Global Policy Forum

US Weapons at War 2008


By William D. Hartung and Frida Berrigan

New America Foundation
December 2008

The United States, which entered into over $23 billion in Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreements in fiscal year (FY) 2007 and $32 billion in FY 2008 (see table 1), is the world's largest arms supplier. U.S. exports range from combat aircraft to Pakistan, Morocco, Greece, Romania, and Chile to small arms and light weapons to the Philippines, Egypt, and Georgia. In 2006 and 2007, the United States sold weapons to over 174 states and territories, a significant increase from the beginning of the Bush administration when the number of U.S. arms clients stood at 123.[1] While many of these sales were relatively small deals licensed commercially by the State Department, a number of important new states were added or restored to the U.S. client list, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, East Timor, Indonesia, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.

Arms transfers are undertaken for a variety of rationales. On the strategic side of the ledger, weapons exports and military training can be utilized to increase interoperability (the ability to fight together in a coalition) among U.S. and allied forces; to reward partners in the fight against terrorism, including countries fighting alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq; to gain access to foreign military bases; and to strengthen allies against internal and/or external threats. Politically, arms and training can be used as leverage for everything from gaining preferential access to oil and other strategic resources to persuading other countries to vote with the United States in international and regional bodies like the United Nations and the Organization of American States. In the domestic economic sphere, the arms trade is a source of income and jobs for key localities, a way to lower the costs of weapons purchased by the U.S. military, and a means of maintaining a larger U.S. defense industrial base than would be possible without these foreign sales. Whether arms transfers are the best tools for achieving these objectives is a matter of debate, but there is no question that the United States utilizes them in hopes of achieving these goals.

Table 1
U.S. Foreign Military Sales Agreements, FY 2002 through FY 2008 (dollars in billions)

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Sources: U.S.Department of Defense, Defense Security Assistance Agency, Historical Facts Book, as of September 30, 2007; and Eric Lipton, "With Push from White House, Arms Sales Jump," New York Times, September 14, 2008.

There is less concern in policymaking circles about the negative impacts of arms sales, from fueling conflict to enabling major human rights abuses. In the case of the United States, this is true despite the fact that U.S. law calls for curbs on sales to countries engaged in a "gross and consistent" pattern of human rights abuses or to countries using U.S. weapons for aggressive purposes.[2]More often than not, these reasonable requirements are set aside in favor of the short-term strategic, political, and economic objectives set out above. This tendency has been even stronger since the 9/11 attacks, with limits on arms sales and security assistance to certain client nations being lifted in the name of winning support for the U.S. campaign against terrorism.

The purpose of this report is to look at the risks entailed by U.S. arms sales, with a focus on sales to the developing world, since this is where the vast majority of conflicts are to be found. There is much to criticize in the behavior of all of the major suppliers of arms, but as the world's number one arms exporting nation (see table 2, below), the United States and U.S. arms sales policy deserve special scrutiny.[3]

Table 2
Arms Transfer Agreements with the World by Supplier, 2000-07 (current dollars in millions)

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Source: Congressional Research Service, Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2000-2007, October 23, 2008.
Note: The Congressional Research Service figures differ from the Pentagon numbers cited in Table 1 for a variety of reasons; most notably the CRS figures are by calendar year rather than the U.S. fiscal year (October 1 through September 30) used by the Pentagon.

The Biggest Recipients of U.S. Weapons and Training

If we take an expansive view of the developing world, as defined by the Congressional Research Service and other U.S. government agencies, the top recipients of U.S. arms fall into two categories: 1) major oil-producing states or rapidly growing nations that can afford to pay for expensive systems like fighter planes and tanks, and 2) nations that receive U.S. weaponry on subsidized terms because of their perceived value as strategic partners. Of the top ten U.S. arms recipients in the developing world (see table 3) five- Pakistan, Israel, Iraq, Egypt and Colombia-rely on U.S. government subsidies for all or part of the funds needed to purchase U.S. weapons. The remaining four countries on the top ten list-Saudi Arabia, Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Singapore-pay for U.S. weaponry out of their own pockets.

