1. Clinton Administration Aggressively Promotes U.S. Arms Sales Worldwide

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

Sources: THE BULLETIN OF ATOMIC SCIENTISTS, Title: “Costly Giveaways”*, Date: October 1996, Author: Lora Lumpe; IN THESE TIMES, Title: “Guns `R’ Us”*, Date: August 11, 1997, Author. Martha Honey

SSU Censored Researchers: Katie Sims, Deb Udall, and Susan Allen
SSU Faculty Evaluator: Phil Beard, Ph.D.

The United States is now the principal arms merchant for the world. U.S. weapons are evident in almost every conflict worldwide and reap a devastating toll on civilians, U.S. military personnel, and the socio-economic priorities of many Third World nations.

On June 7, 1997, the House of Representatives unanimously approved the Arms Transfer Code of Conduct. This code would prohibit U.S. commercial arms sales or military aid and training to foreign governments that are undemocratic, abuse human rights, or engage in aggression against neighboring states. Yet the Clinton Administration, along with the Defense, Commerce, and State Departments, has continued to aggressively promote the U.S. arms industry at every opportunity. With Washington’s share of the arms business jumping from 16 percent worldwide in 1988 to 63 percent today, U.S. arms dealers currently sell $10 billion in weapons to non-democratic governments each year. During Clinton’s first year in office, U.S. foreign military aid soared to $36 billion, more than double what George Bush approved in 1992.

Most U.S. weaponry is sold to strife torn regions such as the Middle East. These weapons sales fan the flames of war instead of promoting stability, and ironically, put U.S. troops based around the world at growing risk. For example, the last five times U.S. troops were sent into conflict, they found themselves facing adversaries who had previously received U.S. weapons, military technology, or training. Meanwhile, the Pentagon uses the presence of advanced U.S. weapons in foreign arsenals to justify increased new weapons spending ostensibly to maintain U.S. military superiority.

Given that international arms sales exacerbate conflicts and drain scarce resources from developing countries, why does the Clinton Administration push them so vigorously? Proponents of arms sales say that these sales are a boon to the economy and that they create jobs. However, the government’s own studies reveal that for every 100 jobs created by weapons exports, 41 are lost in non-military U.S. firms. And as U.S. arms exports have soared, some 2.2 million defense industry workers have lost their jobs due to corporate layoffs.

Thus the more plausible motive is the drive for corporate profits. It is no small detail that U.S. global arms market dominance has been accomplished as much through subsidies as sales. In return for arms manufacturers’ huge political contributions, much of the U.S. arms exports are paid with government grants, subsidized loans, tax breaks, and promotional activities. With the 1996 welfare reform law cutting federal support for poor families by about $7 billion annually—an amount almost equal to the yearly subsidies given to U.S. weapons manufacturers—it is the poor who will pay the price for escalating arms exports.

Lawrence Kolb, a Brookings Institute fellow and former assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, sums up the problem: “It has become a money game: an absurd spiral in which we export arms only to have to develop more sophisticated ones to counter those spread out all over the world…. [And] it is very hard for us to tell other (countries]… not to sell arms when we are out there peddling and fighting to control the market.”

UPDATE BY AUTHOR LORA LUMPE: “‘Costly Giveaways’ was based on a longer report (’Recycled Weapons: American Exports of Surplus Arms’) that my former associate Paul F. Pineo and I published in mid-1996. That study demonstrated that the Pentagon and White House had quietly implemented a major new form of military assistance in the wake of the Cold War (and the 1990-1991 Gulf War). We documented approximately $7 billion in shipments of free, ‘excess,’ American weapons to countries around the world during 1990-95.

“The full report and ‘Costly Giveaways’ garnered some mainstream media coverage. Jack Anderson and Colman McCarthy, columnists with the Washington Post, both wrote about it. Harper’s ran a box on it in the May 1997 ‘Readings’ section, and William Greider referenced the report in an excellent article on the U.S. arms industry in Rolling Stone (July 10-24,1997). However, in all of the press coverage, the narrow taxpayer angle received the greatest attention, while what I consider to be the most significant aspect of the story—the impact of these weapons shipments on people working for peace, democracy, economic justice, or human rights—received little mention.

