We’re #1: The U.S. Government is the World’s Largest Arms Dealer

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) came out with its annual analysis of the global arms trade this week and as usual, the United States was the number one weapons exporter by a large margin. For the five years from 2017 to 2021, the U.S. accounted for 39 percent of major arms deliveries worldwide, over twice what Russia transferred and nearly 10 times what China sent to its weapons clients. In addition, the U.S. had far more customers – 103 nations, or more than half of the member states of the United Nations.

The rapid arming of Ukraine to defend itself against Russia’s invasion has put weapons transfers squarely in the public eye, but few Americans know how extensive the U.S. trade is, or that their government is intimately involved in it, either through Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deals brokered by the Pentagon or Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) licensed by the State Department. In essence, the U.S. government is the world’s largest arms dealer, with all the responsibility that that entails. The Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), underscored this point in its January 2018 report, “With Great Power: Modifying U.S. Arms Sales to Reduce Civilian Harm,” which provided a series of practical recommendations on how to avoid situations in which U.S. arms “fall into the wrong hands or become associated with corruption, human rights abuses, violations of the laws of war, and human suffering.” Unfortunately, current U.S. policy continues to fall short by all of these measures.

One question raised by U.S. dominance of the international arms trade is who is being supplied with U.S.-made weapons, and how are they being used? The Biden administration has indicated that it will take a more measured approach to arms sales than the Trump administration did, and will place greater emphasis on human rights in deciding which countries get access to U.S. military equipment. This is a low bar when one remembers how President Trump was a cheerleader for U.S. arms exports, touting their impact on American jobs and his role as arms salesman par excellence, and blocking Congressional efforts to stop sales to reckless, repressive regimes like the government of Saudi Arabia.

The volume of U.S. arms offers under the Foreign Military Sales program – the largest channel for U.S. weapons exports – dropped significantly during the first year of the Biden administration, in part because key markets were saturated by sales made by the U.S. and other major exporters over the past few years. To its credit, the Biden administration has not engaged in the sort of vocal, aggressive promotion of arms sales that prevailed during the Trump years. But it has fallen short in its pledge to limit sales to regimes that repress their own people and wage unjust wars outside their borders. Two prominent cases in point are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Read the full article in Forbes.