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U.S. war on terrorism expected to escalate U.S. arms trade


Typically, war is good business for the arms trade. In the wake of the Gulf War, for example, arms sales skyrocketed. The Middle East, now the largest regional market for U.S.-made weapons, accounts for 74.8 percent of all U.S. arms transfer agreements to developing nations.

Experts in the conventional arms trade say it is “too soon to tell” what the war in Afghanistan will yield but they anticipate a significant escalation in the sale of U.S. weaponry.

The Bush administration’s recent waiver of sanctions on Pakistan, for example, opens the door to military trade with a volatile regime once considered off limits.

In the U.S. war on terrorism, some experts note that arms export control seems to be taking a back seat to the more pressing agenda of buying allies.

Michael Klare, professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, N.H., and the author of Light Weapons and Conflict, says the U.S. war on terrorism will generate two categories of military trade. Initial transactions will involve day-to-day equipment used for counterinsurgency operations. These transactions will be followed by the more “showy” products offered as “payoffs to loyal states.”

Several of the United States’ future clients, such as Uzbekistan, are dealing with internal conflicts and are most likely to want basic counterinsurgency equipment such as “helicopters, light weapons, armored cars and communication gear,” said Klare. He added, “We’re not talking about supersonic jet planes here.

“States that assist the United States in the war on terrorism will be rewarded,” he said. Pakistan, for example, “will be favored to get equipment” in return for its support.

Bill Hartung, executive director of the World Policy Institute, says the Pentagon has established a “cell” within the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, to expedite arms sales. The agency has been given “marching orders to cut through the paperwork and speed up” arms transfers, he said, noting that arms sales to Egypt and Oman, who already “had deals on the table” before the war, were recently accelerated.

In early October, the Bush administration sold $1.1 billion worth of sophisticated weaponry to the Sultanate of Oman, according to a United Nations report. The Oman package included F-16s, sidewinder missiles and air-to-air medium range antiaircraft missiles.

The U.S. war on terrorism has already altered U.S. military trade relations with Pakistan and India, two volatile nuclear rivals. After they launched nuclear tests in May of 1998, both countries were sanctioned by the United States. The sanctions included a prohibition on sales of U.S. weapons. When Pakistan’s Gen. Perez Musharaf seized power in 1999, the country qualified for additional restrictions under the Foreign Operations Act, which prohibits providing assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government was deposed by military coup.

On Sept. 22, the Bush administration asked Congress to waive these sanctions, arguing that they were not currently “in the national security interest of the United States.” With Bill 1465, Congress is expected to pass legislation endorsing a modified version of Bush’s request, though many experts view the waiver with alarm.

The waiver of the “democracy provision” on U.S. arms export is the most significant exemption granted, according to Erik Floden director of the Conventional Arms Transfer Project with the Council for a Livable World. Floden, however, is cautious about predicting the impact of this legislation.

“The administration has more freedom but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily use it” he said, pointing out that Bush’s initial aid package of $100 million to Pakistan was slated for debt relief rather than military expenditures. In House discussion of the bill, Floden noted, “there were some lawmakers who went to the floor and said, ‘We don’t believe supplying arms will be the best approach.’ ”

“The crystal ball here in Washington, D.C., has been rather cloudy,” Floden said. “Partially, I am hopeful, but a lot of caution has been thrown to the wind as of late. I’ve got this bad feeling that we’re going to send in a lot of equipment that’s going to have a destabilizing effect.”

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who opposed S. 1465, spoke in favor of sending economic and humanitarian aid only.

Until sound democracy is established in Pakistan, it is unclear what military artillery and weapons will be used for, Pallone said. He described South Asia as “one of the most politically volatile areas in the world” and Pakistan an “unstable nuclear power.”

Historically, U.S. arms export to Pakistan have been used against India, primarily through cross-border military action in Kashmir. The two countries have fought three wars in the last 50 years, and the ongoing conflict over the disputed region of Kashmir has claimed the lives of 50,000 people in the last decade. According to Defense Week, Pakistan, driven by a desire for military parity with India, is “seeking an assortment of sophisticated U.S. weapons” as a reward for “supporting Washington’s war on terrorism.”

The items on Pakistan’s wish list include: the newest version of the F-16s, anti-ship and antiaircraft missiles, artillery and unmanned aerial aircraft. Defense Monitor reports that an unnamed Pakistani defense ministry source was quoted as saying, “We want the kind of relationship the United States has with Egypt in terms of weapons sales. We have been telling the U.S. that a military balance is the best way to avert war on the subcontinent.”

Pakistan’s new shopping spree has some Indian analysts worried.

“If Pakistan is able to convince the United States to sell it the latest weapons, then it will start a new arms race with India,” said Bidanda Chengappa, researcher at New Delhi’s Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis.

Any escalation of Pakistan’s conventional arsenal will “indirectly affect” the nuclear rivalry between the two countries, says Steve LaMontagne who works with the Council for a Livable World on the Nonproliferation Project. “Anything that has impact on security relations in India in general also has an impact on the nuclear situation.”

Despite the projected expansions of arsenals in South and Central Asia, neither Hartung nor Floden expect the war against terrorism to trigger an arms boom comparable to what occurred with the Gulf War.

Unlike the oil-rich Middle East, the Pentagon’s prospective clients from the U.S. war on terrorism are not flush with cash, and Pentagon subsidies will be required to underwrite much of the trade. Hartung views the Bush administration’s efforts to clear the way for arms sales as “opportunistic.” The administration is “hoping to push through deals that have been in limbo,” he said.

In late September, The Washington Post reported that the Bush administration was asking Congress for a removal of all restrictions on U.S. weapons exports and military assistance through 2007. At this point, Congress is only considering waivers for India and Pakistan, and these would apply until 2003.

Claire Schaeffer-Duffy is a freelance writer living in Worcester, Mass.

National Catholic Reporter, November 9, 2001