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Carter and Arms: No Sale

The Arms Bazaar: From Lebanon to Lockheed

by Anthony Sampson
Viking, 352 pp., $12.95

Foreign Defense Sales and Grants, Fiscal Years 1973-1975; Labor and Material Requirements of Defense/International Economic Affairs

prepared by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
distributed by the US Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary

Report to Congress on Arms Transfer Policy from the US Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations

prepared by the US Department of State, limited supply available

The export of armaments is about to become an essential American industry. This is one conclusion suggested by a new study prepared for the Defense Department by the US Department of Labor. The study makes it possible for the first time to understand the economic consequences of the arms boom. Its estimates, put together with other United States government projections, show the military economy at a point of transition in 1977. Since 1973, military sales have changed from a minor to a major source of employment for Americans. The new study shows that in 1975 each $1 billion in foreign deliveries of military sales required the employment of 51,900 American workers. This year the US is expected to deliver $6.8 billion worth of military goods and services to foreign buyers. Some 350,000 people, these estimates imply, may now be working directly and indirectly to deliver military sales.1

Next year the new “industry” is likely to increase the number of jobs it requires to over 430,000. Four years ago it required only 100,000 people. Such growth is unequaled in the civilian and domestic economy. The entire US economy, from 1973 to 1977, produced five million new jobs. Military sales, the new studies suggest, produced one out of every twenty of these new jobs. Military exports already require the services of more people than are at work in eleven US states. It is as though the entire working population of, for example, Nevada were occupied in fixing missiles to Iranian fighter planes and in other tasks of the arms trade.2

The boom in US military sales began in 1973. But the well-known and spectacular figures reported at the time—$10 billion a year or more of “sales” in 1974 and 1975—measured orders, or agreements to sell military goods and services, rather than actual military exports. What is happening now is that deliveries are catching up with these earlier orders. Fighters that in 1974 were a gleam in the Shah’s eye are now steel and titanium, being assembled by American workers and shipped for export. And the process is only beginning. The United States as of last October had a stock of unfilled military sales orders worth $32.8 billion. As late as 1983, US workers will still be delivering arms from this stock of boom-time orders.

It is against this horizon of real life and real work that the Carter administration’s arms sales policy should be seen. For the Carter policy, which has been concerned initially with the morality and subsequently with the foreign policy of arms sales, will succeed only as it influences the political economy of arms and disarmament.

The object of the new arms policy, as summarized most recently by the President, is to achieve “much greater constraint on arms sales,” and to “reduce the level of arms sales in each succeeding year” after 1977.3 On this modest interpretation, the policy is likely to work. Foreign military sales are already considerably lower in the 1977 fiscal year than they were in 1976. At $5.6 billion for the first ten months of the year, orders are running about 10 percent below the 1976 rate.4

But there are more difficult and interesting aspects to the Carter policy. “The United States will henceforth view arms transfers as an exceptional foreign policy implement,” President Carter’s main statement on arms transfers promises, and “in the future, the burden of persuasion will be on those who favor a particular arms sale, rather than those who oppose it.”5 The statement also forswears, among other practices, introducing advanced weapons into a new region, selling weapons before they are used by the US forces, and developing or transforming advanced weapons solely for export. (NATO and other close allies among developed countries are exempt, and Israel is also considered exceptional.)

These more difficult objectives still seem remote. The distribution of military orders, this year, still recalls the height of the Nixon/Ford arms boom. So far $3.19 billion in sales, or well over half of the total, are to Iran. In July alone, the Carter administration racked up some $400 million in new Iranian orders.6 The administration’s controversial offer to sell Iran planes carrying the latest US radar (seven AWACS jets, or Airborne Warning and Control Systems, costing $1.2 billion) is set to be submitted for congressional approval in September. The government has stalled the Ford administration’s plan to sell advanced F18 fighters to Iran, but favors a sale of F15 fighters, which the Ford government considered too advanced, to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile arms sales and grants continue to poor developing countries. In 1976, the US increased its arms sales to Kenya, Ethiopia, and Zaire. Now the Carter administration proposes to supply arms to such new African clients as Somalia, Chad, and the Sudan; a US military mission visited the Sudan in August.

Another object of the Carter policy is to persuade foreign arms sellers—of whom by far the most important are the Soviet Union, Britain, and France—to join the United States in restraining sales. The administration’s new report on arms transfer policy states that Carter, Mondale, and Vance all “raised the question” of restraint during their trips to Europe and the Middle East, while the United States and the Soviet Union have agreed to set up a “joint working group on conventional arms transfers.” The part of the report which describes these efforts was deleted because it contained classified information. But the working group will apparently meet in the fall.

It is disappointing, all the same, that seven months after Carter’s “Peacemaker” inaugural, and a year after his election commitment to seek international agreements on arms transfers, there is still no news to be made public about any such agreements. Nor is there much sign that the administration sees arms restraint as an urgent topic in its relations with the Soviet Union and Western Europe, an issue on which to risk its power and influence. Perhaps Britain, France, and the Soviet Union are indeed recalcitrant. But if that is the case, the US administration might soon try to rally public opinion to its cause. “Open diplomacy” seems at least as appropriate in ending the boom in the arms trade as it does in promoting human rights.

The policy report itself sets considerable emphasis on “the role of other suppliers,” whom it describes as “keen competitors,” “acutely interested” in arms sales and eager for hard currency. These sellers, it reports, could “substitute for all US transfers to [developing countries] outside the Middle East,” as well as provide fighters and ships to the Middle East.7 Yet the Soviet Union, America’s closest competitor, does not seem a likely supplier for such clients as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel. (The Defense Department insists, however, “that the Soviets are known to recognize and exploit new opportunities as part of their doctrine.”)

