The Defense Science Board’s final report predicts a direscenario for the future: “with few exceptions, advancedconventional weapons will be available to anyone whocan afford them.” The DSB’s conclusion is to give up,telling the Pentagon to stop worrying about protectingAmerican technological capabilities, because “clingingto a failing policy of export controls” could “limit thespecial influence the U.S.might otherwise accrue as aglobal provider and supporterof military equipment and ser-vices.” Yet with concertedeffort, the assumption of ahighly militarized future inwhich the U.S. must sell armsto buy influence can bealtered.The first step would be toincrease the U.S. government’sown standards for armsexports. No export reformsshould be adopted unless theycan be guaranteed to strengthen U.S. control over armsproliferation. In addition, the U.S. should adopt a poli-cy of broad and consistent export restraints to reducethe political costs of denying a particular arms sale andto give the U.S. government the moral authority toencourage restraint by other states. Rep. CynthiaMcKinney (D-GA) has proposed a U.S. “code of conduct” for arms transfers, which would restrict armssales to countries that are non-democratic, aggressors,human rights abusers, or not open about their militaryspending. Such a code would effectively address the realsecurity threats that conventional arms proliferationpose by preventing arms sales to those countries mostlikely to misuse them. If applied fairly and consistently,a code of conduct would be a more neutral and justexport control system than the current case-by-casedecision-making process.Second, U.S. export controls must not only be strong,but shared. The cold war consensus on limiting conven-tional arms exports to common enemies has been lost,and an effective new regime has yet to take its place.Transnational weapons development and productionwill require states to make more joint decisions onexports of these co-developed arms. To avoid thetemptation to adopt the weakest criteria, theinternational community urgently needs to adopt strictcommon standards for arms transfers. The U.S. govern-ment was given a congressional mandate in fall 1999 todevelop a multilateral code of conduct on arms trans-fers, using criteria similar to McKinney’s code.Valuable precedents already exist on which to build afuture international consensus. In May 1998, theEuropean Union agreed to a common set of principlesfor arms transfers, including human rights and regionalstability. Member states promised to inform each otherof sales denials based on these criteria and to consulteach other if planning to undercut such denials. SeveralEastern European states, Canada, and the U.S haveendorsed the EU Code principles. Other majorexporters will need additional incentives to practicerestraint: Russia’s conventional arms industry needssome of the same attention the U.S. government is giv-ing to address the risk of nuclear proliferation, andChina needs to see conventional arms control as theinternational norm that must be adopted for interna-tional acceptance.More broadly, America needs to get its priorities straightwith regard to arms exports. Alleged economic benefitsof arms exports should never be allowed to outweigh therisk that those weapons might be used in human rightsabuses or accelerate a destabilizing arms race. The nextadministration can take the first step by developing anew presidential directive on arms exports that excludesClinton’s reference to “the impact on U.S. industry andthe defense industrial base.” It should also reduce thefinancial and marketing support for U.S. weapons sales,shifting these funds into more constructive exportmarkets.Exporting more arms is the easy way to deal with thearms industry’s overcapacity. But the U.S. government iscreating serious problems by promoting exports as thesolution. A better approach is to create a responsiblearms export policy, and to cut back U.S. arms produc-tion where necessary. With some encouragement fromits constituents, the next administration may muster thepolitical will to get this done.
Tamar Gabelnick is Director of the Arms Sales MonitoringProject of the Federation of American Scientists; Anna Rich is a research assistant with the ASMP.
•The U.S. government should becautious and skeptical as it considersexport reforms.•The U.S. government should base itsarms export policies on promotion ofhuman rights, democracy, and peace,not economic considerations.•The U.S. government should worktoward a strong internationalconsensus on limiting the arms trade.
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