By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The American imperial system incorporates much more than supporting the occasional coup or undertaking the occasional war. Coups, wars, assassinations and other forms of overt and covert violence and destabilization, while relatively common and consistent for the United States – compared to other major powers – are secondary to the general maintenance of a system of imperial patronage. A “stable” system is what is desired most by strategic planners and policy-makers, but this has a technical definition. Stability means that the populations of subject nations and regions are under “control” – whether crushed by force or made passive by consent, while Western corporate and financial interests have and maintain unhindered access to the “markets” and resources of those nations and regions. Since the 19th century development of America’s overseas empire, this has been referred to as the “Open Door” policy: as in, the door opens for American and other Western economic interests to have access to and undertake exploitation of resources and labour.
As the only global imperial power, and by far the world’s largest military power, America does not merely rely upon the “goodwill” of smaller nations or the threat of force against them in order to maintain its dominance, it has established, over time, a large and complex network of imperial patronage: supplying economic aid, military aid (to allow its favoured regimes to control their own populations or engage in proxy-warfare), military and police training, among many other programs. These programs are largely coordinated by and between the Defense Department, State Department, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Arms sales are a major method through which the United States – and other powerful nations – are able to exert their hegemony, by arming and strengthening their key allies, directly or indirectly fueling civil wars and conflicts, and funneling money into the world’s major weapons manufacturers. The global economic crisis had “significantly pushed down purchases of weapons” over 2009 to the lowest level since 2005. In 2009, worldwide arms deals amounted to $57.5 billion, dropping 8.5% from the previous year. The United States maintained its esteemed role as the main arms dealer in the world, accounting for $22.6 billion – or 39% of the global market. In 2008, the U.S. contribution to global arms sales was significantly higher, at $38.1 billion, up from $25.7 billion in 2007. In 2009, the second-largest arms dealer in the world was Russia at $10.4 billion, then France at $7.4 billion, followed by Germany, Italy, China and Britain.
There are two official ways in which arms are sold to foreign nations: either through Foreign Military Sales (FMS), in which the Pentagon negotiates an agreement between the U.S. government and a foreign government for the sale and purchase of arms, and through Direct Commercial Sales (DCS), in which arms manufacturers (multinational corporations) negotiate directly with foreign governments for the sale and purchase of arms, having to apply for a license from the State Department.
Between 2005 and 2009, U.S. arms sales totaled roughly $101 billion, with direct commercial sales (DCS) accounting for more than half of the total value, at $59.86 billion, and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) accounting for $40.85 billion. The top seven recipients of U.S. arms sales between 2005 and 2009 were: Japan at $13.14 billion, the United Kingdom at $8.32 billion, Israel at $8 billion, South Korea at $6.53 billion, Australia at $4.17 billion, Egypt at $4.07 billion, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at $3.98 billion.
The United States experienced a slight decline in global arms sales over 2009, though it maintained its position as the world’s number one arms dealer, holding 30% of the global market. However, the Obama administration in 2010 decided to change certain “export control regulations” in order to make arms deals easier and increase the U.S. share of the global market. The stated reason for the legal change was “to simplify the sale of weapons to U.S. allies,” though it had the added benefit of “generating business for the U.S. defense industry.” The U.S. National Security Advisor at the time, General James Jones, claimed that without the changes, the existing system of arms sales “poses a potential national security risk based on the fact that its structure is overly complicated.”
In early 2010, the Obama administration began pressuring Saudi Arabia and other Gulf dictatorships (aka: “allies”) to increase their purchases of U.S. arms, upgrade their defense of oil installations and threaten Iran with overwhelming military superiority. In the lead were Saudi Arabia and the UAE in undertaking a regional “military buildup” – or arms race – resulting in more than $25 billion in U.S. arms sales to the region over the previous two years. A senior U.S. official in the Obama administration commented: “We’re developing a truly regional defensive capability, with missile systems, air defense and a hardening up of critical infrastructure… All of these have progressed significantly over the past year.” Another senior official stated, “It’s a tough neighborhood, and we have to make sure we are protected,” adding that Iran was the “number one threat in the region.”
Of course, Iran is actually a nation that exists within the region, and thus has the right to defend itself, whereas the United States cannot “defend” itself in a region in which it does not exist. But then, geographical trivialities have never been a concern to imperialists who believe that the world belongs to them and it was a mere accident of history that all the resources exist outside of the empire’s home country. Therefore, with such a rationalization, the United States – and the West more broadly – have a “right” to “defend” themselves (and their economic and political interests) everywhere in the world, and against everyone in the world. Any other nation which poses a challenge to Western domination of the world and its resources is thus a “threat” to whichever region it belongs, as well as to U.S. “national security.”
Iran is of course not the only competition for the United States and the West in its unhindered access to and control of the world, but China is another and arguably much more significant threat (though not an officially sanctioned U.S. enemy, as of yet). Around the same time the U.S. was pushing for increased arms sales to the Persian Gulf dictatorships (no doubt, to advance the causes of “democracy” and “peace”), the Obama administration secured an arms deal with Taiwan worth over $6 billion, incurring the frustration of China. The deal included the sale of 114 Patriot missiles, 60 Black Hawk helicopters, and communications equipment for Taiwan’s fleet of F-16s, with the possibility of future sales of F-16 fighter jets.
The Chinese vice foreign minister expressed “indignation” to the U.S. State Department in response to the arms deal, adding: “We believe this move endangers China’s national security and harms China’s peaceful reunification efforts [with Taiwan]… It will harm China-U.S. relations and bring about a serious and active impact on bilateral communication and cooperation.” In response, the U.S. National Security Advisor General James Jones stated that the announcement shouldn’t “come as a surprise to our Chinese friends.”
