Arms Merchant to the World

By David Cortright 08-30-2012

The United States has surpassed all records in global arms sales — a whopping $66.3 billion in armaments sold last year.

Most of the weapons went to Persian Gulf nations, although India also bought more than $4 billion in military equipment. U.S. arms sales in 2011 were triple the previous year’s level and the highest annual total ever recorded.

The U.S. is once again the world’s number-one arms proliferator, accounting for 75 percent of global arms sales. Word of this dubious distinction comes as our leaders claim to support and have been working at the United Nations to negotiate a global Arms Trade Treaty.

The report makes a mockery of the UN negotiations and our government’s presumed commitment to control the arms trade.

The U.S. government is promoting arms sales to nations in the Gulf as a way of increasing the military force arrayed against Iran. Many of the countries receiving these weapons, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Republic, are undemocratic dictatorships with abysmal human rights records. 

Providing more arms to these repressive regimes in the volatile Middle East and Gulf region increases the risk of war and violent repression. It fuels the arms race in the region and gives encouragement to those who are calling for military action against Tehran.

Building and selling arms reinforces the illusion that military force is the solution to the difficult political dilemmas that plague the Middle East and other regions. Relying on weapons perpetuates the dangerous and often counterproductive tendency of political leaders to rely on military force rather than diplomatic solutions to address political problems.

Encouraging other nations to spend more on arms undermines economic development. Studies by investigators at the World Bank and other agencies have found that high military spending retards economic growth in developing countries.

President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned against the military industrial complex in his 1961 farewell speech. He declared: 

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed…”

The latest arms trade report shows that the military industrial complex is alive and well, still feeding at the public trough and diverting resources from the needy, pouring tens of billions into the production of high tech weaponry while many millions of people struggle to make ends meet.  The consequences for global peace and human rights are grim.

David Cortright, a Sojourners' contributing writer, is director of policy studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. His books include, Ending Obama’s War: Responsible Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan. David also blogs at

Photo credit: TRINACRIA PHOTO/Shutterstock.

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