Guns, Guns, Guns: U.S. Arms Sale Marathon

While most have Americans have been consumed by the Presidential Election for the  past 2 years week, a string of arms sales by U.S. companies have been announced.

These include:

  • The U.S. cleared sales of Lockheed Missile Defense Systems for the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
  • Boeing’s CH-47F Chinook helicopter bested Russia’s Mi-26 in India’s $1.4 billion heavy lift helicopter competition. This serves as another setback for Russian arms in India.
  • Taiwan announced on Monday it will purchase two Perry-class U.S frigates for $240 million.
I have long thought that the Obama administration’s overarching foreign policy vision is something akin to a Neo-Nixon Doctrine that seeks to get allies to do the heavy lifting whenever possible, with the U.S. providing niche support in areas where its capabilities cannot be replicated by allies (think Libya).
As was true with the original Nixon Doctrine, arm sales have been of crucial component of Obama’s foreign policy (along with other policies like increased training missions.) This has been especially true in the Middle East where the administration concluded the largest arms deal in history with Saudi Arabia (price tag: $60 billion) in 2010, significantly enhanced Israel’s missile defense in the form of the “Iron Dome,” concluded two separate deals with Iranian proxy Iraq for the sale of a combined 36 F-16 fighters, and has even continued selling arms to Bahrain despite its internal crackdown. U.S. arms sales to Asia partners have become increasingly important since the administration decided to take a more hardline stance towards China in 2010. Washington also recently concluded a deal that allows South Korea to extend the range and payloads of its ballistic missiles.
Like all policy tools, arms sales are not without risks, as the U.S. learned with the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Additionally, as Nixon and Kissinger failed to appreciate with the Shah during their time in office, overarming an ally can be dangerous as it reduces that allies dependence on the U.S. Notwithstanding these caveats I think arms sales are smart policy  when done correctly. After all, why do for oneself what others are willing to do on your behalf. Hey, it worked in WWII.
Regardless of how one feels about arms sales or who wins the election tonight, the next administration is almost certain to try and increase the amount of international arms sales U.S. companies ink with foreign countries as a way to minimize the impact defense budget cuts will have on the U.S. defense industrial base. In this vein, Jonathan Caverley and Ethan B. Kapstein’s essay in the September issue of Foreign Affairs should be required reading for U.S. policymakers. Caverley and Kapstein point out that the United States’ unmatched primacy in the international arms market is eroding not only because more arms exporters are emerging, but also because U.S. companies are producing increasingly sophisticated and expensive weapon systems for the Pentagon which far exceed the needs of almost every potential foreign buyer (and in many cases likely DOD’s needs, although the authors don’t say so). U.S. defense giants will need to rethink supply and demand if they want to stay competitive globally.

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