In September of 2010, the Obama administration announced the intention to undertake the largest arms deal in U.S. history, the sale of advanced aircraft to Saudi Arabia worth up to $60 billion for fighter jets and helicopters (84 F-15s, 70 Apaches, 72 Black Hawks, and 36 Little Birds), as well as engaging “in talks with the [Saudi] kingdom about potential naval and missile-defense upgrades that could be worth tens of billions of dollars more,” according to the Wall Street Journal, with “a potential $30 billion package to upgrade Saudi Arabia’s naval forces.” The stated objective was to counter the role of Iran in the region, though no agreement had been initially reached. The U.S. was selling the idea to Congress as a means of creating “jobs,” a political euphemism for corporate profits. One official involved in the talks noted, “It’s a big economic sale for the U.S. and the argument is that it is better to create jobs here than in Europe.”
The arms deal would purchase equipment and technology from Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, and United Technologies. In recent years, Saudi Arabia had been purchasing more European and Russian-made arms from companies like BAE Systems. U.S. officials were also attempting to ease the fears of Israel while massively building up the arsenal of a close neighbor, ensuring that the planes sold to the Kingdom wouldn’t have long-range weapons systems and further, that the Israelis would purchase the more advanced F-35 jet fighters. The Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, commented, “We appreciate the administration’s efforts to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.” The potential $60 billion arms deal with the Saudis would be stretched out over several years, though there was talk that the Saudis might only guarantee a purchase of at least $30 billion, at least, initially.
The Financial Times reported that the Arab dictatorships in the Gulf “have embarked on one of the largest re-armament exercises in peacetime history, ordering US weapons worth some $123 billion as they seek to counter Iran’s military power.” Saudi Arabia’s $60 billion was the largest, with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signing arms deals worth between $35 and $40 billion in purchases of a “high altitude missile defence system” known as THAAD, developed by Lockheed Martin, as well as purchasing upgrades of its Patriot missile defense systems, produced by Raytheon. Oman was expected to purchase $12 billion and Kuwait $7 billion in arms and military technology. The CEO of Blenheim Capital Partners, a consultancy firm which helps arrange arms deals, noted that Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries were replacing Western European nations as the largest arms purchasers, adding: “They are the big buyers.”
Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said that the United States was seeking to create a “new post-Iraq war security structure that can secure the flow of energy exports to the global economy.” These massive arms sales would then “reinforce the level of regional deterrence” – or in other words, expand American hegemony over the region through local proxy powers and dictatorships – and thus, “help reduce the size of forces the US must deploy in the region.” As a Saudi defense analyst noted, “[t]he Saudi aim is to send a message especially to the Iranians – that we have complete aerial superiority over them.”
According to three of four members of an ‘Expert Roundup’ published by the Council on Foreign Relations, the $123 billion arms deals with the Arab dictatorships are “a good idea for the United States and the Middle East.” One of the “experts” is Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS, former director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as well as having served in several other State Department and NATO staffs, and has been a regular consultant to the Afghan and Iraqi occupation commands, U.S. embassies, and was a member of the Strategic Assessment Group which advised General Stanley McChrystal in developing a new strategy in Afghanistan for 2009. He also regularly consults with the U.S. State and Defense Departments and the intelligence community. Cordesman wrote that the US “shares critical strategic interests with Saudi Arabia,” notably the control of oil for “the health” of the global economy.
Cordesman also emphasized the role of pliant dictatorships in carrying out U.S imperial objectives in the region, writing that the U.S. “needs allies that have interoperable forces that can both fight effectively alongside the United States and ease the U.S. burden by defending themselves,” meaning, to defend America’s interests, which then become the interests of America’s proxies – or “allies.” The arms sales would be a helpful counter to Iran in the region, and secure a strong relationship between “the current Saudi government as well as Saudi governments for the next fifteen to twenty years,” the suggested timeline for delivery of all purchases, providing Saudi Arabia with a “strong incentive to work with the United States” over the long-term.
Loren B. Thompson, the Chief Operating Officer of the Lexington Institute, also participated in the Council on Foreign Relations ‘Roundup’ report, writing that the arms deal “appears to be a careful reconciliation of Saudi requirements with Israeli fears, while also offering a strategic balance against Iran.” Whatever the differences between Saudi Arabia and the United States, he wrote, casting aside the fact that the Kingdom is one of the most brutal and dictatorial regimes in the world, “the Saudis have been reliable allies of America for decades and have exercised a moderating influence on the behavior of other oil-producing states.” Helping the Saudis, Thompson wrote, “means helping ourselves.”
F. Gregory Gause III, Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Vermont wrote that the arms deal “will not buy much security in the long run in the Persian Gulf,” but, he added, “there are no good reasons not to sell the Saudis those weapons, and there are some potentially positive results (besides the economic benefits to the US),” such as opposing the “Iranian regional challenge,” with which he included Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, “various Iraqi parties,” Syria, and “Shia activists in the Gulf monarchies.” One could not object to the arms sale on the basis of supporting a regime with a horrible record on democracy, women’s rights, Islam, and human rights, Gause wrote, adding: “Moral purity would be purchased at the price of reduced American regional influence.” In other words, it’s a terrible regime, but it’s America’s terrible regime, and thus, challenging or changing the nature of the regime could undermine and erode America’s influence through the dictatorship and over the region.
William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, was another “expert” in the Council on Foreign Relations ‘Roundup’ report, providing the one “cautionary note” on the arms deal on the basis that it could amount to fueling an arms race in the region, building up the forces of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchs, and Israel, thus providing pressure on Iran “to ratchet up its own military capabilities.” The Saudi deal “consists primary of offensive weapons,” though it is stated to be for defensive purposes, and if Saudi Arabia were to undertake aggressive military actions in the region, such as in Yemen (as it has), it would more likely “inflame passions” against Saudi Arabia instead of solving security problems.