Table 3
Top 25 U.S. Arms Recipients in the Developing World, FY 2006 and FY 2007

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Source: U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Historical Facts Book, as of September 30,2007, published in 2008.
Note: Figures in this table cover only agreements under the Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, the largest U.S.government arms transfer program.

U.S. Assistance Channels

In addition to the growing number of countries receiving U.S. weapons and military assistance since September 11, 2001, there has also been a proliferation of aid channels. Before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the vast bulk of U.S. assistance went through programs like the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program or the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, both of which are authorized by the Department of State and implemented by the Pentagon. In addition to vastly increasing the amount of military assistance available to potential U.S. arms clients, the new post-9/11 programs have shifted the balance in the provision of foreign and security assistance from the State Department toward the Pentagon. Table 4 gives an overview of the funding provided by major U.S. security assistance programs, highlighting programs initiated after 9/11.

Table 4
Major U.S. Security Assistance Programs as of 2008

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Sources: U.S. Department of State, Congressional Presentation for Foreign Operations, FY 2003 through FY 2009 editions; and, for nontraditional programs, Cindy Williams and Gordon Adams, Strengthening Statecraft and Security: Reforming U.S. Planning and Resource Allocation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Security Studies Program Occasional Paper, June 2008.

In monetary terms, the creation of a series of new aid programs authorized and implemented by the Pentagon has resulted in a massive increase in the resources available for arming and training foreign military forces-nearly $40 billion in funding for programs that did not exist before 9/11. In addition to this new funding, the traditional security assistance programs cited in table 4-Foreign Military Financing, the Economic Support Fund (ESF), the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI), and the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement program (INCLE)-grew by over a third from FY2002 to FY2008, with funding increasing from $7.4 billion to $11.2 billion.

As for the balance of supervisory and budgetary power between the State Department and the Pentagon, the Department of Defense went from a position of having little or no authorizing power before 2001 to controlling 35 percent of all security assistance issued between 2002 and 2008. Whether Defense or State funds a particular program is more than just a bureaucratic distinction. Some human rights conditions on aid cover only State Department programs, so that programs funded by the military can continue even when programs funded by the State Department have been cut off. This obviously sends mixed signals to the foreign governments that Washington is trying to influence. This distinction is further exacerbated by the fact that the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee-which oversee State Department-funded programs-have more experience in providing oversight for security assistance programs and are more likely to raise questions about the impact of a given program on human rights or regional stability. By contrast, the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Defense, which govern Pentagon-funded security assistance programs, are less likely to pursue these questions in depth.[4]

There are also issues of management capabilities between the State Department and the Pentagon. For example, the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), a flexible program that gives U.S. commanders in the field money to spend on everything from compensating families for damage done to their homes during searches by U.S. forces to improving local sewer systems, has been effective in addressing particular needs of key communities on a timely basis. This in turn has engendered goodwill toward U.S. military personnel. But there have been serious questions raised about the sustainability of CERP over the longer term as larger development projects have begun to be funded through the program. The benefits of these "one-shot" investments are often negated by an inability or unwillingness to monitor their progress, with the result that in some cases additional CERP funds have been needed to re-do projects. The Pentagon was never meant to be a development agency, and funding anything other than small-scale local efforts through CERP risks wasting scarce resources.[5]

Finally, there tends to be much more transparency in programs funded by the State Department than in Pentagon programs that serve similar functions. Pentagon programs are often presented as lump sums in budgetary documents without details as to how the monies are to be disbursed. For example, it was only after the Center for Public Integrity, a nongovernmental organization, filed Freedom of Information Act requests for breakdowns on the recipients of the Pentagon's Coalition Support Fund (CSF) program that this information was made public.[6]

The future direction of both aid levels and the division of control between State and Defense over security assistance will be determined to some degree by the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But certain programs, like the Pentagon's Section 1206 initiative - one of the new military aid programs introduced since 9/11 -- are growing independently of the course of spending on Iraq or Afghanistan. And programs like CERP that were designed specifically for use in Iraq and Afghanistan are being "globalized" by the creation of parallel programs such as the Combatant Commander's Initiative Fund (CCIF). This suggests that the battle for control and monitoring of security assistance funding will continue beyond the end of these conflicts.

