Washington -- President George W. Bush may have pledged to promote democracy around the world, but most U.S. arms sales to the developing world still go to prop up dictatorial regimes, according to a new report.
The report, issued by the New York-based World Policy Institute, found that a majority of U.S. arms sales to the developing world go to regimes defined as undemocratic by the State Department. It also says that U.S.-supplied arms are involved in a majority of the world's active conflicts.
"Billions of U.S. arms sales to Afghanistan in the 1980s ended up empowering Islamic fundamentalist fighters across the globe," according to report co-author William D. Hartung, director of the WPI's Arms Trade Resource Center. "Our current policy of arming unstable regimes could have similarly disastrous consequences, with U.S.-supplied weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, insurgents, or hostile governments."
"Perhaps no single policy is more at odds with President Bush's pledge to 'end tyranny in our world' than the United States' role as the world's leading arms exporting nation," said Frida Berrigan, another report co-author. "Although arms sales are often justified on the basis of their purported benefits, from securing access to overseas military facilities to rewarding coalition partners, these alleged benefits often come at a high price."
The report's authors cite the Bush administration's recent decision to provide new F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan while pledging comparable high-tech military hardware to its rival India as an example of the way U.S. arms sometimes go to both sides in long-brewing conflicts.
They also argue that tens of millions of dollars worth of U.S. arms transfers to Uzbekistan, a Central Asian nation that has provided a key base to project U.S. military power in the region, is an example of the negative consequences of arming repressive regimes. Uzbekistan was recently rocked by anti-government protests that were repressed at the cost of hundreds of lives.
According to the report, in 2003, the last year for which full information is available, the United States transferred weaponry to 18 of the 25 countries involved in active conflicts around the world, including Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, Colombia, Pakistan, Israel and the Philippines. Transfers to those nations through the two largest U.S. arms-sales programs -- foreign military sales and commercial sales -- totaled nearly $1 billion in 2003.
During that year 13 of the top 25 recipients of U.S. arms transfers in the developing world were defined as undemocratic by the State Department's Human Rights Report, the WPI report stated.
These 13 nations received more than $2.7 billion in U.S. arms transfers in 2003, the report said. The top recipients included Saudi Arabia with $1.1 billion of U.S. arms, Egypt with $1 billion, Kuwait with $153 million, the United Arab Emirates with $110 million and Uzbekistan with $33 million, it said.
When countries criticized by the State Department's Human Rights Report for having poor human-rights records or serious patterns of abuse were added to the list, 20 of the top 25 U.S. arms clients in the developing world in 2003 -- 80 percent in all -- were either undemocratic regimes or governments with records of major human-rights abuses, the report said.
The largest U.S. military aid program, Foreign Military Financing, increased by 68 percent from 2001 to 2003, from $3.5 billion to nearly $6 billion, the report said. The biggest increases went to countries that were engaged as U.S. allies in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, it said.
These included Jordan, with a $525 million increase from 2001 to 2003; Afghanistan, with a $191 million increase during the same period; Pakistan, with a $224 million increase; and Bahrain, with a $90 million increase. The Philippines, where the United States stepped up joint operations against a local terrorist group with alleged links to al-Qaida, also received a substantial increase from 2001 to 2003 of $47 million, the report said.
The total level of military aid given to other countries by the United States has leveled off slightly since its peak in fiscal year 2003, coming in at a requested $4.5 billion for fiscal year 2006, the report said. However, the number of countries receiving FMF assistance increased by nearly 50 percent from FY2001 to FY2006 from 48 to 71, it said.
"Arming repressive regimes while simultaneously proclaiming a campaign against tyranny undermines the credibility of the United States and makes it harder to hold other nations to high standards of conduct on human rights and other key issues," Berrigan said.
The report argued that arming undemocratic governments often helped to enhance their power, fueling conflict or enabling human-rights abuses. It argued that the resulting damage to the reputation of the United States was a major impediment to winning the "war of ideas" in the Muslim world and that it undermined efforts to "drain the swamp" of financial and political support for terrorist organizations like al-Qaida.
"The time has come to impose greater scrutiny on U.S. arms transfers and military aid programs," Hartung said. "They are not simply another tool in the foreign policy toolbox, to be used to win friends and intimidate adversaries as needed."
The report's authors advocate implementing the underlying assumptions of U.S. arms-export law that call for arming nations only for purposes of self-defense. They also advocate avoiding arms sales to nations that engage in patterns of systematic human-rights abuses.
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