U.S. Controls Global Arms Market, Says Congressional Report

By Ramesh Jaura | IDN-InDepthNews Analysis

BERLIN (IDN) – “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” declared U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in April 1953. A new report shows that these remarks remain relevant and yet unheeded 62 years later.

While hunger, poverty and depravity continue to stalk developing lands, the report by the prestigious Congressional Research Service (CRS) finds that the United States remains the single largest weapons supplier to developing nations, controlling more than 50 percent of the global arms market. From 2011 to 2014, Washington made arms supply agreements worth nearly $115 billion with developing nations.

The report says that though global arms sales were on decline since 2011, the U.S. arms exports rose to $36.2 billion in 2014 from $26.7 billion the year before, boosted by multibillion-dollar agreements with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

Titled ‘Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2007-2014, the study was delivered to the U.S. legislators less than ten days before the start of the year 2016.

According to the report, Russia followed the United States as the leading arms supplier, chasing $10.2 billion in sales, compared with $10.3 billion in 2013. Sweden ranked third, with roughly $5.5 billion in sales, followed by France with $4.4 billion and China with $2.2 billion.

The report reveals that a key U.S. ally – South Korea – was the world’s top weapons buyer in 2014, finalising $7.8 billion in contracts. Pitted against North Korea, Seoul has faced continued tensions with its belligerent neighbour in recent years particularly over its nuclear weapons programme.

The bulk of South Korea’s purchases, worth more than $7 billion, were made with the U.S. and included transport helicopters and related support, as well as advanced unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles.

The report authored by Catherine A. Theohary, Specialist in National Security Policy and Information Operations, further reveals that Iraq followed South Korea, with $7.3 billion in purchases aimed at build up its military in the wake of the American troop withdrawal there and combating the extremist Islamic State.

Another developing nation, Brazil, was third, worth $6.5 billion worth of purchase agreements, primarily for Swedish aircraft.

The Congressional reports have been informing legislative debate in the U.S. since 1914. The latest, published in December 2015, is considered among the most detailed “official, unclassified data from U.S. government sources” on global arms exports, made available to the public. It updates and revises CRS Report R42017, Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2003-2010, by Richard F. Grimmett.

He was the chief author of CRS reports in international weapons and sales transfers. Since his retirement in 2012, Washington had not documented “one of its biggest and most deadly weapons”, remarked ‘World Beyond War’, “a global nonviolent movement to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace”.

Greater Competition

According to the current report, total global arms sales rose slightly in 2014 to $71.8 billion, from $70.1 billion in 2013. Despite that increase, the report concludes, “the international arms market is not likely growing over all,” because of “the weakened state of the global economy”.

2014 was the second successive year that worldwide weapons sales remained steady, an indication that the market has begun to stabilise after several years of extreme fluctuation.

The report finds that the lack of market expansion has led to greater competition among suppliers. Some arms producers have in fact adopted measures like flexible financing, counter-trade guarantees and coproduction and co-assembly agreements to try to secure sales.

Theohary, author of the report says: “A number of weapons-exporting nations are focusing not only on the clients with which they have held historic competitive advantages due to well-established military-support relationships, but also on potential new clients in countries and regions where they have not been traditional arms suppliers.”

The principal focus of the report, says Theohary, is the level of arms transfers by major weapons suppliers to nations in the developing world – “where most analysts agree that the potential for the outbreak of regional military conflicts currently is greatest, and where the greatest proportion of the conventional arms trade is conducted”.

For decades, during the height of the Cold War, providing conventional weapons to friendly states was an instrument of foreign policy utilized by the United States and its allies, adds Theohary.

This was equally true for the now defunct Soviet Union and its allies. The underlying rationale given for U.S. arms transfer policy then was to help ensure that friendly states were not placed at risk through a military disadvantage created by arms transfers by the Soviet Union or its allies.

“Following the Cold War’s end, U.S. arms transfer policy has been based on maintaining or augmenting friendly and allied nations’ ability to deal with regional security threats and concerns.”

Data in the report illustrate global patterns of conventional arms transfers, which have changed in the post-Cold War and post-Persian Gulf War years. Relationships between arms suppliers and recipients continue to evolve in response to changing political, military, and economic circumstances.


“Whereas the principal motivation for arms sales by key foreign suppliers in earlier years might have been to support a foreign policy objective, today that motivation may be based as much, if not more, on economic considerations as those of foreign or national security policy,” writes Theohary.

During the period covered by the report, 2007-2014, conventional arms transfer agreements (which represent orders for future delivery) to developing countries comprised 77.2% of the value of all international arms transfer agreements.

The portion of agreements with developing countries constituted 75.5% of all agreements globally from 2011-2014. In 2014  arms transfer agreements with developing countries accounted for 86% of the value of all such agreements worldwide.

Sales of conventional arms to developing nations from 2011 to 2014 constituted 62% of all international arms deliveries. In 2014, arms exports to developing nations constituted 44% of the value of all such arms sales worldwide, says the Congressional report.

However, as Eisenhower said: “This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement.”

These figures have changed over the decades. But the message relevant and urgent – coming from a man who was commanding general of the victorious forces in Europe during World War II, obtained a truce in Korea and worked incessantly during his two terms (1953-1961) to ease the tensions of the Cold War.

In his farewell speech, he warned of the menace of “the military-industrial complex”, which is meanwhile entrenched not only in U.S. but also in Russia, China and other leading arms suppliers of the world. [IDN-InDepthNews – 30 December 2015]

Photo: An Apache helicopter from Fort Bliss, Texas, is transported to its parking location Dec. 13, 2015, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The helicopters were scheduled to take part in the annual Qatar National Day parade. Credit:  U.S. Air Force photo/James Hodgman.

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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