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    South Asia
     Oct 12, 2007
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Arms sales: How the US is not winning friends
By Zia Mian

The United States sells death and destruction as a fundamental instrument of its foreign policy. It sees arms sales as a way of making and keeping strategic friends and tying countries more directly to US military planning and operations.

At its simplest, as Lt Gen Jeffrey B Kohler, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, told the New York Times in 2006, the United States likes arms deals because “it gives us access and influence and builds friendships”. South Asia has

been an important arena for this effort, and it teaches some lessons the United States should not ignore.

A recent Congressional Research Service report on international arms sales records that last year the United States delivered nearly $8 billion worth of weapons to Third World countries. This was about 40% of all such arms transfers. The US also signed agreements to sell over $10 billion worth of weapons, one-third of all arms deals with Third World countries.

It is easy to put this in perspective: $10 billon a year is the estimated cost of meeting the UN Millennium Development Goal for water and sanitation, which would reduce by half the proportion of people in the world without proper access to drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. Today, about 1.1 billion people do not have access to a minimal amount of clean water and about 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation.

The scale of recent US arms sales should not be news. The US sold over $61 billion worth of weapons to Third World countries from 1999-2006, making it by far the leading international supplier. Russia, the second largest arms dealer, managed to sell less than half as much.

Arms vs influence in Pakistan
The largest Third World buyer of weapons in 2006 was Pakistan. It purchased just over $5 billion in arms. Almost $3 billion of its purchases were new US-made F-16 fighter jets, upgrades to the F-16s Pakistan bought in the 1980s, and bombs and missiles to arm these planes. A White House press spokesman explained that the sale of the jet fighters “demonstrates our commitment to a long-term relationship with Pakistan”.

The use of arms sales to show commitment to Pakistan has gone on for over 50 years. The United States used military aid to recruit and arm Pakistan as an ally in the Cold War. A great fear, as a 1953 State Department memorandum pointed out, was “a noticeable increase in the activities of the mullahs in Pakistan. There was reason to believe that in face of growing doubts as to whether Pakistan had any real friends, more and more Pakistanis were turning to the mullahs for guidance. Were this trend to continue the present government of enlightened and Western-oriented leaders might well be threatened, and members of a successive government would probably be far less cooperative with the West than the present incumbents.” This memo could have been written today.

The United States has failed to learn that paying Pakistan’s military bills demonstrates commitment and friendship only to Pakistan’s military. It does nothing for Pakistan’s people. The US supported General Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military leader, for a decade (1958-1969), at great cost. He was brought down by a tide of public protest.

The United States also supported General Zia ul-Haq (who ruled from 1977 to 1988), once he agreed to help in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Washington gave Zia a $3.2 billion aid package in 1982 and promised another $4 billion in 1988. This generosity bought precious little. Pakistan’s government took the money and used it buy weapons from the United States, built nuclear weapons, and promoted radical Islamists at home and in Afghanistan. The consequences are all around us today.

Since September 11, 2001, the United States has given over $10 billion to Pakistan to buy or reward President General Pervez Musharraf’s support for its newest war, the “war on terror”. Pakistan has spent over $1.5 billion of this amount on buying new weapons. To understand the scale of this aid, consider Pakistan’s total military budget in 2006, estimated at about $4.5 billion. The United States is now giving Pakistan aid to pay for the new deal for F-16s, bombs, and missiles. It is likely to win few friends.

There is little doubt today about how unpopular the United States is in Pakistan. A Pew poll released in September 2006 found that in Pakistan, the United States is viewed less favorably even than India (with which Pakistan has fought four wars). Just over 25% were favorable toward the United States, compared to one-third who felt that way toward India.

Attitudes toward the United States have worsened. A 2007 poll found that only 15% of Pakistanis had a favorable attitude towards the United States. An August 2007 poll found that Musharraf was less popular even than Osama bin Laden; Musharraf had the support of 38% of Pakistanis, bin Laden of 46%, and President George W Bush found favor with only 9%. It is hard to imagine a more damning indictment of a policy that sought to make friends and build support.

This hostility toward the United States will only get worse as it is seen to support Musharraf’s efforts to remain president of Pakistan.

Strategic relationship with India
India, Pakistan’s neighbor, historic rival, and often bitter enemy, is the second largest buyer of weapons in the Third World. It signed

Continued 1 2 


1.  From Washington to war in Waziristan

2. French arms deal with Pakistan risks US ire

3. China is choking on its own tainted goods

4. 'How we plan to control the military'

5. Genghis: Russians laud lord of the horde

6. Myanmar's message for Muslim extremists

7. 'Rendition' victim is denied justice in US

8. Russia is far from oil's peak

9. The Rodney Dangerfield of commodities

10. Take my buying power ... please

11. Ahmadinejad scores 'fair' in mid-term report

(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Oct 10, 2007)


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