The GWOT Effect of Arms for Dictators

In July 2007 the General Accountability Office (GAO) found that nearly 200,000 U.S. weapons were unaccounted for in Iraq. The GAO blames poor accounting and distribution records for the missing weapons, and other reports have revealed that U.S. weapons have turned up in the hands of Iraqi insurgents and criminals. A month later, U.S. General David Petraeus urged the United States to increase U.S. weapons sales as soon as possible. For the Bush administration, this illogical policy makes sense as a piece of its larger strategy for the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Since Sept. 11, 2001, the administration has supplied billions of dollars worth of weapons and military assistance to countries it is calling its allies in the “war on terror.

U.S. arms export policy, which is codified in the Arms Export Control Act and Foreign Assistance Act, is supposed to prohibit U.S. weapons exports and military assistance that would undermine long-term security and stability, weaken democratic movements, support military coups, escalate arms races, exacerbate ongoing conflicts, cause arms build-ups in unstable regions, or be used to commit human rights abuses. Yet since Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration has eagerly pushed those restrictions aside. It has provided billions of dollars of weapons and military training to countries the U.S. State Department repeatedly assesses as having weak and undemocratic governments, appalling human rights records, and in some cases having supported terrorism.

Using U.S. government data alone, I have analyzed military assistance data to 25 countries* that have been identified by the United States as having a strategic role in the “war on terror.” Seventeen of the countries are also part of the 28 “front-line” states identified by the Bush administration as “countries that cooperate with the United States in the war on terrorism or face terrorist threats themselves”; others reflect new priorities for counter-terrorism operations around the world or are strategically located near Afghanistan and Iraq.

My analysis shows that in negotiating arms deals, the administration has elevated efforts to eradicate international terrorist networks and cooperation with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan above traditional arms export criteria. Military assistance to these countries is increasing despite the recipients’ documented human rights abuses and undemocratic governance. During the first five years after Sept. 11, 2001 the United States sold nearly five times more weapons (through Foreign Military Sales and Direct Commercial Sales ) to these 25 countries than during the five years before 9-11. Sales increased from $1,771,753,000 to $8,741,686,000. Total Direct Commercial Sales (DCS are sales directly between U.S. companies and recipients, including foreign governments) for the 25 countries since Sept. 11, 2001 have reached new highs, rising from $72 million between FY 97 and FY 01 to more than $3 billion between FY 02 and FY 06.

The remarkable increases in U.S. arms sales have come mainly from two factors. First, sanctions on sales to India, Pakistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan were lifted immediately after Sept. 11. And second, these sanctions were removed from sales to Uzbekistan, Indonesia, and Thailand in the intervening years. In other words, multi-billion arms sales agreements have been reached with countries previously ineligible to receive any US military equipment. In addition to a $5 billion deal to Pakistan for F-16 fighter jets in 2006, the United States has also profited from major sales to other countries. In April 2006, the United States conducted a $246 million FMS sale to Thailand, which included 6 MH-60S helicopters. In 2005, the United States also sold Thailand two UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters and additional training and equipment in an FMS sale worth $46 million. At the time, Thailand was a newly declared Major Non-NATO U.S. ally. It is now only one year removed from a military coup and is experiencing significant political instability.

Military assistance programs – that is, training and grants rather than sales – have also been significantly expanded since Sept. 11. The 25 countries of my study received 19 times more U.S. military assistance (Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training) after Sept. 11 than they had in the five years before, increasing from $103,122,000 to $1,983,714,000. These countries are also receiving an even greater percentage of total U.S. funding allocated for all U.S. military training. In 2001, they received 15 percent of total International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds. By 2006, IMET funds for these 25 countries had jumped to nearly 25 percent. Perhaps even more shocking, 18 of the 25 countries in this series received more military assistance and 16 conducted more arms sales with the United States during the five years after Sept. 11 than they had in over a decade following the end of the Cold War (FY 90-01).

U.S. arms sales and military assistance were increasing even as the U.S. State Department was revealing in its annual human rights reports that “serious,” “grave,” or “significant” abuses were committed by the government or state security forces in more than half of the 25 countries in 2006. In many cases, U.S. military assistance to these countries has been ratcheted up at the same time as human rights conditions have worsened. For example, Ethiopia’s government took part in a full-scale ground invasion of Somalia in late 2006 and early 2007, which caused the deaths of numerous Somali civilians. Chad, whose national army employs child soldiers in its ranks, is at least tacitly involved in the on going conflicts in the Central Africa Republic and Darfur, two of the most calamitous human rights situations in the world.

Political turmoil and instability have also plagued many of the countries profiled. During the last year, Nepal, Thailand, and Chad suffered from widespread political upheaval: in Nepal police and soldiers fired on civilians engaging in peaceful strikes and anti-government demonstrations; in Thailand the government was overthrown by a “peaceful” military coup; and Chad’s government survived an attempted coup and continues to participated in armed border skirmishes with Sudanese soldiers, militia groups, and rebels.

The United States is not only using existing programs to increase aid to human rights abusers and unstable regimes. It is also creating new programs within the Defense Department to provide training and weapons for counter-terrorism operations that is largely shielded from scrutiny and oversight. Unlike traditional arms and training programs that are funded out of the Foreign Operations budget, these new programs are funded by the Pentagon. Thus, the programs are not bound by the restrictions that govern traditional military sales and assistance under the State Department’s oversight.

For example, the Regional Defense Counterterrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP) was originally created in FY 02 to provide non-lethal anti-terrorism training to U.S. allies, a mandate similar to State Department’s International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. CTFP began offering lethal training in FY 04, a program now run without the prohibitions on training of human rights abusers as contained in the State Department programs. Similarly, the “train and equip” authority in Section 1206 of the defense authorization bill – which originated in FY 06 and gives congressional authorization to DOD to use $200 million of its Operation and Maintenance funds to equip and train foreign militaries for counterterrorism operations – serves to bypass existing restrictions on training or arming human rights abusers that apply to all State Department run programs. All but four of the countries examined have benefited from one or both of these two new programs, as well as enjoying thousands or millions of through the five traditional major military assistance programs. For example, Yemen received over $4 million in 1206 funding in FY 06 and an additional $200,000 in CTFP in FY 05, in addition to $19,591,000 of assistance in the five major categories in FY 06 and $14,617,000 in FY 05.

These trends in U.S. arms trade policy threaten to exacerbate instability and conflict around the world. The United States continues to send significant amounts of military assistance to countries that are weak or failing or that have despicable human rights records, in clear violation of long-standing U.S. commitments to peace and democracy. These transfers pose risks to our long-term security. It is hard to see how sending arms to unstable governments is consistent with the stated U.S. goal of spreading peace and democracy throughout the world. Once these weapons and specialized training leaves the United States, we relinquish control of how, by whom, or for what they are used. These countries’ pledges of support are limited to our war on terror. But the past actions and instability of many of them draws their future allegiance and stability into question.

The United States may again face our own weapons down the road as weak alliances crumble. Such a scenario is one that can be avoided. As the United States fights wars to spread democracy and encourages good governance, arms sales should not be the reward for cooperation.

Notes

These countries were chosen for analysis based on U.S. policy statements and their strategic locations after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and are: Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Mauritainia, Nepal, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.

Rachel Stohl is senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information at the World Security Institute in Washington, DC.