San Diego Union-Tribune
August 30, 2000

The U.S. Is No. 1 In Global Arms Sales

By Pamina Firchow and Tamar Gabelnick

The United States has made it a priority to help American weapons makers export
their wares. Yet the arms industry hardly needs such aid.

According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, the United
States kept its large lead in the global arms market last year. It captured 39 percent of
new contracts, totaling $11.8 billion. That's more sales volume than Russia, France,
the United Kingdom and China combined. The United States also delivered $18.4
billion worth of arms in 1999, or 54 percent of the worldwide total.

The United States should not be promoting arms exports in a world where most
societies would rather see their governments invest in education, jobs and health
care than in major weapons systems.

The Clinton administration pushes U.S. arms by touting the need for compatibility
with U.S. forces in peacekeeping operations. Developing nations may be lured by
the prospect of closer ties with the U.S. military. Unfortunately, this strategy has
paid off. For the third year in a row, the share of U.S. arms exports to developing
states was on the rise.

Secretary of Defense William Cohen's worldwide travels often resemble arms
marketing tours. In Latin America, he encouraged Chile and Argentina to "upgrade"
their arsenals, especially fighter aircraft. In the Persian Gulf, he has been trying to
obtain support for a "Cooperative Defense Initiative," an early warning system that
relies on the purchase of U.S. command, control and communication as well as
expensive Patriot missiles.

And in eastern Europe, the U.S. government is trying to gain future paying
customers by donating used U.S. equipment. For example, it is pushing Hungary to
drop its plans to upgrade its Soviet-era MiG-29s by donating F-16 jets -- on the
condition that Budapest spend $4 million to $5 million apiece for upgrades from U.S.

The Clinton administration has also been trying to persuade European allies that
they should be devoting a larger part of their budgets to buying arms, preferably
American ones. Recent changes made to U.S. arms-export regulations enable NATO
members, Australia and Japan to buy U.S. weapons more freely; some may even be
able to buy arms without an export license.

The administration doesn't see why those countries shouldn't be able to buy U.S.
missiles or fighter jets as easily as American toasters. The Clinton administration
has put the health of the U.S. arms industry ahead of the pressing social and
economic needs of our trading partners.

This fall, we need to question the presidential candidates on whether they plan to
continue this misguided policy.

Firchow and Gabelnick track U.S. arms sales for the Federation of American
Scientists in Washington.