The United States has for years dominated the arms market of the Persian Gulf, supplying military equipment to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain, all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional governance association. A Middle East “defense analyst” with Forecast International, stated: “The U.S. arms sales to these countries are meant to improve the defense capabilities of the recipient nations, reinforce the sense of U.S. solidarity with its GCC partners and, finally, create a semblance of interoperability with American forces.” After the United States, the largest arms dealers to the region are France, Russia, Britain and China. Russian and Chinese arms mostly went to Iran, while Israel received $2.78 billion in U.S. military aid in 2010.
In October of 2010, the United States assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, Andrew Shapiro, formally announced the intended Saudi arms deal for the U.S. Congress to approve for a program to last from 15 to 20 years. Shapiro stated that, “This is not solely about Iran… It’s about helping the Saudis with their legitimate security needs… they live in a dangerous neighbourhood and we are helping them preserve and protect their security.”
For an average of $13 billion per year in arms sales between 1995 and 2005, the Department of Defense announced in 2010 that it intended to sell up to $103 billion, though presumably achieving a lower number, such as $50 billion, over the course of the year. A defense industry consultant, Loren Thompson, stated that, “Obama is much more favorably disposed to arms exports than any of the previous Democratic administrations.” Jeff Abramson of the Arms Control Association stated that there was “an Obama arms bazaar going on.” While the discussion about the massive arms sales in most of the press and political discourse was focused upon supporting 200,000 workers in the ‘defense’ industry, industry consultant Thompson was less ambiguous: “It’s about U.S. allies, it’s about maintaining jobs, and it’s about America’s broader role in the world – and what you have to do to maintain that role;” the role being – of course – that of the global imperial hegemon.
Military contractors spread their factories and workforce out across several U.S. states in order to use their leverage as “major employers” with the U.S. Congress and other political powers. Boeing has facilities in over 20 U.S. states, and the corporation’s head of business development for military aircraft, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Kohler, was previously responsible for overseeing arms exports for the Pentagon. The entire industry of military contractors is entirely dependent upon massive state subsidies to survive, doing 80-90% of their business with the Pentagon. And, as CNN Money reported, “business recently has been good,” with the U.S. more than doubling its military spending since 2001 to roughly $700 billion, nearly as much as the rest of the entire world spends combined.
Congress agreed in December of 2010 to spend $725 billion on ‘defense’ for 2011. Military contractors were largely seeking “growth” – a euphemism for exploitation and profit – by turning to foreign arms sales. The military contractor EADS sought to establish a headquarters in Asia, Honeywell created a new “international sales” division, and Lockheed Martin was planning to increase its revenue share acquired outside the United States from 14 to 20% by 2012, Boeing aimed to increase international sales from 17-25%, and Raytheon had the largest percentage of revenue from overseas at 23%. But sadly, for the arms dealers, it’s not so easy to sell weapons to foreign governments, since each deal requires a license from the U.S. State Department, a pesky barrier to “growth.” The countries with the “biggest appetite for U.S weapons” are “oil-rich nations in the Middle East,” with roughly 50% of foreign military sales by U.S. contractors between 2006 and 2009 being sold to countries in the region, with Boeing reaping the most overall profits. Mark Kronenberg, the head of Boeing’s international business development, noted: “The last time we had a period like this in the Middle East was the early ‘90s,” during the lead up to and aftermath of the first Gulf War, adding, “Here we are, 20 years later, and they’re recapitalizing.”
A report prepared by the U.S. Congressional Research Service and published in December of 2011 detailed Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreements between the United States and other nations for the period of 2003 to 2010. Between 2003 and 2006, the top ten largest recipients of U.S. arms through FMS (and excluding Direct Commercial Sales and Foreign Military Aid programs) were: Egypt ($4.5 billion), Saudi Arabia ($4.2 billion), Poland ($4.1 billion), followed by Australia, Japan, Greece, South Korea, Kuwait, Turkey, and Israel. For the years 2007 to 2010, the top ten recipients were: Saudi Arabia ($13.8 billion), UAE ($10.4 billion), Egypt ($7.8 billion), followed by Taiwan, Australia, Iraq, Pakistan, UK, Turkey, and South Korea. In 2010, the top ten purchases of U.S. arms were: Taiwan ($2.7 billion), Egypt ($1.8 billion), Saudi Arabia ($1.5 billion), followed by Australia, UK, Israel, Iraq, Jordan, South Korea, and Singapore.
In April of 2011, Leslie H. Gelb, the President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote that in light of “the possible consequences of the new popular awakenings” across the Middle East, and the fact that as dictatorships increasingly “crack down even harder against the protesters… enabled by Western arms,” Americans “don’t like thinking of themselves or having others think of them as merchants of death.” The “nightmares” of Western policy-makers “comes from their hopes for Arab democracy” – that is, the emergence of “stable democracies over time” – and “their fears that fledgling Arab democracies will go awry.” So naturally, arms deals are a good means to secure U.S. interests in the region.
In May of 2011, Andrew Shapiro, the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, spoke to the U.S. Department of State’s Defense Trade Advisory Group, at which he said the “demand” for U.S. arms and military technology “will remain strong because the U.S. has longstanding defense commitments to allies around the world,” and “we will remain very busy no matter the fluctuations of the global market.” The “dynamic nature of the geopolitical landscape” would require the U.S. “to adapt to changing situations.” Shapiro stated that, “we are witnessing another geopolitical shift, which may have broad implications for U.S. foreign policy,” referencing the popular uprisings across the Middle East as “perhaps the most significant geopolitical development since the end of the Cold War.” In his speech, Shapiro praised his audience at the Defense Trade Advisory Group (DTAG) as “valuable” in “giving us a formal channel to the private sector,” enabling the State Department “to better evaluate U.S. laws and regulations, especially during times of immense change.”