“The report and article had some policy impact. Senator Paul Sarbanes read the study and enacted several of its recommendations into law (Public law 104164). Most significantly, this law requires an annual State Department report listing all transfers of `excess defense articles’ (EDA) and emergency ‘drawdowns’ of Pentagon weapons stocks during the preceding year. The listing, by country and specifying the type of equipment, greatly enhances congressional and public oversight of these programs. According to the first iteration of this report, released in September 1997, the Executive Branch authorized over $830 million of grant surplus weapons transfers in fiscal year 1996. Among the recipients were Mexico, Columbia, Peru, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Bahrain, and Turkey—all countries where serious political repression and/or human rights violations were reported in 1996. Senator Sarbanes’ law caps future EDA shipments at $350 million a year, beginning in fiscal year 1997 (the year that ended on September 30, 1997). His law also maintains for four years a requirement that the Pentagon provide surplus arms to Greece and Turkey in a 7 to 10 ratio, allegedly balancing the arms race between these antagonistic U.S. allies.

“In a related article that ran six months after our study, U.S. News and World Report (December 9, 1996) exposed the ease with which civilians and foreign agents are able to purchase surplus military spare parts from the Pentagon. In thousands of instances, the Department of Defense failed to ‘demilitarize’ equipment before sale, allowing civilians to, for instance, convert regular helicopters into assault helicopters. This story (and an accompanying piece on 60 Minutes) led to congressional hearings, an internal Pentagon audit of the surplus inventory, and the introduction of legislation mandat-ing accurate classification and demilitarization of surplus parts (HR 2602, introduced in October 1997 by Representative Pete Stark).

“For more information on the issues raised in ‘Costly Giveaways’ and in this update, visit the Federation of American Scientists’ Arms Sales Monitoring Project on the World Wide Web at http://www.fas.org/asmp.”

UPDATE BY AUTHOR MARTHA MONEY: “As the sole remaining superpower, the U.S. has the opportunity to map out a new foreign policy direction towards arms reductions in this post-Cold War era. Sadly, however, the U.S. is now the world’s leading arms exporter; and NATO expansion, the centerpiece of Clinton’s second term, offers a bonanza to U.S. arms exporters. Arms merchants are the second greatest recipients of corporate welfare—surpassed only by farmers who receive agricultural subsidies.

“Since the article was published, the Clinton Administration’s positions have, unfortunately, hardened. Washington stands nearly alone in the world in its refusal to sign the land mines treaty. In August, Clinton agreed to lift the two decade-old moratorium on transfers of high-tech weapons to Latin America, thereby threatening to trigger an arms race in South America.

“Regarding coverage of the article, I did a number of radio interviews after it appeared, but I am not aware of any significant coverage in the mainstream print or television media.”

For more information on U.S. military sales and exports, contact:


Foreign Policy in Focus Project Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) 733 15th Street, NW, Suite 1020 Washington, DC 20005
Tel: 202/234-9382
E-mail: ipsps@igc.apc. org.
The Foreign Policy in Focus Project at IPS publishes a number of briefs on arms sales and subsidies, NATO expansion, defense conversion, and other related topics.


Federation of American Scientists 307 Massachusetts Avenue, NE Washington, DC 20002
Tel: 202/ 675-1018 E-mail: llumpe@fas.org.
Lora Lumpe has a major project on conventional arms and arms sales.


Arms Trade Resource Center World Policy Institute
New School for Social Research 65 Fifth Avenue, Suite 413 New York, NY 10003
Tel: 212/229-5808
E-mail: hartung@newschool.edu.
This center compiles invaluable information on defense contractors and lobbying/political contributions.

TOM CARDOMONE Council for a Livable World Education fund
110 Maryland Avenue, NE, Suite 409 Washington, DC 20002
Tel: 202/543-4100
E-mail: livableworld@igc.apc.org.
Tom Cardomone runs the Conventional Arms Transfer Project.