A Global NRA: Our Government Is the Largest Federally Licensed Weapons Dealer on the Planet
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Typically, for instance, on Christmas Day in 2011, the U.S. signed a deal with the UAE in which, for $3.5 billion, it would receive Lockheed Martin’s Theater High Altitude Area Defense, an advanced antimissile interception system, part of what Reuters termed “an accelerating military buildup of its friends and allies near Iran.” Of course, selling to Arab allies without offering Israel something even better would be out of the question, so in mid-2012 it was announced that Israel would purchase 20 of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, America’s most advanced jet (and weapons boondoggle), still in development, for $2.7 billion.
From tanks to littoral combat ships, it would be easy to go on, but you get the idea. Of course, U.S. weapons-makers in Pentagon-brokered or facilitated deals sell their weaponry and military supplies to countries planet-wide, ranging from Brazil to Singapore to Australia. But it generally seems that the biggest deals and the most advanced weaponry follow in the wake of Washington’s latest crises. In the Middle East at the moment, that would be the ongoing U.S.-Israeli confrontation with Iran, for which Washington has long been building up a massive military presence in the Persian Gulf and on bases in allied countries around that land.
A Second Amendment World, Pentagon-Style
It’s a given that every American foreign policy crisis turns out to be yet another opportunity for the Pentagon to plug U.S. weapons systems into the “needs” of its allies, and for the weapons-makers to deliver. So, from India to South Korea, Singapore to Japan, the Obama administration’s announced 2012 “pivot to” or “rebalancing in” Asia -- an essentially military program focused on containing China -- has proven the latest boon for U.S. weapons sales and weapons-makers.
As Jim Wolf of Reuters recently reported, the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group that includes Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and other weapons companies, “said sales agreements with countries in the U.S. Pacific Command's area of activity rose to $13.7 billion in fiscal 2012, up 5.4% from a year before. Such pacts represent orders for future delivery.” As the vice president of that association put it, Washington’s Asian pivot “will result in growing opportunities for our industry to help equip our friends." We’re talking advanced jet fighters, missile systems, and similar major weapons programs, including F-35s, F-16s, Patriot anti-missile batteries, and the like for countries ranging from South Korea to Taiwan and India.
All of this ensures the sharpening of divides between China and its neighbors in the Pacific amid what may become a regional arms race. For the Pentagon, it seems, no weaponry is now off the table for key Asian allies in its incipient anti-China alliance, including advanced drones. The Obama administration is already brokering a $1.2 billon sale of Northrop Grumman's RQ-4 "Global Hawk" spy drones to South Korea. Recently, it has been reported that Japan is preparing to buy the same model as its dispute sharpens with China over a set of islands in the East China Sea. (The Obama administration has also been pushing the idea of selling advanced armed drones to allies like Italy and Turkey, but -- a rare occurrence -- has met resistance from Congressional representatives worrying about other countries pulling a “Washington”: that is, choosing its particular bad guys and sending drone assassins across foreign borders to take them out.)
Here’s the strange thing in the present gun control context: no one -- not pundits, politicians, or reporters -- seems to see the slightest contradiction in an administration that calls for legal limits on advanced weaponry in the U.S. and yet (as rare press reports indicate) is working assiduously to remove barriers to the sale of advanced weaponry overseas. There are, of course, still limits on arms sales abroad, some imposed by Congress, some for obvious reasons. The Pentagon does not broker weapons sales to Iran, North Korea, or Cuba, and it has, for example, been prohibited by Congress from selling them to the military regime in Myanmar. But generally the Obama administration has put effort into further easing the way for major arms sales abroad, while working to rewrite global export rules to make them ever more permeable.