US Arms Dealing Is Out of Control

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Here’s a seldom commented upon reality of this century and this moment: The United States remains the number-one arms-exporting nation on the planet. Between 2017 and 2021, it grabbed 39 percent of the total global weapons market, and there’s nothing new about that. It has, in fact, been the top arms dealer in every year but one for the past three decades. And it’s a remarkably lucrative business, earning American weapons makers tens of billions of dollars annually.

It would be one thing if it were simply a matter of money raked in by the industrial half of the military-industrial complex. Unfortunately, in these years, US-supplied weaponry has also fueled conflicts, enabled human-rights violations, helped destabilize not just individual countries but whole regions, and made it significantly easier for repressive regimes to commit war crimes.

At first glance, it appeared that Joe Biden, on entering the White House, might take a different approach to arms sales. On the campaign trail in 2020, he had, for instance, labeled Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state and implied that the unbridled flow of US weaponry to that kingdom would be reduced, if not terminated. He also bluntly assured voters that this country wouldn’t “check its values at the door to sell arms.”

Initially, Biden paused arms deals to that country and even suspended one bomb sale. Unfortunately, within eight months of his taking office, sales to the Saudi regime had resumed. In addition, the Biden team has offered arms to a number of other repressive regimes from Egypt and Nigeria to the Philippines. Such sales contrast strikingly with the president’s mantra of supporting “democracies over autocracies,” as well as his reasonable impulse to supply weapons to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia’s brutal invasion.


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