Interjecting Constituency Concerns:
Foreign Military Arms Sales
G. CALVIN MACKENZIE
Virtually all countries, save the very smallest, have armed forces. But most countries have no arms industry or, at best, have one that is primitive and inadequate even to domestic needs. Hence, most countries have to import arms to equip their military forces. As weapons technology grows more sophisticated, developing countries rely more heavily on the industrial countries as arms suppliers, a circumstance that has created an enormous worldwide commerce.
This commerce is hardly a free market, where willing buyers seek out willing sellers. It is, instead, a market dominated by the security interests and international relations of the arms-exporting countries. Their sales are closely governed by their own definitions of national self-interest and by their efforts to shape alliances and relationships. Even in the democracies with free-market economies, arms exports are highly regulated by governments. In no other country, however, are they so tightly controlled nor is control so widely shared as in the United States. It was not always so.
Foreign military sales (FMS) emerged as a regular component of U.S. foreign policy in the 1960s. Then and in the years that immediately followed, overseas weapons sales were a business conducted by the executive branch of government with minimal congressional involvement. This was especially true of direct cash sales, which required no congressional appropriations. Employees of the Defense Department negotiated directly with their foreign counterparts. As long as the State Department raised no objections on policy grounds, the sales took place. Congress was informed— when it was informed at all—haphazardly and after the deals were done.
Congressional indifference was dissipating by the late 1960s, and by the middle of the next decade Congress was carving out a significant role for itself in foreign military sales decisions. From the early 1970s to the present, Congress and the executive branch have been engaged in skirmishes over the