What is the world’s most influential democracy doing at the top of the weapons dealer’s list? Annual report by the Congressional Research division of the Library of Congress on arms sales, Conventional Arms Transfers to
Developing Nations, 1997-2004- 94 page PDF puts the US at the top of the heap of conventional arms dealers in the world. US took the lion’s share of global weapons sales in 2004, signing over $12.4 billion or 33.5 percent of all contracts worldwide. A subsequent NY Times article discusses the exponential jump in arms sales from $28.5 billion in 2003 to $37 billion in 2004.
Read the same report closer and you will find out what the largest democracy is up to. India -the nation with the most number of poor people and most number of illiterates, found money in its chequers to become the leading buyer of conventional arms among developing nations in 2004, racking up $5.4 billion dollars of arms agreements. And no, this was not a single year blip – “India was also the leading developing world purchaser over the 1997-2004 period, sealing 10% of all such arms agreements.” according to the BBC article on the issue
So, why is it that world’s two largest democracies are blazing trails in the arms market. Two primary arguments given in defense of arms sales are as follows –
It helps the economy and Weapon sales can be used as a political tool, and both are patently false.
The rebuttal for the first comes from “British American Security Information Council”. It reports what three leading British Think Tanks have already found – that claims of economic benefits from arms sales are bogus. Read more ,
Full report. They argue that similar amount of money can be used to generate many more jobs and train people in much more in demand, cross-functionality professions than the ultra-specialized weapons manufacturing process.
Lets move on to the second supposed benefit – that of political influence. Now we all know about US and its “influence” on Saudi Arabia and how Saudi Arabia is wilting under its pressure. Right? Let’s chew on this –
“Along with economic and security factors, diplomatic rationales have long been used to justify arms trading. Proponents claim that arms sales allow suppliers to gain and maintain “influence” with recipients.
Over the years, Congress has attempted to exert this leverage by placing conditions on U.S. weapons exports. However, these requirements have often been tepidly enforced or blatantly ignored. U.S. clients have acted in opposition to American laws or policies, largely with impunity; witness on-going widespread human rights abuses in Turkey, Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia’s retransfer of American-supplied arms to Iraq in the 1980s, and the Thai military’s continuing support for the Khmer Rouge.
Today, suppliers are shying away from even attempting to influence buyers’ behavior. The arms bazaar is increasingly run as a free market, and the global oversupply of arms means that buyers call the shots. They threaten to turn elsewhere if they dislike conditions attached to a sale. Thus, manufacturers pressure their governments to renounce all conditions which might offend customers. ”
Well, all right no political influence but maybe US makes conscious efforts to not sell weapons to “rogue” states and the wannabes on the list. Think again.
“Center for International Policy, looked specifically at the question of what proportion of U.S. arms sales goes to repressive regimes. The first edition of that report, “Dictators or Democracies – U.S. Arms Transfers to Developing Countries 1991-1994″, found that non-democratic governments received 85 percent of the $55.2 billion in American weapons that were transferred to foreign governments between 1991 and 1994. By the time the fourth edition of this report was released in April 1999, the percentage of U.S. arms transfers to the developing world going to undemocratic governments had dropped to 47% — still a shockingly high level for a nation committed to the principles of human rights, democracy, and non-aggression – but, to make matters even worse, the dollar value of U.S. weaponry delivered to undemocratic governments reached a record level of $7.3 billion. In the latest edition of the report, issued in November 2000, the Center for International Policy found that during Fiscal Year 1998 54% of U.S. arms transfers to the developing world went to undemocratic governments, representing total transfers of $5.8 billion to these regimes in that year.” Read more
The post cold war proliferation of weapons has also lost the justification of using arms sales as a political tool. It is mere moral bankruptcy that is driving arms sales to the poorest of the poor nations in the world.
There is probably something to be said about small arms transfers and emergence of China as a major small arms supplier. Read HRW’s report on Sudan titled “Global Trade, Local Impact, Arms Transfers to all Sides in the Civil War in Sudan” at
For further reading:
- Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1996-2003- 94 page PDF
- Quick Snapshot of arms deals at Nationmaster
- Federation of American Scientists Arms Sales Monitoring Project
- UN register of Conventional Arms
- Stockholm International Peace Research Institute