Clinton Ends 20-Year Ban on High-Tech Arms to Latin America

Article excerpt

THE CLINTON administration on August 1 rescinded a 20-year-old policy of restricting transfers of advanced U.S. weapons, such as combat aircraft, to Latin America, in favor of a more lenient policy of evaluating sales on a case-by-case basis. Although U.S. military contractors and a few Latin American states welcomed the decision, the predominant response from Latin America was one of criticism and skepticism.

Under the new guidelines, an interagency working group, to be chaired by the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs (although currently vacant, John Holum, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), is expected to assume this position as a result of ACDA's consolidation into the State Department), will meet intermittently to review proposed arms sales and to reconcile arms sales with arms control objectives. U.S. officials insist that ultimate responsibility for restraint rests with Latin American countries, since arms purchases are domestic decisions. The administration is removing the restrictions to prevent U.S. firms from being "disadvantaged" in competition for sales in the region.

Lockheed Martin, vying for an estimated $500 million Chilean contract for approximately 20 combat aircraft, was an immediate beneficiary. The new policy permitted Lockheed to meet Chile's August 7 deadline for submission of a second set of technical specifications, which went beyond the level of information provided to Chile by Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas (manufacturer of the F/A-18) under Clinton's March authorization. (See ACT, April 1997.) Prospects for Lockheed's F-16, in the competition with aircraft such as the French Mirage 2000-5 and Russian MiG-29, would otherwise have been dim. A U.S. government official said the Chilean deadline was a "driving force" in the timing of the decision.

Opposition to Move

In anticipation of President Clinton's expected policy shift, congressional opponents of U.S. high-tech arms sales to Latin America sought to counter the administration's move. On June 27, Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Christopher Dodd (DCT) introduced a bill to prohibit the sale of advanced aircraft to the region. On July 31, Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) along with 22 co-sponsors introduced similar legislation in the House. …