You are on page 1of 3

TO WHAT EXTENT HAS THE US DOMINATED THE WORLD ARMS TRADE SINCE THE MID-1960s?

The participation of the USA in the global 'arms bazaar', as firstly one of the two key powers in the cold war, and now as the lone superpower is a matter of serious interest when considering contemporary international security issues. It is my intention in this essay to show how American policy has influenced its patterns of arms sales, due to exigencies of cold war security concerns, before focusing on current trends, and the dichotomy between current arms control proposals, and US involvement in the market. The 1960's was a period in which American involvement in the global arms market was limited, due to a number of environmental factors. Firstly, The US Government's policy of containment, the encirclement of the Soviet Union, using security pacts, guaranteed by the world-wide deployment of US military assets, and a commitment to intervene to stop communist aggression, was to tie up most of the production of the American military-industrial complex, leaving little surplus for export. Secondly, the rest of the world market was poorly developed. Africa, Asia and the Middle Eastern markets were in their infancy, many of their defence needs catered for by colonial ties. Thirdly, the Vietnam war was acting as a sponge for defence supplies, resulting in the development of selected Pacific Rim economies to service the US presence. Fourth, American hegemonic control of the world's economy, through its privileged position in the Bretton Woods regime allowed it to pursue a policy of 'benign neglect', having successive budget deficits in order to fund the war, leading Charles deGaulle to describe the Vietnam conflict as America's "exorbitant privilege" 1 The last factor to consider for the American military-industrial complex in the 1960's, which would have important ramifications for the future arms market was the increasing costs of developing new conventional weapon systems. The Kennedy administration initiated a programme to give the US military a significant technological edge in conventional as well as nuclear systems. Robert MacNamara's policies led to very high cost projects such as the Galaxy air transport plane, the nuclear powered CVN aircraft carrier project, and new fighter aircraft for the Navy and Air Force. Corporations could not afford to finance these projects alone, and nor could the government. Something in the environment would have to change to facilitate this build-up, which lead to the Nixon doctrine of the 1970's. By the 1970's the arms market was changing fast beyond all recognition. America's policy of containment, combined with fighting a war in distant south-east Asia, acted as a catalyst for economic development in several states, particularly South Korea, who supplied some 20% of its exports to the US forces in Vietnam 2 The Middle East was suddenly the beneficiary of massively expanded revenues due to the OPEC price rises in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, all eager to expand their defensive capabilities. Domestically, a new American President declared his intention to "develop a new approach to foreign policy to match a new era of international relations" 3 The Nixon Doctrine was essentially a response to the failure of containment. It was widely accepted that the US did not have the personnel or resources to fight the perceived threat from communism world-wide without regional support. The conceptual background to this policy was the shared belief of Nixon and Kissinger in Realpolitik, or realism. The physical manifestation of this policy was the supporting of regional states sympathetic, better dependent on American interests. The main tool to accomplish this doctrine was to become the sale of arms to states such as Iran under the Shah, South Korea, Israel, to name a few. In the wake of the Watergate scandals leading to Nixon's resignation, Congress passed the War Power Act of 1973, limiting the time and circumstances in which US servicemen can be sent abroad. It could be suggested that this legislation cut down foreign policy options, enhancing the use of arms sales to conduct foreign policy. The sale of arms also helped alleviate domestic economic and political problems, by helping to keep defence manufacturing facilities operational, and thus profitable, whilst also providing funds for continued R & D. A good example of this is the sale of the Grumman F-14 fighter aircraft to Iran, helping to keep open the production line, and finance the expensive development programme. A further security issue became the arming of governments under threat from communism, and the arming of guerrilla bands fighting against 'unfriendly' governments. This led to several proxy wars starting in the 1970's, some of which persisted until the end of the cold war in the late 1980's, such as Angola, Ethiopia, and the Lebanese civil war. The proxy wars, and arms sales to the developing world accelerated however, in the climate of a superpower détente with increased Superpower co-operation during the early stages of the Carter administration.

