Arms to the World

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.

Laws require the State Department to report to Congress on
weapons transfers, and some senators, including

John McCain
(R-Ariz.) and the late

Paul Wellstone
(D-Minn.), have raised concerns about human
rights abuses.

But the Bush administration would like to find a way to hand out
weapons without congressional involvement. Tucked into the
Department of Defense supplemental appropriations bill of 2002 were
provisions that would have provided $100 million to ?support
foreign nations in furtherance of the global war on terrorism? with
weapons and training, and an additional $30 million to outfit
?indigenous forces,? such as revolutionary insurgents?all to be
spent in secret at the military?s discretion and without oversight
from Congress, or even from the administration?s own State
Department. The provisions were stripped from the final bill, but
the idea is likely to resurface.

All these arms sales and giveaways have been welcome news for
the defense industry, which, despite huge sales since the first
Gulf War, faces a decline fueled by worldwide recession. Thanks to
the giveaways and the build-up for war with Iraq, for instance,
Lockheed Martin, the nation?s largest military contractor, reported
2002 sales of $26.6 billion?up 11 percent. ?Growth looks on track,?
an analyst told The New York Times; ?they are going to be
delivering a lot of combat aircraft over the next two years.?

Joseph Hart is a contributing editor of Utne.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a bimonthly journal
that monitors the spread, threat, and social impact of nuclear
weapons technology throughout the world. Subscriptions: $28/yr. (6
issues) from 6042 S. Kimbark Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637.

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