Arming the World
In July I wrote about the negotiations for an Arms Trade Treaty at the U.N. when there was still hope that it might pass. Treaty negotiations failed and observers questioned why the U.S. pulled out after showing support earlier. Although the treaty only limited arms sales to countries accused of human rights violations, it would have been an important step in controlling the world’s huge flow of weapons and protecting civilians from harm.
The major arms supplying countries certainly had reasons to resist any limitations in their arms sales and further proof was to come this August with the news of the huge growth in U.S. arms sales. A just-released study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service showed that U.S. arms sales tripled in 2011 to 66.3 billion and is now ¾ of the world’s total arms sales of 85.3 billion. For additional perspective, Russia is second with 4.8 billion in sales and China less than 4 billion. My previous article had wrongly cited the U.S. as the major arms exporter but still supplying a paltry 40% of the world’s total!
Why did U.S. arms sales triple in 2011? And why should we care—isn’t it just more money for our military-industrial complex? The simplest answer to the first question would be fear of Iran—ours, Israel’s, and the Arab oil-producers. The biggest increase was our 33 billion sale of 70 F-15 fighter planes to Saudi Arabia and also the sales to Arab allies for a regional missile defense system against a possible attack from Iran. Guaranteeing our oil supply is another motive for this rise in sales. There were also large sales to India (which threatens Pakistan), Taiwan (which threatens China,) China (even though they are being cited as a potential enemy by our military policy makers and politicians.)
By this time it’s clear a big reason we should care is the destabilizing effect of all these weapons. Many articles about this increase mentioned the pressures on Iran to act even more defensively, the hardening of U.S. support for Israel’s intention to attack Iran, the difficulties for Arab countries who are trying to form new democratic governments, and more. Thom Shanker in his N.Y. Times article, “US Arms Make Up Most of Global Market”, August 27, has another title “Arming the World” We should care deeply about these sales. Historically build-ups in armaments have meant wars. And the weapons we sell have a way of being used against people we actually count as our allies.
We in WAND know that our taxes subsidize military spending, that more jobs are created by money spent on health and education than on weapons, that the coming cuts in domestic programs must be balanced by cuts in the military. We are suspicious of weapons makers using these huge military sales as a way of making up for the business they lose by the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“Arming the World”—we are ashamed of this title. We remember what Eisenhower said about each weapon being a theft from a child. As citizens we are asking our country to take a different path.
-Sayre Sheldon, NGO Representative for WAND at the U.N. and WAND Education Fund board member