The Carter doctrine emphasised the 'moral vacuum' in foreign policy, putting greater reliance on human rights, and a lower military profile, resulting in the acceleration of aid to client states, as the security burden was shifted yet further to unstable regimes. Towards the end of the Carter administration, views in the American establishment became more hawkish. Faced with Soviet expansionism in Afghanistan, and the catastrophic revolution in Iran, turning a regional ally into an adversary overnight, the election of a hard-line President was representative of the attitudes prevailing at the time. The 1980's vision of foreign policy was contained in the Reagan Doctrine. This allowed for a more assertive foreign policy, a massive conventional and strategic arms build-up, and a willingness to use force as a key foreign policy tool, Thus this was a boom time for the American military-industrial complex. In Europe, aerospace companies were competing for a slice of the fighter markets, asserting America's strength in the high-technology field, as witnessed by European purchases of several types of aircraft from the Americans. In the Middle East, America provided billions of dollars of equipment in the form of Military Assistance Loans to Israel, for the purchase of American arms, whilst supplying Iraq in its war with Iran. Figures for 1979 show America as selling armaments worth $ 9,485 million, in 1985 the figure was $ 12,640 an increase of a third 4 From the end of the Carter administration through to the end of the cold war (1979 - 1989), America's share of the world trade in arms rose from 24% to 30.4% 5 Though it is apparent that America's dominance of the sales of weaponry increased, it could be argued that the competition, particularly in terms of basic ammunition and other low-technology hardware has increased to an unprecedented level. Second-rank suppliers such as Israel, Brazil, Taiwan and South Africa have had thriving arms sales industries, supplying to states embargoed by the USA (as during the early stages of the Iraq/Iran war). The final component of the Reagan Doctrine with respect to America's role in the arms trade has been the covert policy known as 'Irangate', or the 'Iran-Contra' affair. This policy simply had the US supplying arms to Iran, through Israel, in return for hostages captured in Beirut 6 Another facet was the covert supply of arms to the Contras in Nicaragua, in spite of official US 'noninvolvement' in the conflict. During the Iraq/Iran war, America sought to stem the tide of radical Shia Islam spreading to the conservative Gulf monarchies, by becoming a major supplier of Iraq, presenting further involvement for the US traders in armaments. The end of the cold war saw a drastically changed security agenda. The Soviet Union and America disengaged from several proxy conflicts, and an opportunity to scale down military commitments was taken. The 'peace dividend' has been one of the contributing factors in the severe economic recession faced by the US in which one quarter of all unemployment was linked to cuts in the military-industrial complex 7 The contraction of the market domestically was adversely affected by the ferocity of competition overseas, with Russia selling to anyone with the capital, equipment technologically equal to the western state-of-the-art 8 The two most important markets today are the Middle East, and the NIC's in the Pacific Rim. It could be suggested that the brief Gulf War of 1991 was a technology demonstration, showing the capabilities presented by modern hardware. This is reinforced by the number of contracts reported afterwards from the Middle East region 9 The current recessionary state of the interdependent global economy has it could be suggested resulted in a pragmatic attitude in the USA, whereby it is reasoned that if 'we' fail to win the contract, then 'others' will win it. American policy for the 1990s could possibly be seen as a hybrid of the Nixon Doctrine. The Clinton 'Win-Hold-Win' 10 proposal which sees the US fighting one war, whilst holding one back, before fighting the second relies greatly on high-technology conventional weapons. This strategy would require more investment contracts for the military-industrial complex, as well as, it could be suggested, wellequipped clients for America to defend, so as to minimise US losses, similar to Nixon's policy in the 1970s. This strategy would act as rationale for the massive arms sales in the wake of the Gulf War to the American allies in the gulf. In summary, this essay has shown how policy coupled with environmental factors have led the US involvement in the global arms trade, from its minimalist position in the 1960's to its $8,429 million involvement in the market in 1992, exporting four times more than its traditional competitor Russia 11 The dichotomy in American policy arises with it arming clients whilst attempting to stem the international trade in conventional arms, through its support for the UN conventional register of arms transfers, which observers note "it is up to governments whether or not they provide data for the columns" 12 America is also involved in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) which aims to prevent the proliferation of ballistic technology, and the means of creating Nuclear, Biological or Chemical weapons. This regime has already been broken by China, for which the US government put sanctions on US companies trading

strategic goods with China 13 In conclusion, it could be suggested that American policy is determined to halt the proliferation of strategic weapons to the developing world, but cannot influence significantly the trade in high-technology conventional weapons which can be used with far less political repercussions internationally. The US trade in arms will continue for the immediate future to form a tool in the prosecution of foreign policy, until such time as firstly, multilateral measures which can be adequately enforced are adopted by the international community, and secondly, American arms no longer provide influence for the United States abroad. FOOTNOTES (1) Frieden J A Lake A L, International Political Economy, 2nd Edition (Unwin Hyman 1991) Ch. 15. p. 252. (2) Bello W Rosenfeld S, Dragons in Distress - Asia's Miracle economies in Crisis (Penguin 1992) p. 5. (3) Litwak R S, Detente and the Nixon Doctrine - American Foreign Policy & the Pursuit of Stability 19691976 (Cambridge University Press 1984) p. 74. (4) ACDA, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 1990 (U.S. Government 1991) p. 127. (5) ibid. p. 2. (6) Financial Times (14.11.86) "Reagan Admits Arms sent to Iran but denies hostage link". (7) Business Week (24.02.92) "The Cold War's Grim Aftermath". (8) Armed Forces Journal International (December 1992) "Russia Exporting Top-of-the-line Weapons". (9) ibid. August 1991 "Arms Sales to the Middle East: Security or 'Pattern of Destructive Competition' ?". (10) International Herald Tribune (18.06.93) "War Strategy: Generals fear 'win-hold-win' is really 'winlose-lose'". (11) SIPRI Armaments and Disarmament Yearbook 1993 p. 444. (12) ibid. p. 542. (13) The Guardian (26.08.93) "US Punishes China over missile technology sales". BIBLIOGRAPHY ACDA, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 1990 (U.S.Government 1991). Bello W Rosenfeld S, Dragons in Distress - Asia's Miracle Economies in Crisis (Penguin 1992). Foreign Affairs Vol. 66 No 5 "Arms, Aid & the Superpowers". Frieden J A Lake A L, International Political Economy, 2nd Edition (Unwin Hyman 1991). Litwak R S, Detente and the Nixon Doctrine - American Foreign Policy & the Pursuit of Stability 19691976 (Cambridge University Press 1984). SIPRI Armaments & Disarmament Yearbook 1993 (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). Armed Forces Journal International. Business Week. Financial Times. Guardian. International Herald Tribune.