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Arms Sales: Obama’s Only Growth Industry?


The dry dollar numbers in the latest Congressional Research Service annual arms sales report  paint an ugly new picture. Over the last 5 years, every major arms exporting country has reduced its sales to developing countries–except for the U.S., which has sextupled its sales.

At the beginning of this period, we supplied about 20% of the developing world’s arms purchases; last year this jumped to 79%–mostly under the stewardship of our Nobel Peace Prize winning president.

Two of the Congressional Research Service charts (Tables 4 and 5) starkly depict the story:

Table 4 shows that, from 2004 to 2006, we were signing about $6 to $9 billion dollars (in constant 2011 $) worth of arms contracts per year in the Third World. In time for the 2008 election, the Bush Administration added, over and above that level, an extra $3 billion in approved sales in 2007–and then unleashed a $17 billion add-on in approved arms exports for the election year itself.

Under Obama, developing country sales dropped back somewhat to $14 to $15 billion after the 2008 election, still almost double the Bush pre-election level. But in the run up to the coming election, for 2011 the Obama Administration has thoroughly outdone the Bushies by pumping in a whopping $42 billion extra of arms sales. The perhaps even larger 2012 election year results are not yet in, but it’s easy to forecast that champagne will be flowing freely in DoD contractor boardrooms by the end of the year.

Adding $42 billion dollars of export arms sales in just one year doesn’t happen by accident. That tripling of sales means the Obama Administration mounted a huge State/Pentagon push to persuade or muscle developing countries into buying US arms, then mounted a full court press to whisk the ensuing contracts through the normally lengthy State/DoD approval process.

On the U.S. industry side, our corporations didn’t increase their share of the developing country arms market from 20% or so in 2005-6 to 79% in 2011 (as shown in Table 5)  by simply printing more attractive sales brochures. Inevitably, given the seamy history of ubiquitous corruption in developing country arms purchases, our arms makers must have massively increased their political contributions and bribes. And, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the Obama Administration, like previous administrations all the way back to Nixon, knew about and enabled these massive increases, through both coordinated military-diplomatic sales pressures and high level quashing of investigations and prosecutions.

To put in perspective the extra $42 billion in export arms contracts handed to the defense industry by the Administration, this is twice the much-ballyhooed sequester “doomsday” cuts that the industry might–but probably won’t–suffer in 2013. (The 2013 defense budget sequester is $52 billion; roughly 40% of this or $21 billion would be the Congressionally-mandated sequester cut in the acquisition accounts, that is, the accounts which fund the industry’s contracts.)  So, without even counting 2012’s arms sales sweeteners for the arms manufacturers, the industry is already $21 billion ahead in sales, even after the doomsday cuts.

Summing up, the Obama Administration has done yeoman service in increasing the U.S. industry’s arms sales to the Third World from a $9 billion per year level during the 2004-2007 Bush years to $56 billion in the pre-election year of 2011. Two thirds of that increase was unleashed in that pre-election year alone. Thus, we are now responsible for 79% of the arms-related impoverishment of the developing world–and for a commensurate proportion of the political upheavals and bloodshed instigated by the corruption accompanying that 79% market share.

Pierre Sprey was a principal member of the aircraft design team that created the F-16 and A-10 jet-fighter bombers. He now runs Mapleshade Records.


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