Lawmakers Scold Administration Over F-16 Sale to Pakistan

At Thursday’s hearing on the sale of 36 F-16 aircraft to Pakistan, Assistant Secretary of State John Hillen endured tongue-lashings from several members of the House International Relations Committee (HIRC), who objected to the manner in which his bureau has managed the $5.1 billion arms package. Of particular concern was the administration’s unilateral decision to waive the customary 20-day pre-notification for major arms sales, which many members viewed as a deliberate attempt to circumvent the committee’s authority. The decision – and the confrontation it provoked – could have far-reaching consequences, not only for Congressional oversight of arms sales but also several key State Department initiatives.

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Ready or Not: Ready.gov Gets a Facelift

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a press release announcing that it had updated its citizen preparedness web site, Ready.gov, with “special preparedness information for…

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Nicaragua Agrees to Destroy More MANPADS

On July 13th, the Nicaraguan National Assembly voted to destroy an additional 651 of its large stockpile of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, bringing it one step closer to fulfilling President Enrique Bolanos's earlier commitment to destroy Nicaragua's entire stock of Man-portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS). The Assembly approved the plan despite opposition from the Sandinista National Liberation Front (SNLF), which led a partially successful campaign to derail the US-funded destruction initiative in early 2005. The missiles - 2000 SA series MANPADS - are the remnants of a massive infusion of Soviet military assistance to the left-leaning Sandinista government, which was the target of a US-supported insurgency in the 1980s. The proxy wars in Central America ended shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the huge stockpiles of Soviet weapons remained - an attractive target for arms traffickers. Diversions of Nicaragua’s missiles date back at least to 1990, when Sandinistan military officers sold 8 missile launchers and 28 missiles to rebels in El Salvador. Three years later, 19 more black market missiles were discovered in the charred remains of a Managuan auto repair shop that doubled as a storage site for a large cache of illicit rockets, mines, explosives and MANPADS. The repair shop caught fire after part of the cache exploded.

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The Early FAS and the FBI

In preparation for the 60th anniversary of the Federation of American Scientists last autumn, I read several books on our early days. One of the best was Jessica Wang’s American Science in the Age of Anxiety. I got in contact with Professor Wang at UCLA (she is about to move to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver) and we discussed her sources. Seems that the FBI has quite a stack of folders from the early days of FAS that Professor Wang and others have collected through Freedom of Information Act requests. Rather than pack up her FAS files and haul them to Vancouver, Professor Wang sent them to the Federation. The files are not at all what I expected. We have to remember that much of the early life of FAS overlapped with the Red scare and the McCarthy hearings. This was a time when the Consumers’ Union was labeled a communist organization, presumably because questioning the advertising claims of big corporations was considered subversive.

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Legislative Update on Indian-US Nuclear Deal

There have been some legislative developments on the India-US nuclear deal. The results are not what I would like to have seen but I suppose it could have been worse. On 27 June, the House International Relations Committee approved their version of the bill 37 to 5. On 29 June the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 16 to 2 in favor of their bill. Both bills give the administration and the Indians essentially everything they asked for except preapproval.

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Pakistan to receive 36 F-16 fighter jets

On Monday, the Bush administration announced a massive $5.1 billion arms package for Pakistan, the largest arms sale to the Indian subcontinent since US sanctions were suspended in 2001. The package includes 36 F-16 fighter jets, armaments, and upgrades for its existing fleet of F-16s. The announcement came five days after the administration officially notified Congress of the sales. The deal is significant for many reasons. It will help to modernize Pakistan's aging airforce, and help pave the way for an even larger fighter jet sale to India. The sale also has tremendous symbolic significance. In 1991, the first Bush Administration imposed various sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program, the most high profile of which was the impounding of 28 F-16s purchased by Pakistan in the 1980’s. Pakistan lobbied hard for their release but the Bush and Clinton administrations held firm, and the planes came to symbolize the post-Cold War deterioration of US-Pakistani relations. Following the September 11th attacks, the US hastily sought to mend diplomatic fences with Pakistan, which has provided critical support in the War on Terror. The Bush administration immediately lifted the ban on military aid to India and Pakistan and gradually increased the quantity and sophistication of weapons exports to both countries. The F-16 sale, which still tops the list of weapons sought by the Pakistani government, signifies a completion of the rapprochement between the US and its erstwhile ally.

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