Rethink Conventional-Arms Sales US Nonproliferation Efforts Should Target All Weapons, Not Just Nuclear Warheads

By Pat M. Holt. Pat M. Holt, former chief of of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes on foreign affairs from Washington. | The Christian Science Monitor, June 4, 1992 | Go to article overview

Rethink Conventional-Arms Sales US Nonproliferation Efforts Should Target All Weapons, Not Just Nuclear Warheads


Pat M. Holt. Pat M. Holt, former chief of of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes on foreign affairs from Washington., The Christian Science Monitor


THE Bush administration is to be commended for its efforts to bring nuclear weapons under control and especially for its success in persuading Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan to dispense with their nuclear arsenals. These weapons are so frightening that even a fractional reduction is welcome.

But it must also be remembered that nobody has been killed by a nuclear weapon since 1945 - that is 47 years. How many uncounted millions have been killed in that time by less awesome weapons, ranging all the way from handguns on the streets of American cities to machine guns in the mountains of Afghanistan?

For 40 years, the export of arms was one of the ways the United States fought the cold war. The military-assistance program in 1949 was designed to help our NATO allies defend western Europe. The program was shortly extended to Yugoslavia when Marshal Tito broke with Stalin. One wonders how many of those weapons, which were supplied for a good purpose, have recently been used so destructively in the Serbian aggression against Bosnia and Croatia.

By the early 1950s, US military assistance was generally available to any third-world government with anti-communist credentials.

By the 1960s, Congress was getting restless. Military assistance was no longer assistance; it was sales. Lawmakers perceived a contradiction between a policy of promoting economic growth in a country and a policy of encouraging the same country to spend a lot of money on military equipment. Congress tried to put legal limits on military sales, but these efforts were largely ineffective.

One reason was that the industrial part of the US military-industrial complex was churning out more and more weapons that needed to be disposed of. As new models came off the line for US forces, the old models became surplus, and US military attaches in the third world peddled them much like agricultural attaches peddled surplus wheat.

These were the routine exports. By far the largest volume of weapons exports occurred because of wars in which the US engaged either directly or by proxy - in Korea, Vietnam, and Central America, to name three. Some of the arms we left in Vietnam later turned up on the other side in Central America. …

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