The Boom in the Death Business

Arms Uncontrolled Research Institute by

prepared for the Stockholm International Peace Frank Barnaby and Ronald Huisken
Harvard University Press, 232 pp., $12.50

The Arms Trade with the Third World

by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
Holmes and Meier (revised and abridged edition), 362 pp., $15.00

World Armaments and Disarmament: SIPRI Yearbook, 1975

MIT Press, 618 pp., $25.00

The newest increase in the arms trade is said to have amazed even the Department of Defense. Announcing recently that US foreign military sales were worth $9.5 billion in the 1975 fiscal year, the Defense Department described the pleasant news as “unexpected.” In 1973, these US sales were worth some $3.9 billion. The entire value of the world’s arms trade was $9.2 billion in 1973, according to the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and only $5.8 billion in 1970. “Foreign military sales” (from aircraft and missiles to howitzers and military “support services”) are now worth almost a tenth of the value of all US exports, overshadowing the other stars of American foreign trade. In measuring sales for 1975, the Defense Department counted orders made during the year, rather than deliveries of weapons.1 But $9.5 billion is twice the value of all US wheat exports, and three times the value of exports of computers.

The most lucrative corner of this boom market is, notoriously, the Persian Gulf. Three countries, Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, bought close to half of all US military exports. In the fastest arms race in history, these countries spent more money last year to buy American armaments alone than they paid for all their arms imports in the twenty years before 1973. Of course, a billion dollars buys a lot less bang than in the 1950s and 1960s, what with inflation and hard times. But four billion dollars a year is still worth a fighter squadron or so; Iran has ordered several squadrons of the supersonic F-14A fighter, only two years in service with the US Air Force. Meanwhile, the United States’s competitors in the arms trade, France and the Soviet Union, are also active, having sold some billion and a half dollars’ worth of arms apiece, last year, to the Persian Gulf countries.2

The rearmament boom extends beyond the Middle East. It is not simply a spree by the prosperous oil exporting countries, not just another Iranian extravaganza. All continents are involved, and many different developing countries. Of the US sales that the Defense Department lists for 1975, some two thirds are to developing countries, including the oil exporting countries. Latin America, for example—until recently relatively parsimonious and “unsophisticated” in its local arms race—has increased its imports of US arms particularly fast in the last three years.

The arms bonanza may be the sign of a lasting change in the world arms economy. It may mark the beginning of a long expansion in US arms exports to developing countries. Such an expansion would be perhaps the most dangerous of all the recent changes in the world economy. It would certainly be the change which is least amenable to political and public control. Few seem to realize that the arms sold by US and European companies are often resold after they arrive in the country that buys them. Iran exports US fighter planes to Ethiopia and to Jordan with US government approval. Jordan…

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