Shift in US arms-sales policy deplored

Al-Jazeera, Qatar
July 28 2004

Shift in US arms-sales policy deplored
By Ben Duncan in Washington DC

US foreign policy is now driven by the need for logistical support

US arms-control experts are expressing concern that the need for
allies has made Washington more willing to sell dangerous weapons to
countries previously shunned owing to poor human-rights records,
nuclear-proliferation activities and suspected links to terrorism.

They cite such nations as Pakistan, which provides much of the
intelligence and manpower needed to go after armed organisations bent
on attacking US interests.

Then there are allies in Central Asia that provide basing and
overflight rights for the US military. In the case of Djibouti,
cooperation is needed to secure ports of entry used by people
described by the US as terrorists going to and from the Horn of

Officials from the Bush administration often cite 11 September 2001
as the day the world changed. One of the changes included relaxing
arms-export regulations in an effort to curry favour with countries
deemed strategically important in the fight against al-Qaida and
other jihadist groups, some experts said.

Policy reversal

“Certainly the day after the 9/11 bombing attacks, we saw the Bush
administration ask for a blanket lifting of restrictions on
arms-export controls,” said Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst at the
Center for Defence Information (CDI), a Washington thinktank.

Once Taliban’s sponsor, Pakistan
today is an indispensable US ally

This constitutes a reversal of a long-standing US policy, Stohl wrote
in a recent CDI report.

“The Bush administration has expressed a willingness to provide
weapons to countries that in the past have been criticised for
human-rights violations, lack of democracy, and even support of
terrorism,” she said.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, President George Bush waived
sanctions established under the Arms Export Control Act against
India, Pakistan and several other countries.

Bush said the sanctions were not in the “national security interests
of the United States”, a move some experts said sent a message that
the US would lift penalties on states that provided assistance in the
“war on terrorism”.

“We are definitely seeing, since the war on terrorism, this ramping
up in arms export, especially to new allies in the campaign,” said
Frida Berrigan, deputy director of the Arms Trade Project at the
World Policy Institute.

New yardstick

Congress passed the Arms Export Control Act in 1976 to establish a
licensing system for the commercial sale of arms to foreign

“We are definitely seeing, since the war on terrorism, this ramping
up in arms export, especially to new allies in the campaign”

Frida Berrigan,
Deputy Director of the Arms Trade Project at the World
Policy Institute, Washington DC

“That is the yardstick by which all arms exports are supposed to be
measured, but that yardstick isn’t being used,” Berrigan said.

Prior to September 11, US sanctions greatly diminished weapons sales
to several countries now receiving such aid, according to a recent
CDI report.

Pakistan, India, Armenia, Tajikistan and Yugoslavia have all had
their sanctions lifted and are all considered allies in the US war on

In the case of Pakistan, the need to secure its help in confronting
Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in neighbouring Afghanistan was of such
strategic importance, that past transgressions involving nuclear
proliferation were overlooked, experts say.

“We needed to woo them, we needed to get them back in the fold,” said
Matt Schroeder, project manager of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project
at the Federation of American Scientists.

Blank cheques?

By most accounts, Pakistan’s cooperation in the “war on terror” has
been significant. Such assistance was rewarded with $75 million in
2002 for the purchase of US-made weapons and more than $200 million
in 2003 for such purposes, according to the CDI report.

Pakistan was recently given “major non-NATO ally status”, making it
eligible to receive increased levels of US military equipment.

Several countries in Central Asia, including Tajikistan, Uzbekistan,
Azerbaijan and Armenia, received substantial US funding in the two
years after 9/11 for weapons or military training. All had been
denied such assistance before the attacks, yet subsequently all were
recruited as allies in the “war on terrorism”.

Some, as in the case of Turkmenistan, provided overflight rights,
while others such as Azerbaijan were given millions of dollars for
“specialised training and equipment to prevent and respond to
terrorist incidents”.

Central Asian nations are getting
rewards for security cooperation

Many of these countries have troubling political histories involving
military coups, civil wars and various inter-state conflicts.

Some arms-control experts worry about the difficulty of ensuring that
weapons sold to such countries aren’t diverted into the hands of
terrorist groups or other private militias.

“A lot of the mechanisms that are in place to control and safeguard
US weapons from being misused aren’t enforced,” Berrigan says.

End-user agreements, designed to ensure that weapons shipments reach
their intended destinations, have been broken in the past, she said,
and the offending nations often go unpunished.

“We are sort of looking the other way when they violate end-user
agreements,” she says.


With the rise of illegal arms trafficking, experts fear the
possibility that US arms shipments will be bought and rerouted by
third-party middlemen to free-lance terrorists seeking high-tech

“The risk of diversion is significant,” Stohl said.

Experts say the risk of diversion
of US arms exports is significant

Stohl said the Bush policy of expanding arms sales to countries with
unstable political climates is “counter-intuitive” in the post-9/11

Some analysts also question the practice of lifting arms-export
sanctions against countries often criticised for human-rights

Several countries in Central Asia condemned for human-rights abuses
by the State Department have benefited from US military assistance in
exchange for support in the “war on terrorism”, experts say.

The sale of small arms, in particular, has allowed certain countries
to crack down on political dissent from opposition groups, Berrigan

“These are the sort of weapons that are used to perpetrate
human-rights abuses,” she said.