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The U.S. dominates the global trade in guns, bombs and missiles
Arms dealer to the world

June 10, 2005 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON looks at Washington's role in arming the world.

THE ARMS trade is a booming business. Each year, more money is spent around the globe on the weapons and military expenditures than anything else--more than social services, agriculture, health care, even the drug trade.

But if you think that the biggest seller of the world's weapons is a "rogue" nation or one of the countries on George Bush's "Axis of Evil," guess again.

The biggest arms dealer in the world--for decades running--has been the U.S. government. From 1996 to 2003, the U.S. supplied about 40 percent of the world's weapons each year. By comparison, Russia, the second biggest arms pusher, supplied about 15 percent.

During that period, the U.S. sold more than $100 billion worth of weapons--everything from small arms to land mines to ballistic missiles. The buyers were governments around the globe, through both direct Foreign Military Sales (direct sales by the U.S. government to various government) and Commercial Sales (sales by U.S. companies to foreign governments, with the approval of Washington).

For all of the Bush administration's rhetoric about fighting the "war on terror," according to a recently released report from the World Policy Institute (WPI), some of the U.S. government's largest customers are involved in active conflicts--sometimes with each other.

"In 2003," the report states, "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 some cases, the U.S. was providing arms to both sides in a conflict. For example, in 2003, Washington allowed India to purchase more than $26 million in weapons, and Pakistan nearly $6 million. Recently, the U.S. decided to provide new F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan--while simultaneously pledging comparable high-tech hardware to India.

The government also routinely ignores prohibitions on arms sales to or training of foreign militaries that have committed human rights abuses. According to the World Policy Institute, "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."

Add in those countries with "poor" human rights records, and 20 of the top 25 U.S. arms clients in the developing world in 2003 were either undemocratic regimes or governments with records of major human rights abuses.

But for the U.S. government, arming the world's most repressive regimes makes sense. That's because the U.S. uses arms deals to make sure that countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt remain loyal to U.S. interests.

Not surprisingly, the amount of money spent on arming undemocratic governments has grown enormously since September 11. According to the WPI, direct arms sales between the U.S. and other governments increased by 68 percent between 2001 and 2003, from $3.5 billion to nearly $6 billion. For fiscal year 2006, Bush has requested $800,000 in International Military Education and Training grants, up from the $459,000 in 2004--as well as another $76 million in various antiterrorism and military support funds.

Already, antiterrorism funds from the U.S. have gone to training and equipping police units in Indonesia--a country with a long history of state repression--with Glock-17 handguns, M4 sub-machine guns, AR-10 sniper rifles, Remington 870 shotguns and high-tech communications equipment.

What is the justification for arming a military and police force that, according to John Miller, an activist with the East Timor Action Network, "continues to terrorize Indonesian residents"? As the 2006 Congressional budget justification notes, "Indonesia's contribution to the Global War on terrorism is also a vital U.S. interest."

Because the arms trade is such big business for the U.S.--and so "vital" to U.S. interests--Washington has a history of sabotaging international arms accords.

In 2001, for example, the U.S. gutted a United Nations agreement to curb the small arms trade. As Britain's Independent reported at the time, the U.S. "refused to accept provisions that would have barred governments from selling small arms to 'non-state actors,' which really meant rebel groups. Washington wants to remain free to supply arms to whichever group it chooses, for example in countries governed by undemocratic regimes."

And for an explanation of why certain regimes suddenly find themselves on the outs with the U.S., look no further than Iraq.

Before Saddam Hussein fell from favor, he was a key ally of the U.S. in the Middle East. In the early days of the Reagan administration, the U.S. interests section in Baghdad wrote the State Department to urge increased ties with Iraq because there was "a greater convergence of interests with Iraq than at any time since the revolution of 1958." This, about the regime that George W. Bush and friends denounce for its violations of human rights.

President Ronald Reagan dispatched Donald Rumsfeld on two high-level missions to Iraq in 1983 and 1984. As British antiwar leader and member of parliament George Galloway said in his testimony before Congress last month, Rumsfeld "met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns."

In 1988 and 1989 alone, the U.S. government approved licenses to U.S. firms to sell biological products to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Agency and electronics equipment to Iraqi missile-producing plants--the ingredients for chemical weapons, which the Iraqi regime used to gas Kurds.

