People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 02

January 09, 2011

Arms Bazaar: US on a Selling Spree


Yohannan Chemerapally


THE year 2010 was a great year for the merchants of death. The extradition of the notorious Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, to the US by the government of Thailand had put the spotlight on the nefarious global arms trade. Bout is being described in the western media as an individual arms dealer with few scruples who sold his lethal supplies to the highest bidder. According to the Americans, who had put Bout on the most wanted list, the former Russian naval officer had supplied arms to groups on Washington’s so called terror list like Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Taliban and insurgent groups in Somalia. The US has given the Colombian armed forces 5 billion dollars in military aid since the late nineties. Many more billion have been spent in Afghanistan in the continuing efforts to defeat the Taliban.




However the real “merchants of death” are the big arms companies, based mainly in the US and Europe, that sell weapons worth billions to the countries in the developing world. Companies in the US have led the pack. The latest arms deals signed by the US with Saudi Arabia and other states in the West Asian region will see the profits of Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman soaring in the next fiscal. The global arms trade is a 60 billion dollars annual business. The country consistently topping the list of arms suppliers is the US. The other nations in the list of the top ten arms exporters are Russia, Germany, France, the UK, Israel, China, Sweden, the Netherlands and Italy.


In 2009, the US share of the global defence market was 39 per cent, followed by Russia with around 20 per cent sales. China was the third biggest exporter. India has been among the top purchasers of military equipment. In 2008, India along with Pakistan, Algeria and Malaysia were among the top five buyers of weapons. In 2009, Brazil emerged as the biggest recipient of arms with 7.2 billion dollars in purchases, followed by Venezuela which spent 6.4 billion dollars in arms deals. For the period between 2002 and 2009, Saudi Arabia has led the pack of recipient nations having inked arms deals worth more than 39.9 billion dollars, followed by India which had entered into arms deals worth 32.4 billion dollars.


This year the US is likely to break a record in arms sales world wide. The Financial Times has reported that Gulf Arab states have ordered US weapons systems worth 123 billion dollars “to counter Iran military power.” The biggest deal is with Saudi Arabia. The deal worth 60 billion dollars was formally announced in October this year. Among other things, the US will be supplying the Saudis 85 new F-15 jet fighters and will be upgrading another 70 fighter planes. Washington expects to reap an additional 30 billion dollars when the Saudi navy is upgraded in the near future. American commentators have said that the Saudi deal is a “huge bail out” for American military contractors.




Many West Asia watchers are of the opinion that the region is already overflowing with arms. Saudi Arabia, many military experts have opined, is already over-armed and have military capabilities in excess to their legitimate needs. The Obama administration, however, seems determined to further militarise the tense region, regardless of the consequences. The US is also sending a strong signal to its enemies that despite its declining superpower status it proposes to remain the major power in the region. “This proposed sale has tremendous significance from a strategic regional perspective,” said Andrew Shapiro, the US assistant secretary of state for military affairs, while announcing the arms deal with the Saudis. “It will send a strong message to the countries in the region that we are committed to support the security of our key partners and allies in the Arabian Gulf and the broader Middle East,” said Shapiro.


US Defence officials have said that Tel Aviv did not object to the sale of sophisticated weaponry to Saudi Arabia as “it will not affect Israel’s upper hand in the region.” But just to make sure, the Obama administration has announced that Israel would be given F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the most expensive fighter plane developed so far, costing 184 million dollars apiece. Israel will get 20 of these planes between 2015 and 2017. There are also reports that the Obama administration’s offer of the F-35 jet fighters was in lieu of the Israeli government’s decision to once again “freeze” the building of settlements on the West Bank and go back to the dialogue table.


The UAE has recently signed military contracts worth 35.6 billion dollars with the US. The purchases include that of a high altitude missile defence system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad), which is still in the development stage and Patriot anti-missile batteries. The UAE had also purchased 80 American made F-16 jet fighters. An US Governments Accountability Office (GAO) Report accessed by the media in September faults the Obama administration for concluding multi-billion dollar arms deals with Gulf countries without establishing whether they were in the national interests of the US. The GAO, which reports to the US Congress, had looked into American defence deals conducted with the Gulf States from 2005 to 2009. The Obama administration has disagreed with the GAO’s contention that US national interests were not prioritised. US officials had told the GAO that arms sales to the Gulf “support the US defence industrial base” and represent “a key component of the US security relationship in the region.”


The US has been seeking for a long time to make the Gulf a frontline against Iran. The huge military sales to Saudi Arabia are also meant to make the biggest Gulf country a strategic buffer between Israel and Iran. The US and Saudi Arabia share a close strategic relationship for the last seven decades, based on oil and security. Though relations between Riyadh and Teheran have vastly improved, the Saudi monarchy seems to be in Washington’s corner as for as the nuclear dispute is concerned.


Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieringa, director of the Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency, has predicted that the US weapons sales would cross the 50 billion dollars mark this year. Oman and Kuwait are likely to place orders with the US to replace and upgrade their air forces. Oman has reportedly earmarked 12.3 billion dollars and Kuwait, 7.1 billion dollars for arms purchases from the US. In September the US signed a deal with Iraq to sell weapons worth 4.2 billion dollars. They include 18 F-16 fighter aircraft, Sidewinder air to air missiles, laser guided bombs and reconnaissance equipment.




The other recent notable arms sales concluded by the US include a 3.2 billion dollars sale of F-16 to Egypt, 7 billion dollars worth of Boeing F-18 bombers to Brazil and 134 billion dollars in Chinook helicopters to Morocco. The arms deal the US signed with Taiwan in January this year triggered a diplomatic row between Washington and Beijing. Under the deal, the US will sell advanced weaponry worth more than 6.3 billion dollars to the island, which China considers as its province. In retaliation, China had suspended military exchanges with the US and had warned that the deal would have an adverse impact on bilateral relations. In 2008, the US had sold Taiwan aircraft and missiles worth 6.4 billion dollars.


Wieringa has made eight visits to India so far. India is now emerging as a key market for the US. He boasted in a recent blog post about the huge strides the US has made in weapons exports. The Indian defence market was so far virtually monopolised by Russia and Israel. A major thrust of the Obama visit to India was to sell American weaponry. The Obama administration is reportedly “investigating” on ways to make the selling of defence weaponry easier to countries like India. While signing this year’s military budget, President Obama said that the document takes “necessary steps towards reshaping priorities of America’s defence establishment and changing the way the Pentagon does business.” WikiLeaks documents have shown that Washington has been arm twisting various governments around the world to buy Aerican weaponry. The US administration, the leaked documents have revealed, has been strenuously lobbying for companies like Boeing. 


India has set aside 50 billion dollars for the next five years to modernise its armed forces. Ten billion dollars have been earmarked for the purchase of the 126 multi-role combat fighters. If an American company clinches this deal, the US could then emerge as India’s biggest defence partner and military ally. India has already gone in for some big ticket purchases, including cargo transport aircraft and long distance reconnaissance planes along with 145 US made howitzers this year alone. The deals are worth more than 5 billion dollars. India, unlike Pakistan, pays for the American weapons, from its budget. Countries like Pakistan and Israel pay for American weaponry from the huge defence aid they receive from Washington. The US counter-insurgency fund for Pakistan for the fiscal year of 2011 is to increase to 1.2 billion dollars.