International Arms Trade

International trade, U.S. foreign policy, military power, technology, national security, governance, employment, and lobbying intersect at the nexus which is international arms trade.


A 2014 report by the U.S. Department of State valued the arms delivered world-wide in 2011 at $177.8 billion, a figure that had increased more than two-fold from $74.1 billion in 2001. (Dollar figures are in current dollars.) The U.S. was by far the largest single exporter of arms throughout the period, accounting for 72-80% of the total. The European Union accounted for about 11% of total, Russia about 5% and China about 2%.


Arms trade accounted for only 10% of total world trade of merchandise in 2011, but because of its impact on so many global issues, it weighs heavily on international relations. The volume of arms going to various recipients around the world reveals much about international relations and geopolitics in general. Of the world total of $177.8 billion, $82.7 billion was delivered to Asian countries. Middle East countries received $29.3 billion of the total for Asia.


The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reports annually on international conflicts and arms transfers between states. SIPRI has reported that “states in the Middle East are investing heavily in missiles and aircraft-launched guided bombs. The U.S. has delivered missiles to Turkey, the UAE, and Bahrain, and has negotiated to sell missiles to Saudi Arabia. While some countries have limited weapons sales to Egypt following the high number of civilian deaths in clashes there with the military, Russia continues to market weapons to Egypt, as well as to Syria.


The Congressional Research Service prepares an annual report on conventional arms transfers to developing countries by the U.S. and foreign countries to assist Congress in policy formulation. The 2012 report cited Saudi Arabia as the leading developing world arms purchaser, followed by India. Both are involved in military modernization efforts underway since the 1990s. The UAE, Egypt, Pakistan, Algeria, and Israel join Saudi Arabia and India among the top ten arms purchasers for the period 2004-2011.


Three days before he left the presidency in 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke to the country. He talked of the struggle to maintain peace, the growing military establishment, and the temptation to “invest in newer elements of our defense.” He said,


We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are already directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience…. We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.


The link between government and the military industry is frequently a revolving door. Dick Cheney, who served a Secretary of Defense under George H. W. Bush until 1992, in 1995 became CEO of Halliburton, a major U.S. military contractor. Cheney resigned as CEO of Halliburton and became vice president under George W. Bush, son of George H.W. Bush.


In his 2015 book From Deep State to Islamic State, Jean-Pierre Filiu wrote. “The colossal material aid that Washington was granting to Cairo … was earmarked to buy US weapons and other goods whose producers were lobbying DC on behalf of Egypt.”


In November 2015 Reuters reported that Boeing’s vice president for international business development, Jeff Kohler, was frustrated by delays by the U.S. government in approving sales of fighter jets to Persian Gulf countries. Kohler, who was formerly head of the Pentagon agency that oversees foreign arms sales, said he feared that timely approval by the government could cost U.S. arms makers needed revenue.


Eisenhower was a battle-hardened five-star general, which makes his expression of concerns all the more remarkable and relevant.

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