A Global NRA: Our Government Is the Largest Federally Licensed Weapons Dealer on the Planet
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Flooding the World With the Most Advanced Weaponry Money Can Buy
As a start, it’s worth noting that no one ever mentions the domestic gun control debate in the same breath with the dominant role the U.S. plays in what’s called the global arms trade. And yet, the link between the two should be obvious enough.
In the U.S., the National Rifle Association (NRA), an ultra-powerful lobbying group closely allied with weapons-making companies, has a strong grip on Congress -- it gives 288 members of that body its top “A-rating” -- and is in a combative relationship with the White House. Abroad, it’s so much simpler and less contested. Beyond U.S. borders, the reality is: the Pentagon, with the White House in tow, is the functional equivalent of the NRA, and like that organization, it has been working tirelessly in recent years in close alliance with major weapons-makers to ensure that there are ever less controls on the ever more powerful weaponry it wants to see sold abroad.
Between them, the White House and the Pentagon -- with a helping hand from the State Department -- ensure that the U.S. remains by far the leading purveyor of the “right to bear arms” globally. Year in, year out, in countries around the world, they do their best to pave the way (as the NRA does domestically) for the almost unfettered sales of ever more lethal weapons. In fact, the U.S. now has something remarkably close to a monopoly on what’s politely called the “transfer” of weaponry on a global scale. In 1990, as the Cold War was ending, the U.S. had cornered an impressive 37% of the global weapons trade. By 2011, the last year for which we have figures, that percentage had reached a near-monopolistic 78% ($66.3 billion in weapons sales), with the Russians coming in a distant second at 5.6% ($4.8 billion).
Admittedly, that figure was improbably inflated, thanks to the Saudis who decided to spend a pile of their oil money as if there were no tomorrow. In doing so, they created a bonanza year abroad for the major weapons-makers. They sealed deals on $33.4 billion in U.S. arms in 2011, including 84 of Boeing’s F-15 fighter jets and dozens of that company’s Apache attack helicopters as well as Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters -- and those were just the highest-end items in a striking set of purchases. But if 2011 was a year of break-the-bank arms-deals with the Saudis, 2012 doesn’t look bad either. As it ended, the Pentagon announced that they hadn’t turned off the oil spigot. They agreed to ante up another $4 billion to Boeing for upgrades on their armada of jet fighters and were planning to spend up to $6.7 billion for 20 Lockheed 25 C-130J transport and refueling planes. Some of this weaponry could, of course, be used in any Saudi conflict with Iran (or any other Middle Eastern state), but some could simply ensure future Newtown-like carnage in restive areas of that autocratic, fundamentalist regime’s land or in policing actions in neighboring small states like Bahrain.
And don’t think the Saudis were alone in the region. When it came to U.S. weapons-makers flooding the Middle East with firepower, they were in good company. Among states purchasing (or simply getting) infusions of U.S. arms in recent years were Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq , Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Tunisia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen. As Nick Turse has written, “When it comes to the Middle East, the Pentagon acts not as a buyer, but as a broker and shill, clearing the way for its Middle Eastern partners to buy some of the world's most advanced weaponry.”