The members of the DTAG included top executives and officials from such companies as BAE Systems, ITT Defense, Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton, EADS North America, Intel, General Electric, General Dynamics, United Technologies, Tyco, Northrop Grumman, Honeywell International, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, among a total of 45 individuals. According to its website, the DTAG advises the State Department Bureau of Political-Military Affairs “on its support for and regulation of defense trade to help ensure that impediments to legitimate exports are reduced while the foreign policy and national security interests of the U.S. continue to be protected and advanced.”
Shapiro told these corporate representatives that, “It is important to emphasize that arms transfers are a tool to advance U.S. foreign policy. And therefore when U.S. foreign policy interests, goals, and objectives shift, evolve, and transform over time, so will our arms transfer policy.” As always, stated Shapiro, “we urge you to provide your thoughts and ideas over how we should move forward.” Foreign military sales – especially to the Middle East – will continue as “a critical foreign policy instrument” allowing the U.S. to “gain influence and leverage, which can be used to help advance our foreign policy goals and objectives.”
As an example, the United States approved $200 million in military sales from U.S. corporations to the government of Bahrain in 2010, just months before pro-democracy protests erupted in the country, resulting in “a harsh crackdown on protesters,” killing at least 30 and injuring hundreds of more people in a matter of months.
In December of 2011, Andrew Shapiro announced the formal signing with Saudi Arabia to sell the dictatorship $30 billion in F-15 fighter jets to be delivered by 2015, as well as other plans to sell $11 billion in arms to Iraq. The Saudi deal was the result of extensive lobbying efforts by top government officials, including Obama making several phone calls to Saudi King Abdullah, and the U.S. National Security Advisor, Thomas E. Donilon, twice traveling to Riyadh while Vice President Joe Biden led a “high-level delegation” to a funeral for a Saudi Prince in October of 2011.
Embracing the World with Open “Arms”
In 2009, worldwide arms sales stood at $65.2 billion, dropping by 38% to $40.4 billion in 2010, the lowest number since 2003, with the United States contributing $21.4 billion – or 52.7% – of the global arms deals, Russia in second place at $7.8 billion over 2010, followed by France, Britain, China, Germany and Italy, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Over 75% of global arms sales in 2010 were for ‘developing’ countries, with India in top place at $5.8 billion in arms deals, followed by Taiwan at $2.7 billion, Saudi Arabia at $2.2 billion, Egypt, Israel, Algeria, Syria, South Korea, Singapore and Jordan.
This relative decline in global arms sales over 2010 was not to be repeated for 2011, with the number skyrocketing to $85.3 billion, with the U.S. contribution tripling to $66.3 billion, accounting for more than three-quarters of global arms deals. Russia stood in a distant second place with $4.8 billion in arms sales. While the United States controls roughly 75% of the global arms trade, it would be wrong to ignore the role of the other major players, though they are far from even competing with the U.S.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that the rise in arms sales had increased by 60% in real terms since 2002, with the total sales of the top 100 arms companies reaching $411.1 billion in 2010. The arms industry is “increasingly concentrated” to the point where the top ten firms account for 56% of all sales, with Lockheed Martin at the top with sales of $35.7 billion in 2010, followed by Britain’s BAE Systems at $32.8 billion, Boeing at $31.3 billion, and Northrop Grumman at $28.5 billion. Other major companies on the top 100 list of arms manufacturers include: General Dynamics, Raytheon, EADS, L-3 Communications, United Technologies, Thales, SAIC, Honeywell, Rolls-Royce, General Electric, KBR, Hewlett-Packard, and DynCorp.
Following the beginning of the Arab Spring and the toppling of the Western-backed dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, British Prime Minister David Cameron continued with a pre-planned tour of the Middle East in February of 2011, leading what the British Green Party leader called a “delegation of arms traders,” with almost 75% of the businessmen accompanying the Prime Minister on his trip to the region representing the defense and aerospace industries. As the first Western leader to visit Egypt following the fall of Mubarak, Cameron praised the pro-democracy movement: “Meeting the young people and the representatives of the groups in Tahrir Square [in Cairo] was genuinely inspiring,” adding: “These are people who have risked a huge amount for what they believe in.” Immediately after praising Egypt’s revolution and expressing his own ‘beliefs’ in democracy, Cameron flew to Kuwait with his arms dealer delegation to sell weapons to other Arab dictatorships. When criticized for the excessive hypocrisy of his democracy-praising and dictatorship arms-dealing tour of the Middle East, Cameron simply asserted that Britain had “nothing to be ashamed of,” as there was nothing wrong with such transactions.
As dictators across the region were becoming increasingly belligerent toward protesters, seeking to violently crush resistance after the successful examples of Tunisians and Egyptians toppling their long-standing dictators, increasing arms shipments to the region’s despots seemed to be only natural for Western imperial powers seeking stability and control. Kevan Jones, the British Shadow Defence Minister noted: “The defence industry is crucially important to Britain but many people will be surprised that the prime minister in this week of all weeks may be considering bolstering arms sales to the Middle East.” Accompanying David Cameron on his trip were 36 corporate representatives, including Ian King, the CEO of BAE Systems, as well as Victor Chavez of Thales UK, Alastair Bisset of Qinetiq, and Rob Watson of Rolls Royce. When questioned about his ‘arms dealer delegation,’ Cameron stated: “I have got a range of business people on the aeroplane, people involved in infrastructure and people involved in the arts and cultural exchanges. Yes, we have defence manufacturers as well. Britain does have a range of defence relationships with countries in the region. I seem to remember that we spent a lot of effort and indeed life in helping to defend Kuwait. So it is quite right to have defence relationships with some of these countries.”
