September 25, 2003
It’s damn hard to cry for peace when you make your living selling war
Posted by Mark W. Anderson at September 25, 2003 12:35 AM
Imagine, if you will, that you lived in a neighborhood that was controlled by an organized gang. Pretend this gang, in an effort to make sure that its territory was secure, had banned all non-sanctioned inter-gang violence from within its borders – the streets under its immediate control, the parks and schools, etc., a job it did with relative success. Also imagine that, in addition to its many other illegal activities, this local gang had a thriving business in dealing handguns and rifles to the other gangs who controlled separate communities on the other side of town – an operation that brought in, say, over a million dollars a year to the leaders of our neighborhood gang.
Now, let’s say one day, at a community forum gathered to discuss the issues of crime in the city, the leader of this gang got up and said that no one should be able to tell his group what to do because, under his control, there is a whole lot less violence on his neighborhood streets than in other parts of the city, and he and his fellow gang members were responsible for such a state of affairs. And, in fact, not only should the community embrace him and his people, their gang should be given community money and support to carry on their operations.
Do you think anyone would be willing to greet these people as liberators, keepers of the peace, and worthy of a free pass? Or line up behind them to offer their support?
Unfortunately, that’s one way of looking at the behavior of the United States when examining the world’s arms market. Not only does the U.S. continue to single-handedly dominate the world market for arms sales, as evidenced by a new report sent to Congress this week by the Congressional Research Service, but it also continues to pretend that it does no such thing, instead preferring to present itself as a peace-loving nation who deserves the respect and support of the world community for its unquestionable commitment to peace.
The annual report, entitled "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1995-2002" and written by Richard F. Grimmett, one of the world’s leading authorities on the global arms trade, focuses on sales and deliveries of conventional weapons from the industrialized world to poorer nations. And, in this market, the United States takes a back seat to no one. According to the New York Times,
The United States was the leader in total worldwide sales in 2002, with about $13.3 billion, or 45.5 percent of global conventional weapons deals, a rise from $12.1 billion in 2001. Of that, $8.6 billion was to developing nations, or about 48.6 percent of conventional arms deals concluded with developing nations last year. Russia was second in sales to the developing world last year, with $5 billion, followed by France with $1 billion.
As it turns out, neither is the U.S. a newcomer to such global dominance in the sale of arms. As far back as 1990, for example, the U.S. had arms sales agreements worth over $34 billion with the rest of the world, a figure that represented only known, government-to-government sales. (Of course, there’s also a difference between agreements and actual sales). In 1996, the figure was over $69 billion, and for 2000 alone it was a staggering $131 billion. Certainly not pocket change, or a small-time cottage industry worth overlooking when it comes to national self-image.
Such dominance has done very little, as it turns out, for the possibilities of world peace or the development of democracy. According to Controlling U.S. Arms Sales, a study published in the November, 1994 issue of Foreign Policy in Focus, "many (U.S.) weapons are sold to the world’s trouble spots, thus helping to fan the flames of war instead of promoting stability". David Isenberg of the Center for Defense Information and author of the study, noted that not only has U.S. has been a significant arms supplier to many of the nations now engaged in active wars, but that, at the time of the report, non-democratic governments received 84% of the then $59 billion of U.S. weapons that were transferred to non-industrialized countries from 1991-95, and that "the proliferation of conventional weapons represents an increasing threat to U.S. military forces."
Nor has such a policy been good for the welfare of those here at home. As Isenberg points out,
In many cases, U.S. arms exports cost the U.S. taxpayer money. When foreign countries use U.S. aid money to buy weapons, the result is a net transfer of dollars from U.S. taxpayers to U.S. weapons manufacturers, not a net gain to the U.S. economy. If U.S. weapons are not gifts (acquired using U.S. grants or low-cost loans), foreign countries must export nonmilitary goods to obtain dollars for weapons purchases. To the extent these imports replace domestic production, U.S. jobs are lost.
But, just like so many other aspects of our own self-administered national amnesia, Americans have absolutely no interest in seeing themselves as arms peddlers supplying the world’s hot spots with the tools necessary to slide deeper into misery. Instead, we much prefer, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, to picture ourselves as a peace-loving people, slow to anger and slower to fight, who place the prerequisites of peace at the forefront of our national life and who support peace and stability everywhere else. Take, for example, the words of President Bush who, just a few days ago, called on the United Nations to help the United States to keep the peace in Iraq, a country that is in chaos in no small part from the unleashing of tens of thousands of those weapons the United States spends so many national resources creating:
"Events during the past two years have set before us the clearest of divides, between those who seek order and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change and those who adopt the methods of gangsters; between those who honor the rights of man and those who deliberately take the lives of men and women and children…"
What the President failed to point out, however, beyond the question of which side of those divides we currently fall on, was that are other divides loose among the planet: between those who live by their rhetoric and those who do not, and between those who believe in democracy and those who would subvert it in the service of the needs of defense contractors. Of the latter group, unfortunately, stands President Bush. As reported by Matt Schroeder and Rachel Stohl in the January 6, 2003 issue of Defense News, in October 2002 Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, announced plans by President Bush to conduct a practically secret review of U.S. policy on defense trade controls, with an eye on loosening restrictions on sales. According to a White House press release, the review is intended to "identify foreign market access barriers that impede U.S.-Allied defense industrial cooperation". What it really means, Schroeder and Stohl point out, is that the "directive appears to be yet another attempt by the Defense Department and industry to sell as many U.S. weapons as quickly as possible."
Of course, the press release also takes pains to say, right up front, that the "comprehensive review" is intended first and foremost to "support the security of the United States; contribute to peace and stability, including regional security; (and) support U.S. nonproliferation and counterterrorism policies, strategies and international commitments."
But with billions of dollars of arms sales each year to practically every country on earth, the question might be: how exactly is that going to be accomplished?
Or, perhaps just as importantly, the question might be: how can we trust those leaders who promise us peace and security in our own neighborhood but who fail to mention that it comes at the expense of those who live and die, unseen, on the other side of town?
And exactly where do we fit into all this, especially if we, in our own blindness and ignorance, helped pull the trigger?