Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Arms for the Poor: How the U.S. Is Sowing Seeds of War

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Arms for the Poor: How the U.S. Is Sowing Seeds of War

Article excerpt

Considering the inescapably morbid nature of the trade he represents, Joel Johnson, a lobbyist for an arms export manufacturers' association, is a remarkably jovial guy, sharp of mind, speedy of tongue, and pretty darn busy these days. "I can't talk with you today," Johnson said one morning last December. "I've got a lunch meeting with the Indians, an economic minister, I think. I don't know what they want from me. We haven't sold them anything for years."

Turns out what the Indians wanted from Johnson--poised, as they were that week, on the verge of war with Pakistan--was some advice on arms importing and production licensing now that some pesky arms export controls had been lifted by the Bush administration. Bush wanted to reward Pakistan for its cooperation in the hunt for Osama bin Laden by lifting an arms export ban on Pakistan. To maintain the balance of power in the region, he had to do the same for India. Now some analysts worry that the two nuclear powers are on the verge of a potentially costly and destabilizing arms race, if not outright war.

It's just another day at the office for Johnson, who represents the Aerospace Industries Association of America in the press and before Congress.

America's defense industry is clearly big business at home--the 2003 budget of $360 billion represents nearly half the total of all world military procurement spending. While such a sizable outlay naturally draws its share of critics, it is America's comparatively smaller arms-for-export industry that can generate even more controversy.

To arms-control advocates, the arms-export trade represents a destabilizing waste of resources in the already impoverished developing world; to Pentagon and State Department planners, it is the occasionally troublesome prerequisite of a domestic industry they rely upon to maintain America's military dominance; to workers across the United States, it is a guarantor of job security and a decent income; but to Pope John Paul II, the international arms-export business is a "scandalous" free market free-for-all that has to be restrained.

Echoing the pope's condemnation of the arms trade in his 1987 encyclical on social concern, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, the U.S. bishops in 1995 wrote the pastoral reflection Sowing Weapons of War. In this document they state bluntly: "That weapons of war are bought and sold almost as if they were simply another commodity like appliances or industrial machinery is a serious moral disorder in today's world."

If the bishops are correct, then the principal leader of that serious moral disorder is the United States. U.S. arms manufacturers over the past decade have achieved the undisputed lead in the global arms trade, claiming as much as two thirds of the overall market in advanced weaponry sales and nearly half of the market share in all weapons sales to the developing world.

The U.S. bishops comment, "The pre-dominant role of our own country in sustaining and even promoting the arms trade, sometimes for economic reasons, is a moral challenge for our nation. Jobs at home cannot justify exporting the means of war abroad."

Sowing Weapons of War details a set of criteria under which arms transfers could be acceptable--primarily when they are strictly conducted in the interests of self-defense and only within an overarching framework aimed, ironically, at ultimately reducing violence in the world. The bishops argue that purely economic goals can never provide moral cover for arms exports. In the nearly seven years since he helped write that document, Gerard Powers, the director of the International Justice and Peace Office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), says the criteria still apply--even in our post-9/11 world. "And frankly the basic problem still persists."

Powers is not persuaded that the developed world, following the lead of the United States, was seriously interested in reevaluating the arms export industry even before September 11; it is even less so now in its wake. …

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