The Arms Merchants
Arms sales are not as straightforward as one might think. For one thing, Russia and the United States are both eager to maintain their respective positions as the most successful merchants of death dealing devices. That causes them to sacrifice principle to expediency. And there’s a good reason why they are eager to sell lots of arms. It boosts their respective economies. And times were bad in 2010 and needed a boost in 2011.
In 2010 worldwide arms sales dropped by 38 percent from their 2009 levels to the lowest levels since 2003. In 2009 $65.2 billion in worldwide arms sales agreements were signed compared with $40.4 billion in 2010. Of those amounts the U.S. had $21.3 billion in arms sales whereas Russia had only $7.8 billion. Happily, 2011 turns out to have been a much better year. Projections for Russian arms sales for 2011 were more than $9 billion and by year’s end it had contracts to sell approximately $3.8 billion in arms to Syria.
The United States is not happy that Russia is supplying arms to Syria, a country of whose leader, Bashar al-Assad, the United States and other Western leaders strongly disapprove. Commenting on Russia’s selling arms to Syria, Secretary of State Clinton said in August 2011: “We want to see Russia cease selling arms to the Assad regime.” Russia is unaffected by her comments. It knows that to remain competitive with the United States in the arms sale competition it needs to sell arms wherever there’s a market. Since the United States is more principled than Russia, it does not sell arms to Syria. Instead it sells them to countries that it thinks are in tune with its goals on the international stage-like Iraq.
Iraq is the country the United States devastated in order to help it out. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is its Prime Minister and we are happy to sell him arms. At the end of December 2011 it was disclosed that we were selling the Iraqi military about $11 billion worth of arms and training. We sell to Iraq because it is our friend. We refuse to sell to Mr. Assad because he is not our friend. Mr. Maliki, has let it be known that he supports President Assad even though Mr. Assad is busy slaughtering his citizens in order to keep them in line. Mr. Maliki supports Mr. Assad because Iran, a country to which the United States has not sold arms since Mr. Reagan was president, encouraged Mr. Maliki to befriend Syria. So now the United States is arming Iraq which is allying itself with Iran and supports Syria whom the U.S. thinks Russia should not arm.
A few weeks ago it was disclosed that that United States had put on hold a planned sale of $53 million of arms to the Kingdom of Bahrain. Bahrain has proved itself a good friend of the United States since it is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Bahrain’s ruthless ruler is King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. He brutally put down an Arab spring uprising that took place in Bahrain beginning on Valentine’s Day in 2011. More than 40 of those participating in the uprising were killed by the King’s forces. Thousands more were imprisoned and brutalized. When news of the proposed arms sale reached members of the United States Congress, they demanded that the sale be put on hold pending a detailed report of what went on during the uprising to determine whether an arms sale to Bahrain was appropriate. As a result, the arms sale has not yet taken place.
King Hamad was aided by Saudi Arabia in putting down the uprising. According to a March 15, 2011 report in the Los Angeles Times, one month after the revolt began, “hundreds of troops from Saudi Arabia and police officers from the nearby United Arab Emirates. . . entered Bahrain at the request of the ruling family. . . .” to help put down the uprising.
On Christmas Eve it was announced that the administration would sell $30 billion in fighter jets and other arms to Saudi Arabia. This was part of a $60 billion arms sale that was approved by Congress in October 2010. Although the sale to Bahrain was put on hold, there was no need to put the sale to Saudi Arabia on hold since it is a REALLY good friend to the U.S. even though it helped King Hamad put down the uprising in his country.
There are some countries to which the United States will not sell arms-like Syria or Bahrain. It does not hesitate, however, to sell arms to their supporters-like Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Go figure.