Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Article excerpt

The U.S. government intends to take advantage of the global economy to carve out an even larger market share for U.S. arms. Apparently, the plan is not merely to maintain existing levels of commercialism but to further weaken the arms export control system.

The Pentagon and U.S. defense industry claim that far-reaching reforms are needed to keep pace with a globalized economy, to increase Europe's defense capabilities, to ensure continued U.S. access to the European arms market, and to increase the likelihood of trans-Atlantic industrial mergers. The U.S. arms industry complains that the cumbersome U.S. export-licensing process hinders exports to--and joint projects with--European allies. The Clinton administration--eager to be receptive to industry interests--has approved a series of reforms to revamp the export process, announced at the May NATO ministerial. They include exempting certain allies from arms export licensing requirements, allowing a single "program license" to cover an entire major weapons system sale, speeding up the licensing process for NATO members, and loosening restrictions on the resale of U.S. weapons to third parties. The underlying objective? To sell more weapons, more quickly.

This rush to globalize arms production and sales ignores the grave humanitarian and strategic consequences of global weapons proliferation. Already, profit motives in the military industry have resulted in arms export decisions that contravene such U.S. foreign policy goals as preserving stability and promoting human rights and democracy. In this "profit-over-pragmatism" logic, Israel may receive up to $17 billion worth of free U.S. weapons for signing a peace accord with Syria; Colombia is about to receive almost $1 billion worth of arms to fight leftist insurgents in the name of reducing drug consumption in the U.S.; and Turkey's failure to reduce human rights abuses or to negotiate an end to its 15-year-old conflict with Kurdish rebels may soon be rewarded with a $4 billion attack helicopter sale. Recent reforms weakening export controls will further this trend by focusing on the supposed economic benefits of increased arms sales instead of the associated human costs.

Changes that reduce the government's oversight of weapons sales--such as export license exemptions and program licenses--open the door for unscrupulous exporters and recipients to increase their exploitation of export laws. The U.S. weapons industry does not have a good record of self-policing; Lockheed Martin, Boeing and other major exporters have recently been indicted for violation of export controls in connection with sales to China.

Thus far the only country that has been granted a blanket exemption from export licensing has been Canada. But the U.S. government suspended this exemption in 1999 because Canadian firms transferred U.S. military technology to Iran and China. The UK and Australia, next in line for blanket exemptions, pose even greater risks for diversion or unauthorized re-exports. Small arms exports to the UK already had to be suspended in 1999 because of suspected diversion, and the lack of physical controls over trade among EU states makes it difficult to develop an export policy for the UK in isolation from other EU states.

The U.S. claims it will require recipient countries to improve their own export controls in exchange for the special licensing privileges. …

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