Flooding the World with Weapons
By Cassidy Regan on 09/11/2012 @ 06:00 PM
In the midst of crisis in Libya, ongoing war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and myriad outbreaks of armed conflict in Cote d’Ivoire and elsewhere, the U.S. more than topped the charts for global arms sales in 2011. According to a report released two weeks ago by the Congressional Research Service, the value of U.S. arms exports tripled from 2010 to 2011, accounting for more than three-quarters of the global market and totaling $66.3 billion. (And that's just on the part of the U.S. government – the report's numbers do not include sales authorized for private companies based in the United States.)
A quick look at the top recipients of U.S. weapons reveals that there are few qualms with either making sales to oppressive regimes or fueling potential for violent conflict. Arms transfers to Saudi Arabia were “extraordinary” despite significant human rights concerns, including swift repression of domestic democratic movements and sending troops to do the same in Bahrain. As a recent New York Times article on U.S. arms sales notes, Saudi Arabia is only one of a few major recipients deemed “Persian gulf nations concerned about Iran’s regional ambitions.” Even as diplomacy is underway, the U.S. is directly undermining prospects for peace.
Given the nature of the U.S. government’s decisions, it’s not surprising that transparency around arms sales is often lacking. Recent examples of sneaky U.S. transfers – including an arms package sent to Bahrain earlier this year – reflect how governments around the world are rarely held publicly accountable for the decisions they make. Luckily, there are many who have taken notice, and this new interactive map begins to chart the market worth $85.3 billion annually. (One great example: take a look at the U.S. profile to learn that the government purchases $430 million of ammunition each year, an amount that could cover the costs of the Complex Crises Fund for almost a decade.)
Interestingly, the U.S. was by no means one of many countries experiencing a dramatic increase in arms sales last year. On the contrary, the report highlights the U.S. as a “clear outlier figure” reaching a record high, with most other major suppliers (such as Russia) seeing significant declines.
As U.S. dominance in the global arms market is made increasingly clear, so is the need for the U.S. to take responsibility for the role it plays. Just last week, Diane Randall joined a letter calling on President Obama to finish what the administration failed to complete earlier this summer: an Arms Trade Treaty that would help regulate the rampant international trade of arms and prevent weapons from reaching those who would harm civilians. Even as people across the Middle East and North Africa build movements for democracy and freedom, the U.S. government continues its approach of flooding the world with weapons and resisting international arms trade standards.
If nothing else, 2011 should have served as proof that it’s time to reverse the trend.