The vast bulk (over 83 percent) of the $108.80 billion in security assistance distributed by the Bush administration for FY2002 through FY2008 went to just five countries, all in the Middle East or South Asia (see table 5).

Table 5
Top Five Recipients of U.S.Security Assistance, FY2002 to FY2009 (dollars in millions)

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Sources: U.S.Department of State, Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, FY 2004 through FY 2009 editions; International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Collateral Damage: Human Rights and U.S. Military Aid Since 9/11, Center for Public Integrity, May 2007; and U.S. Department of Defense, "Global War on Terror" supplemental budget requests, FY 2003 through FY 2009 editions.
aFY 2008 figures are estimates.
bFY 2009 figures are as proposed in the administration's budget.

U.S. Weapons at War

U.S. arms and military training played a role in 20 of the world's 27 major wars in 2006/07 (see table 6). The dollar value of U.S. weapons transfers and weapons orders destined for zones of conflict during that two-year period was $11.2 billion. The biggest recipients were Pakistan ($3.7 billion), Turkey ($3.0 billion), Israel ($2.1 billion), Iraq ($1.4 billion), and Colombia ($575 million). Nations receiving less than $5 million in transfers included Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Uganda, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Haiti. But since the figures in table 6 include only transfers under the Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales program, these relatively modest numbers do not represent the full scope of security assistance provided to these nations (for example, see our profile of Nigeria).

Table 6
U.S. Arms Sales to Nations at War,2006/07 (in current dollars)

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Source: U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Security Assistance Agency, Historical Facts Book, as of September 30, 2007 and Project Ploughshares, Armed Conflicts in 2007, at

Thirteen of the top 25 U.S. arms recipients in the developing world in 2006/07 were either undemocratic governments or regimes guilty of major ongoing human rights abuses (see appendix). This is a one-third reduction in the number (18) of top U.S. recipients that fit these categories when we last surveyed these trends in 2005, but the number of such recipients contrasts sharply with the Bush administration's pro-democracy rhetoric. The majority of the undemocratic and/or human-rights-abusing governments armed by the United States are in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Bahrain) and South Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan). Although the administration's motivations for arming these nations-protecting oil flows, supporting antiterrorism efforts, or promoting coalition partnerships in theaters of war-are not without merit, the rationales for making these sales and their effectiveness in achieving U.S. policy goals need to be reconsidered. For example, does arming the Saudi regime make it easier or harder for Riyadh to move toward a more open, more stable political system that will keep that nation's oil on the world market uninterrupted by internal or external conflict? Will U.S. weapons supplied to Iraqi and Afghan forces end up in the right hands or disappear into local black markets where they could just as easily end up in the possession of anti-U.S. rebels, insurgents, and terrorists? Has the U.S. decision to arm and support Ethiopia in its recent war against Somalia helped to stabilize or destabilize the Horn of Africa?[7] These and other questions will be addressed as appropriate in the country profiles that follow.

Country Profiles: U.S. Arms Recipients, 2006/07

The 13 countries profiled here have been chosen because they represent important aspects of U.S. arms transfer policies, and serve as proving grounds for measuring the efficacy of current approaches to weapons exports. The profiles are organized by region, beginning with Africa. The countries profiled are Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Georgia, Turkey, the Philippines, Thailand, Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Colombia.

• Africa
• Eurasia
• East Asia and the Pacific
• Near East
• Central and South Asia
• Western Hemisphere

Conclusion and Recommendations

U.S. arms sales policy is in disarray. As the size, scope, and sophistication of U.S. transfers has increased during the Bush administration, so have the risks.