All this came to an end when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. No longer trusted to protect U.S. "interests" in the Middle East, Washington set out to first isolate, and then remove Saddam Hussein from power.

At every step along the way, ordinary Iraqis paid the real price--both those killed with weapons supplied by the U.S. and those dying today under U.S. occupation.

Stoking the war in Colombia

"IMMUNITY DOES not mean impunity." U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Wood talked tough for the media regarding the case of Warrant Officer Allan Tanquary and Sgt. Jesus Hernandez.

The two U.S. soldiers were arrested early last month for plotting to deliver thousands of rounds of ammunition to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary group with a record of massacring political opponents and trade unionists.

Yet despite demands that they face trial in Colombia, the two were turned over to American authorities, who quickly whisked them back to U.S. soil before they could be questioned by Colombian authorities.

Human rights experts suspect that a large part of the reason for Tanquary and Hernandez's hasty removal from Colombia is the potential embarrassment a full investigation could provide for the U.S. government.

According to reports, the two soldiers were found discovered in a house filled with 29 metal crates of arms and more than 30,000 rounds of ammunition. The house was in a gated compound where many U.S. officers and contractors live, leading some to wonder if military higher-ups weren't aware of the stockpile.

The community of Carmen de Apicalá, where the arms were discovered, is located near Colombia's Tolemaida military base. That's where U.S. Special Forces train Colombian troops in combat skills and the use of U.S. Blackhawk helicopters. "It's a lot of ammunition, and it's a very suspicious case," Colombia's police commander Gen. Jorge Castro told local radio.

The U.S. has denied secretly helping paramilitaries like the AUC, which have been blamed for countless atrocities in Colombia's four-decade dirty war on leftist rebels. In fact, the AUC is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

But the AUC and other groups have well-documented ties to Colombia's military, which the U.S. fully supports. In fact, Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe is currently in negotiations to give the AUC and other paramilitary groups amnesty.

The scandal of Tanquary and Hernandez shows that Washington's Plan Colombia may well include arming the death squads. As Nation reporter Frank Smyth put it, "The State Department spokesman in Washington, Richard Boucher, denied that the arms were part of a secret U.S. effort to arm Colombian paramilitaries. But he still refuses to say whether the arms are part of the unprecedented $3.3 billion in military aid the United States began sending in 2000 as part of Plan Colombia. The Colombian attorney general's office, which is now investigating the case, said that the arms had been diverted from U.S. stockpiles. The Colombian television station RCN broadcast footage of arms with U.S. markings."

As Smyth points out, "In nearly every region of the country, Colombian military officers of all ranks have been found to be secretly collaborating with rightist paramilitaries, and only a few have ever been seriously prosecuted."

As the WPI report on the arms trade notes, "Between 1994 and 2003, Colombia took delivery of $571.6 million in [foreign military sales of] weaponry and another $84.8 million in commercial exports, for a total of more than $656 million in U.S. weapons." The actions of Tanquary and Hernandez are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the U.S. providing arms to keep Colombia's dirty war going.

The bipartisan business of weapons sales

CONTRARY TO what some might think, Republicans aren't the only ones who want to arm the globe.

On the campaign trail in the early 1990s, for example, then-candidate Bill Clinton told reporters that he would make reducing the proliferation of weapons--and particularly those sold by the U.S.--a priority.

"But," as Mother Jones later reported, "the economy was in the doldrums, and the prospect of cutting arms sales--sugar daddy to one of the nation's largest industries--didn't thrill either labor or corporate America. What's more, the Gulf War had just ended the previous year, and it was the best extended commercial an arms salesman could ask for. (Indeed, some arms manufacturers incorporated bombing videos into their promotional materials)...

"So, once elected, Bill Clinton did what he does best: He took advantage of the opportunity. Rather than insert human-rights concerns into the arms-sales equation...Clinton decided to aggressively continue the sales policies of President Bush, himself no slouch when it came to selling U.S. arms."

During Clinton's first year in office, U.S. arms sales doubled. And much like the Bush administration today, the Clinton administration made a habit of selling arms to countries with poor human rights records such as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Colombia and, of course, Israel.

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