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U.S. Foreign Weapons Sales Triple, Setting Record

WASHINGTON, Aug 27 2012 (IPS) - U.S. weapons sales around the world have massively expanded over the past year, setting several records. Agreements for foreign arms sales in 2011 totalled around 66.3 billion dollars – three times higher than the previous year and constituting an “extraordinary increase”, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Over that same period, total weapons sales agreements around the world also spiked, nearly doubling to a total of around 85.3 billion dollars, the highest recorded since 2004. These figures were recorded despite the fact that nearly all other weapons suppliers saw declines in orders in 2011.

For instance, the second largest supplier, Russia – with whom the United States has vied for the top spot in recent years – had its sales drop by half in 2011, down to 4.1 billion dollars. Analysts attribute this trend down to the sour global economy.

This discrepancy was undoubtedly created by the United States’ enormous haul, which made up nearly 78 percent of all sales, the most lucrative of which were in aircraft and missiles. Even the report (a leaked version of which can be found here) admits that the “extraordinary total value of U.S. weapons orders” for 2011 “distorts the current picture of the global arms trade market”.

“The astounding, record U.S. foreign military sales figures highlight the fact that the global arms trade is booming,” Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, an advocacy group based here, told IPS.

Washington and the rest of the international community need to do much more “to regulate the flow of weapons to irresponsible regimes with substandard human-rights records and conflict regions like the Middle East and Africa”, Kimball added.

Developing nations: the world’s newest buyers

Half of this year’s record figures consisted of a single sale of 84 fighter jets and several dozen helicopters to Saudi Arabia, valued at 33.4 billion dollars.

This year’s report, an annual, comprehensive look at the subject by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), focused particularly on arms transfers between the United States and governments in developing countries.

“Developing nations continue to be the primary focus of foreign arms sales activity by weapons suppliers,” the report stated.

Between 2004 and 2011, agreements with developing countries reportedly comprised almost 69 percent of all such agreements, but even this already high number has increased substantially in more recent years, resting at nearly 84 percent in 2011.

While Saudi Arabia was the largest purchaser among developing countries, it was followed by India and the United Arab Emirates, potentially highlighting a clear foreign-policy angle to U.S. weapons sales.

The report noted that both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are “pivotal partners in the U.S. effort to contain Iran”, thus suggesting that this year’s record-setting sales could in part be driven by the heated discussion over the potential for war with Iran.

Elsewhere, the report stated that “concerns over the growing strategic threat from Iran…have become the principal basis of [Gulf Cooperation Council] states’ advanced arms purchases”.

Analysts have pointed out that Saudi Arabia’s purchase constituted almost 70 percent of the Saudi government’s total spending for 2011, a move representing an enormous advance in its military prowess.

The push for international regulation

The new figures came just weeks after international negotiators failed to agree on a framework that would strengthen regulation of the global arms marketplace, estimated at some 60 billion dollars annually. Currently, according to advocate groups, extremely lax international accords on the issue make it is far easier to sell weapons internationally than to sell more highly regulated products such as fruit.

Throughout the month of July, representatives met at the United Nations headquarters in New York to try to hammer out an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) but ultimately came up short. The ATT would have aimed at regulating a spectrum of war-related aircraft, along with tanks, missiles and large-calibre weaponry, and small arms.

Early on at those talks, the United States condemned the selection of Iran as the summit’s vice president. Eventually, the United States, pressured in particular by strong opposition from the domestic gun lobby, joined with Russia (as well as India and Indonesia) in objecting to the final draft agreement, thus scuppering progress for the time being.

The Arms Control Association’s Kimball, who attended the New York negotiations, lay much of the blame for that failure on the U.S. hosts, particularly President Barack Obama.

“Although the U.S. delegation had succeeded in inserting all of its preferred formulations in the treaty text and avoided all ‘red lines’, President Obama should have – but did not – provide the leadership necessary to close the deal,” he said.

“Now, the release of these new figures highlights the need for the U.S. to translate its rhetoric into reality regarding an effective Arms Trade Treaty. In the coming weeks, the United States has a special responsibility to work with, not against, the many other states that support the Arms Trade Treaty, to conclude a sound agreement this year.”

Although the July ATT talks ended with no agreement, the negotiations did decide to allow member states to engage in further deliberations and, potentially, to bring a draft treaty before the United Nations General Assembly for a vote.

Unlike the unanimous consensus required during the earlier talks, such a move would only require two-thirds of the body to approve the measure. Diplomats have expressed optimism that such a vote will happen before the end of the year.

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