America's Global Weapons Monopoly
by Frida Berrigan, TomDispatch
February 17, 2010
On the relatively rare occasions when
the media turns its attention to U.S. weapons sales abroad and
shines its not-so-bright spotlight on the latest set of facts
and figures, it invariably speaks of "the global arms trade."
Let's consider that label for a moment,
word by word:
*It is global, since there are few places
on the planet that lie beyond the reach of the weapons industry.
*Arms sounds so old-fashioned and anodyne
when what we're talking about is advanced technology designed
to kill and maim.
*And trade suggests a give and take among
many parties when, if we're looking at the figures for that "trade"
in a clear-eyed way, there is really just one seller and so many
How about updating it this way: "the
global weapons monopoly."
In 2008, according to an authoritative
report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), $55.2 billion
in weapons deals were concluded worldwide. Of that total, the
United States was responsible for $37.8 billion in weapons sales
agreements, or 68.4% of the total "trade." Some of these
agreements were long-term ones and did not result in 2008 deliveries
of weapons systems, but these latest figures are a good gauge
of the global appetite for weapons. It doesn't take a PhD in economics
to recognize that, when one nation accounts for nearly 70% of
weapons sales, the term "global arms trade" doesn't
quite cut it.
Consider the "competition" and
reality comes into focus. Take a guess on which country is the
number two weapons exporter on the planet: China? Russia? No,
Italy, with a relatively paltry $3.7 billion in agreements with
other countries or just 9% of the U.S. market share. Russia, that
former Cold War superpower in the "trade," was close
behind Italy, with only $3.5 billion in arms agreements.
U.S. weapons manufacturers have come a
long way, baby, since those Cold War days when the United States
really did have a major competitor. For instance, the Congressional
Research Service's data for 1990, the last year of the Soviet
Union's existence, shows global weapons sales totaling $32.7 billion,
with the United States accounting for $12.1 billion of that or
37% of the market. For its part, the Soviet Union was responsible
for a competitive $10.7 billion in deals inked that year. France,
China, and the United Kingdom accounted for most of the rest.
Since then, the global appetite for weapons
has only grown more voracious, while the number of purveyors has
shrunk to the point where the Pentagon could hang out a sign:
"We arm the world." No kidding, it's true.
Cambodia ($304,000), Comoros ($895,000),
Colombia ($256 million), Guinea ($200,000), Greece ($225 million),
Great Britain ($1.1 billion), the Philippines ($72.9 million),
Poland ($79.8 million), and Peru ($16.4 million) all buy U.S.
arms, as does almost every country not in that list. U.S. weapons,
and only U.S. weapons, are coveted by presidents and prime ministers,
generals and strongmen.
From the Pentagon's own data (which differs
from that in the CRS report), here are the top ten nations which
made Foreign Military Sales agreements with the Pentagon, and
so with U.S. weapons makers, in 2008:
Saudi Arabia $6.06 billion
Iraq $2.50 billion
Morocco $2.41 billion
Egypt $2.31 billion
Israel $1.32 billion
Australia $1.13 billion
South Korea $1.12 billion
Great Britain $1.10 billion
India $1 billion
Japan $840 million
That's more than $17 billion in weapons
right there. Some of these countries are consistently eager buyers,
and some are not. Morocco, for example, is only in that top-ten
list because it was green-lighted to buy 24 of Lockheed Martin's
F-16 fighter planes at $360 million (or so) for each aircraft,
an expensive one-shot deal. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia (which
inked $14.71 billion in weapons agreements between 2001 and 2008),
Egypt ($13.25 billion) and Israel ($11.27 billion) are such regular
customers that they should have the equivalent of one of those
"buy 10, get the 11th free" punch cards doled out by
your favorite coffee shop.
To sum up, the U.S. has a virtual global
monopoly on exporting tools of force and destruction. Call it
market saturation. Call it anything you like, just not the "global
Getting Even More Competitive?
It used to be that the United States exported
goods, products, and machinery of all sorts in prodigious quantities:
cars and trucks, steel and computers, and high-tech gizmos. But
those days are largely over.
The Obama administration now wants to
launch a green manufacturing revolution in the U.S., and in February,
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced a new "National Export
Initiative" with the aim of doubling American exports, a
move he said would support the creation of two million new jobs.
The U.S. could, of course, lose the renewable-energy race to
China and that new exports program may never get off the ground.
In one area, however, the U.S. is manufacturing products that
are distinctly wanted -- things that go boom in the night -- and
there the Pentagon is working hard to increase market share.
Don't for a second think that the American
global monopoly on weapons sales is accidental or unintentional.
The constant and lucrative growth of this market for U.S. weapons
makers has been ensured by shrewd strategic planning. Washington
is constantly thinking of new and inventive ways to flog its deadly
wares throughout the world.
How do you improve on near perfection?
In the interest of enhancing that "competitive" edge
in weapons sales, the Obama administration is investigating the
possibility of revising export laws to make it even easier to
sell military technology abroad. As Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell
explained in January, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants
to see "wholesale changes to the rules and regulations on
government technology exports" in the name of "competitiveness."
