Arms to the World

Washington buys friends by doling out weapons to rogue nations


| May / June 2003


WHEN THE BUSH administration launched its war in Afghan-istan last year, Pentagon leaders worried that rebels would shoot down American helicopters with portable surface-to-air missiles. How did Taliban fighters get these sophisticated weapons? They were gifts from the CIA, which handed out 1,000 Stinger missiles back in the 1980s, when the now-terrorist Afghanis were ?freedom fighters? battling the Soviet Union. As recently as last spring, the FBI warned that terrorists might use the lightweight missiles to bring down American airliners.

The moral of this story appears to be lost upon the Bush administration. Since the September 11 attacks, the United States has stepped up both gifts and sales of advanced weapons as a way to entice reluctant nations to support our military actions, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Jan./Feb. 2003).

In addition to direct aid, the Bush administration has stepped up transfers of ?excess defense articles? worth millions, according to documents examined by the Federation of American Scientists Arms Sales Monitoring Project. Countries also spent billions (much of it special loans or grant money from the United States) on new American-made munitions, weapons, and military aircraft.

Many of the countries on our anti-terrorism gift list would normally be banned from receiving U.S. weapons. Laws dating from World War II forbid the transfer or sale of military gear to governments with ?a consistent pattern of gross violations? of human rights. But the Bush administration has been using various loopholes to arm new allies that often fail to meet those standards.

For instance, the United States has lifted sanctions against arms sales to Tajikistan, an authoritarian regime that ?relies on a handful of commanders who use their forces almost as private armies,? according to a report issued by the Bush State Department. These government forces, the report continues, routinely use torture, beatings, threats, extortion, looting, kidnappings, disappearances, and outright murder. Yet the State Department estimates U.S. aid to Tajikistan in 2003 at $490 million, including $21.5 million earmarked for these same military and police forces.

Other countries receiving military or police aid are not much better. In fact the United States exported weapons in 2001 to 42 countries with ?poor? or ?extremely poor? human rights rankings from the State Department and provided $2 billion in grants and loans for purchasing weapons to countries with similar records.






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