When the vast bulk of U.S. arms transfers to the developing world go to human rights abusers and undemocratic regimes, it does real and substantial damage to the reputation of the United States as a force for democracy and the rule of law. This in turn undermines the ability of Washington to promote cooperation in other areas of national need, from the coordination of intelligence and law enforcement, to promoting economic growth, to curbing climate change. While some of these objectives-particularly those in the economic and environmental spheres-should be of mutual interest to all countries, Washington's ability to play a leadership role is hampered by its role as the world's leading arms trafficking nation.

In addition, arming repressive regimes is more likely to promote instability than it is to foster stability. Arms transfers can serve as a U.S. government "seal of approval" for governments engaged in unacceptable behavior, not to mention being used as tools of internal repression and instruments of warfare with neighboring states. This concern is underscored by the fact that U.S. weapons are present in fully half of the major armed conflicts currently under way worldwide. And in some potential conflicts-between India and Pakistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Turkey and the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, forces on both sides are receiving U.S. arms and training.

These negative consequences of runaway arms transfers are exacerbated by the fact that there has been a proliferation of new aid and training programs run by the Pentagon without much transparency or accountability. Until these programs are reformed, the ability of Congress to play a meaningful role in overseeing the weapons trade will be severely undermined.

All of this is not to say that arms transfers do not have security benefits, particularly in the realm of fostering military cooperation. But the level and types of exports provided to specific countries need to be subjected to much more careful scrutiny, including consideration as to whether the same benefits might be obtained through nonmilitary forms of engagement.

Accordingly, we make the following recommendations:

• The next administration should follow the leads set by the Reagan, Carter, and Clinton administrations by putting forward a new arms transfer policy directive within its first six months in office. The directive should establish clearer criteria for arms transfer decision making that strike a balance among military, political, economic, human rights, and nonproliferation objectives.

• Congress should establish common standards of transparency and accountability for all arms transfer and security assistance programs, including required reporting on amounts disbursed, countries served, and weapons systems and training provided.

• The president and Congress should reverse the trend toward situating security assistance programs within the Pentagon budget. The State Department is better equipped to mesh the competing interests that U.S. foreign and military policies are meant to address.

• The president and the Congress should endorse and/or ratify key international initiatives like the global ban on anti-personnel land mines, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and a global arms trade treaty.


[1] Figure derived by the authors from U.S.Department of Defense, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Historical Facts Book as of September 30,2006; and U.S. Department of State, CongressionalBudget Justification for Foreign Operations, FY2009 ed., PM Annex, "TitleIV Supporting Information."

[2] The human rights language is containedin section 502 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.

[3] To cite just one egregious example--China's role in arming the government of the Sudan--see William D. Hartung, Deadly Traffic: China's Arms Trade with theSudan (Washington, DC: New AmericaFoundation, August 5, 2008).

[4] On this point, see George Withers, Adam Isacson, LisaHaugaard, Joy Olson, and Joel Fyke, "Ready, Aim, Foreign Policy: How thePentagon's Role in Foreign Policy Is Growing, and Why the Congress, and theAmerican Public—Should be Worried," a joint project of the Center forInternational Policy, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, and theWashington Office on Latin America, March 2008.

[5] Dana Hedgpath and Sarah Cohen, "Money asa Weapon," Washington Post, August 11, 2008.

[6] International Consortium ofInvestigative Journalists, "Collateral Damage: Human Rights and U.S. MilitaryAid Since 9/11," Center for Public Integrity, May 2007,

[7] On the impact of the U.S.-backedEthiopian invasion of Somalia,see Nicholas D. Kristof, "The Endorsement from Hell," New York Times, October 25, 2008.


Protecting Human Rights, Safeguarding Democracy?
The Records of the Top 25 Recipients of U.S. Arms in the Developing World

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Sources: Information on democratic practices and human rights records of the countries listed in this table is from the Department of State's 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, published in March 2008; "Arms Received" figures for 2006/07 are from the Department of Defense Security Cooperation Agency's Historical Facts Book as of September 30, 2007; and "Arms Received" figures for 2007 are from the PM Annex of the Department of State's Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, FY 2009.

Note: The names of countries whose governments are considered to be undemocratic regimes or major human rights abusers for the purposes of this report are capitalized and in boldface.

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