations contributing to the war on terrorism.

The Bush administration lifted sanctions against Azerbaijan and Armenia. Tajikistan was removed from the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) list of states prohibited from receiving U.S. military goods and products.

These changes have shifted the allocation of military aid. Foreign Military Financing, the Pentagon’s largest military aid program, increased by more than two-thirds (68.4%) from 2001 to 2003, jumping from $3.5 billion to nearly $6 billion over that time period, before leveling off in 2004 and 2005 and requests for 2006 to an average of $4.6 billion (which represents a more than 30% increase over pre-9/11 levels).

Pakistan enjoyed an almost 200% increase in aid between 2002 and 2003, from $75 million to $224 million. Aid to the Philippines jumped from just over $2 million in 2001 to $49 million in 2003, an increase of more than 2,000%. For details, see TABLE III: Increases in U.S. Military Aid Between 2001 and 2003.

In October 2001, Congress passed Public Law 107-57, which included a measure to reduce the notification deadlines for weapons transfers. While the 1991 Foreign Assistance Act required that the President notify Congress 15 or more days before any transfer of emergency drawdowns and excess defense articles, the new act requires only five days advance notice if the President determines that the decision is “important to U.S. efforts to respond to, deter or prevent acts of international terrorism.”[7]

This new law dismantled an important tool enabling the human rights and arms control community to lobby against weapons sales to problem countries.

That same month, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which handles government-to-government weapons sales, announced a series of changes to their policies aimed at accelerating the process of granting weapons contracts to countries allied with the United States against terrorism.

The DSCA established the “Enduring Freedom Response Cell” to “fast track weapons requests from our allies.”[8] Air Force Lieutenant General Tome Walters, director of DSCA, described the new mission of his agency, “If you’re an allied country, let’s say Uzbekistan, and you need radios, we’ll do whatever we can to get the job done.”[9] Since the changes have been invoked, weapons sales, military aid, and training programs have surged.

Restrictions on U.S. arms exports to undemocratic and repressive regimes were painstakingly crafted over the last 40 years, and should not be discarded even in the interest of building a coalition to fight terrorism. As Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), observed, “We now have a floating coalition. We can’t have floating arms.”[10]

Ignoring History:
Role of Arms Trade Boomerang in Fueling Terror

A close reading of recent history would have warned the Bush administration against a policy of offering weapons, military aid and training to new allies in the war on terrorism. The last half-century is full of examples of allies becoming adversaries and political circumstances shifting much more quickly than weapons arsenals can be destroyed.

Washington transferred weaponry to successive South Vietnamese dictatorships throughout the 1960s and 70s in an effort bolster the South’s fight against the Communist North. U.S.-origin arms were often stolen from Southern barracks and after the fall of Saigon in 1975, North Vietnamese troops took possession of huge weapons caches.

Massive military assistance that the U.S. provided to the dictatorship of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi in Iran was seized in the 1979 Islamic fundamentalist coup, giving the Ayatollah Khomeini control of a fleet of F-14 fighter planes and other high-tech weaponry.[11]

More recent history is equally instructive in the dangers of the boomerang effect. The last seven times the United States has sent troops into conflict in substantial numbers: in Iraq (2003-present), Afghanistan (2001-present), former Yugoslavia (1998), Haiti (1994), Somalia (1992), Iraq (1990) and Panama (1989); they faced adversaries with weapons or military technology “Made in the USA.”

The widening war on terrorism and accelerating weapons sales to coalition partners will only increase the likelihood of the boomerang effect continuing to haunt us.

Later in this report, profiles of Afghanistan and Iraq provide background on how U.S. military assistance in the 1970s and 80s outlasted the short-term political justifications for their sale or transfer. For more information on earlier examples, please see detailed case studies in the World Policy Institute’s 1995 Weapons at War report.[12]

On the Bright Side, There is much to criticize about U.S. arms export and foreign military aid policies, but there are positive facets as well. As is mentioned elsewhere in this report, the world’s largest arms exporter has the world’s strongest laws and regulations.

In addition, Washington has sometimes withdrawn U.S. military aid and arms exports to rebuke countries that violated human rights or circumvented democracy.

The Bush Administration banned arms sales to Zimbabwe in 2002 after asserting that the March national election “subverted the democratic process” and charging that long-time President Robert Mugabe’s government carried out an “orchestrated campaign of intimidation and violence” in the lead-up to the election.[13]

The administration continues to staunchly oppose the European Union’s plans to lift a more than decade-old arms embargo on China, citing human rights abuses and the country’s tendency to re-transfer weapons related technology as among the arguments for maintaining the ban put in place after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.[14]

These are two instances in which concerns about human and civil rights trump strategic rationalizations for arms sales. Unfortunately, these instances remain the exception instead of the rule.

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