As Cameron was hopping around the region selling weapons, the largest arms fair in the Middle East – the Index 2011 – was taking place in Abu Dhabi, bringing thousands of arms dealers to an exhibition hall with fighter jets flying overhead, tanks in the sand, with Predator drones and assault rifles on display, models fully dressed in the latest riot police outfits, and all choreographed to a hip-hop soundtrack. Meanwhile, not very far from the booming arms fair, protesters in Bahrain were being violently repressed by a dictatorship armed and supported by the West. The British delegation to the arms fair was led by the Defence Minister, Gerald Howarth, helping represent British companies which were displaying and selling their latest tools for ‘crowd control,’ showcasing teargas grenades, stun grenades, and rubber bullets.
A British officer from the government’s Trade and Industry stand at the arms fair was explaining the benefits of a particular fragmentation bomb to a top military official from the Algerian dictatorship. Howarth explained, “I am here as the minister for national security strategy, supporting this important exhibition.” While in 2011 the British had to revoke export licenses to Bahrain and Libya following the violence erupting in both countries, over the previous year the British issued 20 licenses for exports of “riot control weapons,” such as teargas, smoke and stun grenades, to Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman, as well as nearly 200 million pounds in “crowd control ammunition” to the government of Libya.
Weapons manufacturers stated that they felt the increased criticism inflicted upon their industry following the start of the Arab Spring had left them “battered and bruised.” One arms trader, commenting less than two weeks after Mubarak was toppled, stated that, “[t]he Middle East was a growing market until a few weeks ago,” while a representative from BAE agreed that the market for arms was insecure: “It is too early to say where it will end up… Given what is going on at the moment, nobody is likely to be talking about how to spend their defence procurement budget.” When a representative for the British arms exporter Chemring was questioned about selling CS gas shotgun cartridges and stun grenades, he explained, “we have an ethical policy in place and look closely at the countries we are considering exporting to and see if they fit that.” A representative for Primetake, a British firm selling rubber ball shot, teargas, and rubber baton rounds, defended his firm: “We are a very respectable organization and we take very careful advice from the Ministry of Defense and the business department.”
Between October of 2009 and October of 2010, the British exported arms and military equipment to multiple countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including over 270 million pounds in materials to Algeria, including combat helicopters, roughly 6.4 million pounds in arms deals with Bahrain, nearly 17 million pounds with Egypt, 477 million pounds with Iraq, 27 million pounds with Israel, 21 million pounds with Jordan, 14.5 million pounds with Kuwait, 6.2 million pounds with Lebanon, 215 million pounds with Libya, 2.2 million pounds with Morocco, 14 million pounds with Oman, 13 million pounds with Qatar, 140 million pounds with Saudi Arabia, 2.6 million pounds with Syria, 4.5 million pounds to Tunisia, and 210 million pounds to the UAE. These sales included assault rifles, tear gas, ammunition, bombs, missiles, body armour, gun parts, gas mask filters, signaling and radar equipment, armoured vehicles, anti-riot shields, patrol boats, military software, shotguns, “crowd-control equipment,” tank parts, military cargo vehicles, air surveillance equipment, armoured personnel carriers, small arms ammunition, heavy machine guns, and a plethora of other products, almost exclusively delivered to dictatorships (with the exception of Israel).
Germany, which stood as the world’s third-largest arms exporter in previous years (after the US and Russia), had doubled its share of the global arms trade over the previous decade to 11%, totaling roughly 6 billion euros in arms deals for 2008 alone, with companies like EADS, Rheinmetall and Heckler & Koch leading the way. Even Russia was becoming a big customer for German military equipment, purchasing armoured plating and tanks.
In 2009, the European Union had established new export rules for arms and military technology, much-praised as preventing the export of arms that “might be used for undesirable purposes such as internal repression or international aggression or contribut[ing] to regional instability.” With the EU rules in place, member countries were free to completely disregard them. A European Commission study leaked to Der Spiegel in 2012 revealed that combined exports from EU nations made the European Union “the world’s largest exporter of weapons” to Saudi Arabia, delivering at least $4.34 billion in equipment in 2010 alone. Sweden helped the Saudi dictatorship build a missile factory, Finland delivered grenade launchers, Germany sold tanks and Britain provided fighter jets. The arms exporters were unfazed by the fact that equipment such as the tanks were used by Saudi Arabia in its “invitation” to invade Bahrain and help the Bahraini dictatorship crush the pro-democracy movement in early 2011. An official with the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society noted that the Swedish support for building a missile factory in Saudi Arabia has meant that, “we are legitimizing one of the most brutal regimes in the world.” Pakistan had meanwhile become China’s biggest customer for arms exports, while India purchased 10% of the world’s arms exports in 2010 “to defend itself against neighbor and arch enemy Pakistan.”
When German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke at the Munich Security Conference in 2011, she mentioned the “obligation to pursue value-based foreign policy,” and has often argued that “no compromises” can be made on issues of human rights. As part of Merkel’s respect for “human rights” and “value-based foreign policy,” weapons sales have increased as a significant factor in Germany’s foreign policy strategy, quietly changing the rules for arms exports to increase weapons sales to “crisis regions” as “a major pillar of the country’s security policy.” The objective would be to strengthen countries within “crisis regions” and therefore reduce the possibility that the German military would itself have to participate in “international missions.”