Britain and France are certainly keen. But they each account for less than a fifth of the value of US arms exports to developing countries. 8 In order to take advantage of US restraint, they would need to build new defense plants for the express purpose of selling arms to Asia. (There are already, after all, about as many tanks and fighter aircraft in the Middle East as there are with all NATO forces in Europe.)9 They would also need to increase their own military establishments, and to find new technicians to match the 36,000 workers and their dependents who will soon be employed by US military contractors in Iran. Even in Europe there are politicians who would oppose any such multiplication of military production and military recruitment.

The Carter government’s intention to increase arms transfers to Somalia and the Sudan in East Africa is, finally, one of the worst possible precedents for any international agreements about arms sales. The administration is hardly exercising exemplary unilateral restraint when it thunders into a new and perilous region. As the policy report notes, the US has “play[ed] a minor role in Africa,” relative to other sellers, such as the Soviet Union. US efforts to increase this role are not likely to entice the Europeans and the Soviet Union into any very helpful “working groups.”

East Africa is, in 1977, the principal region of the world where people are fighting and dying in wars. Fighter planes there are not playthings but instruments of war to be shot out of the skies. Unquestionably, the region is of strategic importance. The Russians are arming both sides in the conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia. (The Chinese also have an acute interest: a Chinese dignitary assured me not long ago that World War III would start in the horn of Africa, spreading rapidly thence to Western Europe.) The US is already involved as a past supplier of arms and spare parts to Ethiopia. By proposing to supply arms to Somalia and the Sudan, it is now risking more than its arms policy for political advantage.

Carter before he became president expressed moral revulsion at America’s role as the arsenal of the world. These feelings seem to have been superseded by a more strategic view of arms and foreign policy. As early as July 1976, Carter said, “We ought to assess every arms sales policy on an individual nation basis. In other words, if we think the sale of arms can better preserve peace in a portion of the world, and carry out our committed foreign policy, then let the arms sales be made on that basis alone.”10

Yet this view, I think, is itself one of the problems of the new arms policy. The administration’s policy is disappointing not so much in its conceptions as in the way it is being implemented. The new report, indeed, is a valuable document, which also provides useful and scarce information about arms sales. But its spirit is not yet evident in the administration’s recent decisions.

Carter’s two objectives, of reducing arms sales and of judging them, case by case, for their effect on foreign policy, are often, as a matter of practice, in conflict. People who want to sell arms find foreign policy arguments easy to win. A case can be made under almost all circumstances that arms transfers to a particular country (Chad, Somalia, Saudi Arabia) help US foreign policy. Kissinger’s arms policy stressed the benefits to US foreign relations, and I am sure that there were people in the State Department who argued persuasively for the most arcane transactions of the Nixon/Ford arms boom. Glimpses of such eloquence can be seen, indeed, not so much in the circumspect new report itself as in various annexes appended to it. Words assume a special official meaning, where “peace” stands for militarism and “stability” for the balance of terror.

Approximately 100 countries,” according to the report, are eligible for foreign military sales, a “Presidential Determination” having in each case been made to the effect that “sales to that country will strengthen the security of the United States and serve world peace.” The Defense Department notes that arms sales achieve “enhancement of…total force objectives and regional stabilization.” The Agency for International Development, in a particularly distasteful annex to the report, considers that defense spending in developing countries leads to “the opening up of minds to new management and technical ideas,” it also suggests that students trained under the US International Military Education and Training program—most of whom come from and leave for military dictatorships—“return to become leaders in civilian as well as military life, inculcated with principles and skills that can make important contributions to many facets of a developing economy.”

  1. 1

    The study Foreign Defense Sales and Grants calculated, p. 20, the “job requirements per billion of current dollar value of deliveries and support costs” for military transfer programs. Defense sales required 51,883 jobs per billion in the 1975 fiscal year. Estimates for military deliveries in the 1977 and 1978 fiscal years are taken from the administration’s Report to Congress, Annex 2, “Study of the Economic Effects of Restraint in Arms Transfers.” “Sales,” in both reports, include commercial as well as government-to-government sales.

    The estimates for deliveries are given in “fiscal 1975” dollars, to compensate for the effects of inflation. But the estimates of job requirements in 1977 and 1978 derived above are still only approximate. Job requirements change over time not only with changes in prices but also with changes in productivity. They also change as the composition of military transfers changes. Thus deliveries of missiles and construction now are much more important in relation to total military deliveries than they were in 1975.

  2. 2

    The estimates cover indirect as well as direct jobs, i.e., jobs making screws for missile fixers, as well as the fixers’ own jobs.

  3. 3

    Press conference, July 28, 1977.

  4. 4

    Foreign military sales agreements, October 1, 1976 to August 3, 1977: Department of Defense Public Affairs. Foreign military sales agreements, 1976 fiscal year, plus “transition quarter” (July 1, 1975 to September 30, 1976): Foreign Military Sales and Military Assistance Facts, Department of Defense, December 1976.

  5. 5

    Report to Congress, pp. 1-3.

  6. 6

    Foreign military sales agreements, fiscal year 1977 to July 7, 1977, and fiscal year 1977 to August 3, 1977: Department of Defense, Public Affairs.

  7. 7

    This is the belief of the US government Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Report to Congress, p. 21.

  8. 8

    Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, World Armaments and Disarmaments Yearbook 1977 (MIT Press, 1977). p. 309.

  9. 9

    Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, World Armaments and Disarmaments Yearbook 1976 (MIT Press, 1976). p. 65.

  10. 10

    Transcript of Defense Advisory Press Briefing, Plains, Ga., July 27, 1976.

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