When he says "government technology
exports," Morell of course means weapons and other military
technologies. "Tinkering with our antiquated, bureaucratic,
overly cumbersome system is not enough to maintain our competitiveness
in the global economy and also help our friends and allies buy
the equipment they need to contribute to global security,"
he continued, "[Gates] strongly supports the administration's
efforts to completely reform our export control regime, starting
ideally with a blank sheet of paper."
The laws that regulate U.S. weapons exports
are a jumbled mess, but in essence they delineate what the United
States can sell to whom and through what bureaucratic mechanisms.
According to U.S. law, for example, there are actually a few countries
that cannot receive U.S. weapons. Myanmar under the military junta
and Venezuela while led by Hugo Chavez are two examples. There
are also some weapons systems that are not intended for export.
Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor jet fighter was -- until the Pentagon
recently stopped buying the plane -- deemed too sophisticated
or sensitive to sell abroad. And there are reporting requirements
that give members of Congress a window of opportunity within which
they can question or oppose proposed weapons exports.
Given what's being sold, these export
controls are remarkably minimal in nature and are constantly under
assault by the weapons industry. Bans on weapons sales to particular
countries are regularly lifted through aggressive lobbying. (Indonesia,
for example, was offered $50 million in weapons from 2006 to 2008
after an almost decade long congressional arms embargo.) The industry
also works to relax controls on new technology exports to allies.
Japan and Australia have mounted campaigns to win the ability
to buy F-22 Raptors, potential sales that Lockheed Martin is now
especially happy to entertain. The reporting window to Congress
remains an important export control, but the time frame is shrinking
as more countries are being "fast tracked," making it
harder for distracted representatives to react when a controversial
sale comes up.
In addition to revising these export controls,
the administration is looking at the issue of "dual-use"
technologies. These are not weapons. They do not shoot or explode.
Included are high-speed computer processors, surveillance and
detection networks, and a host of other complex and evolving technologies
that could have military as well as civilian applications. This
category might also include intangible items like cyber-entities
or access to controlled web environments.
Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and
other major weapons manufacturers have invested billions of dollars
from the Pentagon's research and development budgets in exploring
and perfecting such technologies, and now they are eager to sell
them to foreign buyers along with the usual fighter planes, combat
ships, and guided missiles. But the rules as they stand make this
something less than a slam dunk. So the weapons industry and the
Pentagon are arguing for "updating" the rules. If you
translate updating as "loosening" the rules, then the
United States would indeed be more "competitive," but
who exactly are we trying to beat?
Weapons Sales are Red Hot
"What's Hot?" is the title of
Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieranga's blog entry for January 4, 2010.
Wieranga is the Director of the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation
Agency, which is charged with overseeing weapons exports, and
such pillow talk is evidently more than acceptable -- at least
when it's about weapons sales. In fact, Wieranga could barely
restrain himself that day, adding: "Afghanistan is really
HOT!" Admittedly, on that day the temperature in Kabul was
just above freezing, but not at the Pentagon, where arms sales
to Afghanistan evidently create a lot of heat.
As Wieranga went on to write, the Obama
administration's new 2010/2011 budget allocates $6 billion in
weaponry for Afghan Security Forces. The Afghans will actually
get those weapons for free, but U.S. weapons makers will make
real money delivering them at taxpayers' expense and, as the Vice
Admiral pointed out, that "means there is a staggering amount
of acquisition work to do."
It's not just Afghanistan that's now in
the torrid zone. Weapons sales all over the world will be smoking
in 2010 and beyond.
The year began with a bang when Wieranga's
Agency announced that the Obama administration had decided to
sell a nifty $6 billion in weapons to Taiwan. Even as the United
States leans heavily on China for debt servicing, Washington is
giving the Mainland a big raspberry by offering the island of
22 million off its coast (which Washington does not formally recognize
as an independent nation), a lethal cocktail of weaponry that
includes $3 billion in Black Hawk helicopters. This deal comes
on top of more than $11 billion in U.S. weapons exports to Taiwan
over the last decade, and is certain to set Chinese-U.S. relations
back a step or two.
Other bonanzas on the horizon? Brazil
wants new fighter planes and Boeing is battling a French company
for the contract in a deal that could be worth a whopping $7 billion.
India, once a major arms buyer from the Soviet Union, is now another
big buy-American customer, with Boeing and Lockheed Martin vying
to equip its air force with new fighter planes in deals that Boeing
estimates may reach $11 billion.
Such deals are staggering. They contribute
more bang and blast to a world already bristling with particularly
lethal weaponry. They are a striking American success story in
a time filled with failures. Put in the lurid but everyday terms
of a nation weaned on reality television, the Pentagon is pimping
for the U.S. weapons industry. The weapons industry, for its
part, is a pusher for every kind of lethal technology. The two
of them together are working to ensure that more of the same will
flow out of the U.S. in ever easier and more lucrative ways.
Global arms trade? Send that one back
to the Department of Euphemisms. Pimps and pushers with a lucrative
global monopoly on a killing drug -- maybe that's the language
we need. And maybe, just maybe, it's time to launch a "war
Frida Berrigan is a Senior Program Associate
with the New America Foundation's Arms and Security Initiative.
"Weapons at War 2008," a report she co-authored with
William D. Hartung, goes into much more detail about the politics
and pratfalls of weapons exports.