The German publication Der Spiegel referred to this as the “Merkel doctrine” of “tanks instead of soldiers.” Among the key countries to support, identified by Merkel and eight other ministers who met behind closed doors under the aegis of the Federal Security Council, were Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Qatar, India, and Angola. Merkel explained her doctrine in a speech at an event in Berlin in September of 2011 where she stated that if the West lacks the will and ability to undertake direct military intervention, “then it’s generally not enough to send other countries and organizations words of encouragement. We must also provide the necessary means to those nations that are prepared to get involved. I’ll say it clearly: This includes arms exports.” This, of course, Merkel added, would nicely manifest as a foreign policy “that is aligned with respect for human rights.”
As part of the “Merkel doctrine” of engaging in a “value-based foreign policy” with “respect for human rights,” Germany increased its arms sales to the Algerian dictatorship from 20 million euros in 2010 to nearly 400 million euros in 2012, with German military manufacturer Rheinmetall planning to produce 1,200 armored personnel carriers for Algeria over the next ten years. According to published European Union documents, over 2011, the top five arms exporting countries in the EU were France, the U.K., Germany, Italy, and Spain, collectively exporting over 80% of 37.5 billion euros in arms from EU countries. The European Union, winner of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, increased its arms exports by 18.3% since the previous year, with an increase in export licenses to Asia, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa. There were arms licenses issued to Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and over 300-million euros-worth of arms for Egypt. The EU increased its arms exports to “areas of tension,” including India, Pakistan, and a record 465 million euros in arms to Afghanistan, “a country still under partial arms embargo.” However, ‘partial’ is apparently debatable.
With the United States reaching a record-breaking $60 billion in arms deals over 2011, Andrew Shapiro at the State Department stated that 2012 was set to be an equally – if not larger – bonanza for arms dealers. Revealing the role of diplomats and top government officials as glorified lobbyists and corporate representatives, Shapiro told a group of defense writers in the Summer of 2012: “We’ve really upped our game in terms of advocating on behalf of U.S. companies,” adding, “I’ve got the frequent-flyer miles to prove it.” Shapiro had traveled to more than 11 countries over 2012 promoting arms deals, noting that sales were at a record level for the third quarter of 2012, already passing $50 billion. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had made “advocacy” for arms dealers “a key priority” for U.S. diplomats and State Department officials who “were now expected to undertake such efforts on all trips abroad.” Shapiro and others had been lobbying for American military contractors in deals ranging from Japan’s $10 billion purchase of aircraft from Lockheed Martin to India’s increased arms purchases, where Shapiro saw “tremendous potential” for U.S. arms sales, and to Brazil, where Boeing was competing with France’s Dassault company for a multibillion-dollar defense contract, of which Shapiro stated, “We’re eager to make the best possible case for the Boeing aircraft, and we’re hopeful that it will be selected.”
By March of 2013, the world’s five largest arms exporters were the U.S., Russia, Germany, France, and China overtook the UK for the first time in fifth place, having increased its arms exports by 162% between 2008 and 2012, increasing its share of the global arms trade from 2 to 5%, over 50% of which are delivered to Pakistan, with other large recipients being Myanmar, Bangladesh, Algeria, Venezuela and Morocco. Li Hong, the secretary-general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association noted: “Military exports are one way for China to increase its international status,” explaining that, “China needs to increase its influence in regional affairs and from that perspective it needs to increase weapons exports further.” As China increased its own military budget in recent years, it had turned to developing its own weapons industries, thus moving from being the world’s number one arms importer (of conventional weapons) between 2003-2007 to taking second place behind India in the 2008-2012 period, acquiring roughly 69% of its arms imports from Russia.
British Prime Minister David Cameron again traveled to the Middle East, accompanied by his Defense Secretary Philip Hammond and another delegation of arms dealers in 2012, seeking to sell up to 100 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, built by EADS and marketed by BAE, competing with France’s cheaper Rafale strike jet made by Dassault Aviation. The increased – and increasingly profitable – arms race in the Middle East was largely facilitated by America’s policies toward Iran. William Cohen is a former U.S. Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, current Counselor and Trustee to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), former member of the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations from 1989 to 1997, current Vice Chairman of the U.S.-China Business Council, on the board of directors of CBS Corporation, and is Chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group, an international business consulting firm. Commenting on the growing arms race in the Middle East, Cohen repeated the usual American propaganda, stating that there was “A very legitimate concern about Iran being a revolutionary country,” though also adding that terrorism, cyberattack threats, and “the implications of the Arab Spring” spurred each country in the region “to make sure it’s protected against that.” Cohen added that military contractors, information technology firms and other corporations “have an enormous opportunity” in the region.
When British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond traveled to Indonesia to promote arms deals for British military contractors like BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, he explained that increasing military ties with notoriously corrupt Indonesia, posed “manageable” risks. He commented: “From the companies I have talked to, they recognize that there is a challenge but they think that it is manageable, and they can operate here successfully while observing the UK and US legal requirements to address anti-corruption issues.” This statement came amid accusations of Rolls-Royce engaging in bribery to acquire business in China, Indonesia, and elsewhere. Hammond noted that in light of the U.S. “pivot” to Asia, Britain was “looking east in a way we have not done before.” Indonesia had recently purchased F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters from the U.S., Sukhoi fighters from Russia, missile systems from China, anti-aircraft missiles, Hawk jets and small arms from British companies. Prime Minister David Cameron defended arms sales to oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia, declaring it to be “completely legitimate and right.”
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a major think tank, projected that defense spending in Asia would overtake that of Europe for the first time in 2012, noting that Asia was in the midst of an arms race between China and other states in the region. The expenditure of European members of NATO on defense spending over 2011 was just under $270 billion, whereas in Asia it had reached $262 billion (excluding Australia and New Zealand). As China announced increased defense spending, the United States announced a “shift in military strategy” which treats the Asia-Pacific region “as one of the Pentagon’s priorities at a time when forces in Europe are being sharply cut.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that large and rising powers like China “have a special obligation to demonstrate in concrete ways that they are going to pursue a constructive path.” Leon Panetta, the U.S. Defense Secretary, noted that America’s “military posture in Asia will be increased.”
Indeed, in 2012, Asian defense spending surpassed that of Europe for the first time, reaching a record level of $287.4 billion, though the United States continued to account for 45.3% of total global military spending, meaning that the United States spends almost as much on military expenditures than the rest of the entire world combined. The United States, as part of its Pacific ‘pivot’ in military strategy, increased its arms sales to countries neighbouring China and North Korea. Fred Downey, vice president of the U.S. trade group, Aerospace Industries Association, which includes top U.S. military contractors, noted that the Pacific pivot “will result in growing opportunities for our industry to help equip our friends.” U.S. arms sales to the region increased to $13.7 billion in 2012, up more than 5% from the previous year. There were 65 individual notifications to the U.S. Congress over the previous year regarding total foreign military sales brokered by the Pentagon with a collective value exceeding $63 billion. The State Department, responsible for issuing licenses for direct commercial sales between military contractors and foreign governments, noted that 2012 saw a new record increase with more than 85,000 license requests.
As Obama set a new record for arms sales to the Middle East in 2012, Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro noted, “If countries view the United States unfavorably, they will be less willing to cooperate on security matters,” and for this reason, “the current administration has sought to revitalize U.S. diplomatic engagement, especially relating to security assistance and defense trade.” The growth in arms sales, noted Shapiro, speaking to the Defense Trade Advisory Group in November of 2012, “has been truly remarkable,” that in spite of the global economic crisis, “demand for U.S. defense sales abroad remains robust” with “significant growth both in direct commercial sales and in foreign military sales.”
As part of America’s Pacific ‘pivot,’ the United States announced a $5.9 billion arms deal with Taiwan in 2011, upgrading the country’s fleet of 145 F-16 fighter jets. Zhang Zhijun, a Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister, commented: “The wrongdoing by the US side will inevitably undermine bilateral relations as well as exchanges and co-operation in military and security areas.” Upon the announcement of the arms deal, Zhijun summoned the U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke, and informed him that, “China strongly urges the US to be fully aware of the high sensitivity and serious harm of the issue, [to] seriously treat the solemn stance of China, honour its commitment and immediately cancel the wrong decision.” A top Obama administration official replied, “We believe that our contribution to the legitimate defense needs of Taiwan will contribute to stability across the Taiwan Strait.” The Chinese Ministry of Defense warned that the arms deal “will create a serious obstacle to developing normal exchanges between the two militaries” and that the “U.S. has ignored China’s firm opposition and insisted on selling arms to Taiwan.” Obviously, there are different definitions of “stability” at play.
In April of 2012, the Pentagon announced an arms deal with Japan of four F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft with an option to purchase an additional 38 F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin at an estimated cost of $10 billion. In late 2011, Japan announced its intention to relax a ban on weapons exports which dated back to 1967, which, the Financial Times reported, could open “the way for Japanese companies to participate in the international development and manufacture of advanced weapon systems.” Japan’s largest business lobby, the Keidanren, praised the move as “epoch-making.” Following the “relaxing” of controls, Japan and Britain announced that they would jointly develop weaponry, the first time that Japan would work with another country (apart from the United States) on constructing military equipment.
In October of 2012, the United States announced an arms deal in which South Korea would get longer-range missiles capable of striking anywhere in North Korea, “altering” (or violating) a 2001 accord which barred the U.S. “from developing and deploying ballistic missiles with a range of more than 300km (186 miles),” in order to avert a regional arms race. Obviously, a decision was made to create a regional arms race, so the accord was “altered” and the US agreed to sell South Korea missiles with a range of 800km. South Korea’s defense ministry praised the new deal, stating that they would then be able to “strike all of North Korea, even from southern areas.” The 2001 accord also ensured that the U.S. would not deploy or develop missiles for the South with a payload of more than 500 kg (1,100lbs), since the “heavier a payload is, the more destructive power it can have.” So obviously, that pesky restriction also had to be “altered,” and while long-range missiles maintain the 1,100lb payload, missiles with shorter ranges will be permitted to hold much more. South Korea will also be able to operate U.S.-supplied drones, permitted to hold payloads up to 5,510lb with a range of more than 300km, and no payload restrictions on drones with a flying distance less than 300km. South Korea can also acquire cruise missiles with unlimited range, and some media reports suggested that South Korea had already deployed cruise missiles with a range of more than 1,000km, though officials “refused to confirm” if that were true. The South Korean Defense Ministry reported that North Korea had missiles that could reach South Korea, Japan, and Guam, a Pacific territory of the United States. Thus, the United States intends to counter the “threat” of North Korea by instigating a massive arms race in the region.
Arms Trade Diplomacy: “Chief Commercial Officer” or Ambassador?
As the massive release of diplomatic cables from Wikileaks revealed, U.S. and other diplomats are often little more than glorified lobbyists and salesmen for the Western arms industry. Lockheed Martin got help from the U.S. State Department in selling C-130 military transport planes to the government in Chad starting in 2007. The U.S. Embassy in Chad noted that the government likely could not afford the aircraft, not to mention that it would probably use the aircraft “to defend the regime against a backlash provoked by its refusal so far to open its political system and provide for a peaceful democratic transition.” In other words, the government of Chad wanted to use the military equipment to crush a pro-democracy movement. Nevertheless, noted the U.S. Embassy, we “would concur in allowing the sale to go forward.”
With Chad’s air force chief, its ambassador to the U.S. and a representative from Lockheed Martin promoting the deal with the State Department, the Embassy noted that the sale “would provide a healthy boost to U.S. exports to Chad” and “strengthen U.S. military cooperation.” While Chad told the State Department that it wanted the aircraft “to go after terrorists or help refugees,” the U.S. Embassy noted that in reality, “it needs them to support combat operations against the armed rebellion in eastern Chad,” and commented: “A decision to approve the sale would be met with dismay by many Chadian supporters of peaceful democratic change.” Our conclusion, noted a U.S. Embassy cable, “is that, like it or not, our interests line up in favor of allowing the sale in some form to go forward.” However, the U.S. would have to promote the sale with full knowledge of how Chadians will perceive it, and will have to undertake “a strategy to counter these perceptions.”
Ben Berkowitz wrote for Reuters that Wikileaks cables painted “a picture of foreign service officers and political appointees willing to go to great lengths to sell American products and services,” where, “in some cases, the efforts were so strenuous they raise the question of where if anywhere the line is being drawn between diplomacy and salesmanship.” A State Department spokesperson said in response that the U.S. government “has broad, though not unlimited, discretion to promote and assist U.S. commercial interests abroad.” Such practice became official policy shortly after the end of the Cold War when U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger introduced a bill which gave corporations a direct role in foreign policy. One former U.S. diplomat in Asia noted, “Until (then), U.S. diplomats were not particularly encouraged to help U.S. business. They were busy fighting the Cold War.” Suddenly, he noted, “we were given new direction: if a single U.S. company is looking for business, we should advocate for them by name; if more than one U.S. company was in the mix, stress buying the American product.” The former diplomat added: “It was great to see how influential the right word from the U.S. ambassador was.”
Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero had informed the U.S. Embassy, “to let him know if there was something important to the (U.S. government) and he would take care of it,” according to a 2009 diplomatic cable. The embassy took up the offer when General Electric was bidding against Rolls-Royce to sell helicopters to the Spanish Ministry of Defense (MOD), with GE informing the U.S. Embassy that if it did not get the contract, it would close part of its business in Spain. The U.S. Embassy passed the information along to Zapatero’s economic adviser, and, although there was “considerable” evidence that the government was going to award the contract to Rolls Royce, the Zapatero’s office “overturned the decision and it was announced that GE had won the bid,” and the U.S. Ambassador was “convinced that Zapatero personally intervened in the case in favor of GE.”
The U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates promoted the interests of Halliburton to participate in a joint venture with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. in 2003, a time at which Halliburton’s former CEO, Dick Cheney, was Vice President of the United States. The contract was eventually awarded to Halliburton. The U.S. Ambassador to the UAE at the time, Marcelle Wahba, noted, “I can’t think of a time when a month went by when a commercial issues wasn’t on my plate… Some administrations put more of an emphasis on it than others, but now I think, regardless of who’s in power you really find it’s become an integral part of the State Department mandate.”
Tom Niles, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, the European Union and Greece, as well as former president of the “pro-trade group” the U.S. Council for International Business, stated: “By the time I was retired from the Foreign Service, which was 1998, things had changed fundamentally and being an active participant in the commercial program and promoting trade using the prestige of the ambassador and receptions held at the ambassador’s residence was an important part of what I did.” Niles suggested that a U.S. ambassador was as much a “chief commercial officer” for corporations as a diplomat. “We might have been a little bit late to the game. The Europeans understood the crucial role of foreign trade in the growth and development of their economies before we did.” A former ambassador to the UAE noted: “Oftentimes European ambassadors, that’s all they’re there for.” Of course, that’s only logical, considering that European ambassadors do not have to be concerned with managing the world in the same way the United States does. Therefore, their interests are specific: economic.
In the Arms of America
With all the flowery rhetoric of “democracy” and “freedom,” American – and the Western world’s – hypocrisy can easily be revealed with a brief look at the global arms trade: supporting ruthless and repressive dictatorships, as well as creating and supporting regional arms races which increase instability and the threat of war. The objective is simple, and from the imperial perspective, very practical: support regional proxy states to do our dirty work for us. If this happens to increase regional instability and even lead to war, well, such things are inevitable within and as a result of an imperial system. So long as the final result is that the United States and the West maintain their “access” to and control over regions, resources, and populations, the means are incidental.
To put it another way: if our nations were actually interested in concepts and ideas of “democracy” and “freedom” for all people, around the world, why do we sell billions of dollars in weapons and military technology to the countries which most enthusiastically crush democracy and prevent freedom?
The answer to that question reveals the true nature of our society.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch, Occupy.com, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, Research Director of Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
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 Matt Sugrue, “GAO Report on U.S. Arms Sales, 2005-2009,” Arms Control Now, 29 September 2010:
 Maggie Bridgeman, “Obama seeks to expand arms exports by trimming approval process,” McClatchy, 29 July 2010:
 Joby Warrick, “U.S. steps up weapon sales to Mideast allies,” The Washington Post, 31 January 2010:
 Helene Cooper, “U.S. Approval of Taiwan Arms Sales Angers China,” The New York Times, 29 January 2010:
 Adam Entous, “Saudi Arms Deal Advances,” The Wall Street Journal, 12 September 2010:
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 Anthony H. Cordesman, et. al, “Is Big Saudi Arms Sale a Good Idea?” Expert Roundup, the Council on Foreign Relations, 27 September 2010:
[12 – 15] Ibid.
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 Mina Kimes, “America’s hottest export: Weapons – Full version,” CNN money, 24 February 2011:
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