In the absence of a firm post-Cold War arms transfer policy, U.S. arms merchants have moved quickly to expand weapons exports, including to arms markets that were off-limits to U.S. suppliers before the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact. But what started off with weapons makers exploiting a policy vacuum to dramatically expand the U.S. share of the global arms market has become the de facto policy of the Clinton administration, according to human rights and arms control advocates.
The United States delivered 11 percent of the Third World’s arms supply just before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Last year, it delivered 51 percent of the Third World’s arms supply and accounted for 73 percent of arms agreements with the Third World.
On the campaign trail, where he indulged in tough talk about such human rights pariahs as China, Mexico and Serbia, Clinton had given human rights activists hope. Now, activists complain that in almost every instance where commercial and human rights interests have competed for the attention of this president, commerce has prevailed.
“This organization has been critical of the Clinton administration for paying lip service to human rights but not following through with concrete steps that make a difference,” says Stephen Goose, the Washington, D.C. director of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Project. “Clinton has subverted human rights to commercial concerns. Economic concerns are the driving force behind Clinton’s arms policy, such as it is.”
Though the Clinton administration has yet to christen a formal arms transfer policy, it has proposed a new policy which will be presented for President Clinton’s signature upon the resolution of several outstanding issues, the Los Angeles Times reported on November 15, 1994. Under current official policy, when U.S. firms apply to the government to make a direct commercial sale to a foreign arms buyer, the State Department evaluates whether the sale would promote U.S. foreign policy goals and bolster regional alliances. Under the new policy being finalized, State Department officials also would have to evaluate the importance of a proposed arms export to the economic health of the arms maker in question.
Bullish arms makers
AArms industry lobbyists say they are delighted with the Clinton administration’s record. “Clinton has been very helpful through [Commerce Secretary] Ron Brown,” says Ana Stout, executive vice president of the American League for Export Assistance, Inc., an industry association that promotes unimpeded defense sales to U.S. “friends and allies.”
“We’re quite satisfied with what we see the thrust of the policy to be,” adds Joel Johnson, vice president for international affairs at the Aerospace Industries Association. “It’s 180 degrees different from Carter. They won’t throw up obstacles to every arms sale to every country. The Clinton people are very supportive of specific sales. They are more dynamic than any administration we’ve seen.”
Administration officials say that they are no patsies of the industry and that the new commercial arms export criteria will be balanced against traditional considerations involving U.S. alliances and foreign policy goals. Commenting on the role human rights will play in the long-awaited policy, an official in the State Department’s Office of Political-Military Affairs says, “Human rights is a very important purpose among many important purposes.”
It is still too early to determine what role human rights will play in the administration’s new arms policy; much will depend on two kinds of limitations on the foreign market for U.S. arms sales. An external limitation is that many nations that would like to buy more U.S. arms cannot afford them, even though U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing foreign arms purchases to the tune of $4 billion a year, according to Lora Lumpe, an arms exports expert at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). To address this predicament, the Clinton administration, at the arms industry’s prompting, may direct the federal government to provide up to $1 billion more in financing to promote U.S. weapons sales abroad.
The other limitation on foreign purchases of U.S. arms is internally imposed by the State Department, which limits the access of some nations to some kinds of weaponry. Human rights activists would like to raise this bar significantly, while industry lobbyists would like to lower it or at least hold the line. The proposed inclusion of arms manufacturers’ commercial interests into this calculus is a big victory for the industry. What remains to be seen is its application. Namely, how many restrictions on how many weapons will be relaxed for how many countries?
The expected new arms policy raises questions about whether the State Department could be held hostage to an alliance of U.S. military contractors and undemocratic regimes that are eager to expand their armories. U.S. citizens who were once asked to ally with Third World despots in a common struggle against the “Evil [Soviet] Empire” are now being asked to do the same on behalf of jobs, Lumpe says.
Human rights or jobs?
DDuring the Bush administration, two post-Cold War events paved the way to the arms transfer policy that the Clinton administration is now pursuing: the Persian Gulf War and the subsequent sale of F-15s to Saudi Arabia. The 1990-91 Gulf War served as a marketing tool to sell foreign countries on the superiority of U.S. weapons and the strategic need to possess them. During the war, the Pentagon had a monopoly on a hot commodity: video footage of U.S. attacks on Iraqi targets. The footage that it chose to make available portrayed U.S. weapons as virtually infallible. CNN beamed these images around the world in coverage that, at times, had the look of infomercials.
The Gulf War also showed countries with “apprehensions about their neighborhood” that “in today’s world there is only one country that can bail you out, and that it might be a good idea to have U.S. weapons” when the help arrives, Johnson says.
With aroused foreign demand for their products and a flattening domestic market, the U.S. arms industry stepped up its pressure on the U.S. government to approve sophisticated weapons sales to undemocratic regimes. The sale of 72 McDonnell-Douglas Corp. F-15-Es to the Saudis became a textbook case of how to promote exports by playing the jobs card for all it is worth. “The F-15-E was the most lobbied arms sale ever,” Lumpe says.
At the crux of the F-15 sales campaign that McDonnell-Douglas orchestrated were claims about the potential economic impact of the sale that critics say were inflated. The company claimed that the sale was worth 40,000 aerospace jobs and $13 billion, which it said would benefit the economies of 46 states and 345 congressional districts.
Attacking these claims, FAS and the National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament calculated that the sale would directly generate 13,000 jobs and another 14,000 jobs indirectly. Their refutation also emphasized that, by McDonnell-Douglas’s own admission, the F-15 sale was worth between $4 billion and $5 billion. The additional $8 billion to $9 billion were derived from “follow-on” sales projected over the next 20 years. Finally, the manufacturer’s distribution claims failed to point out that almost half of the direct jobs tied to the sale were located in just five congressional districts, the most important one being that of then-House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt.
In the absence of a formal policy, human rights and arms control advocates have been left to contemplate the administration’s words and actions — and what they describe as the yawning gap in between. “The Clinton [arms export] record has been nightmarish,” Lumpe says. “It has been one of cowardice and support for the arms industry.” She says that there is only one thing the industry has wanted but has been denied: more government support in financing arms sales to cash-strapped Third World nations. The Clinton administration may still deliver on that request.
Johnson says that supporting arms exports allows the United States to maintain its arms production base, while scaling back on costly Pentagon weapons acquisitions. While human rights is “a legitimate issue for government to look at ... it can’t be the only criteria with which to deal with a country,” Johnson says. If that had been the policy in World War II, the United States never could have done lend-lease with Joseph Stalin. “Was Stalin a son of a bitch? Yes,” Johnson says. “But he also tied up 9 million Germans while we were sucking our thumbs in Kansas trying to mobilize an army.”
Code of conduct
BBut some members of Congress believe that the United States is backing too many sons of bitches who are not doing anything that begins to be as useful as tying up Nazis. These members, led by Senator Mark Hatfield, R-Oregon, the new Senate Appropriations Chairman, and Representative Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia, introduced the Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers bill in the last Congress.
The Code of Conduct bill would prohibit arms sales to a country unless the U.S. president certified to Congress that the recipient government:
• Ensures fair elections, the rule of law and civilian control of the military;
• Does not abuse basic human rights;
• Does not engage in aggression or violate international law;
• Participates with the UN Register of Conventional Arms.
These conditions would not be binding if the United States had a pressing strategic need to ally with an unsavory dictator. The bill allows national security exemptions if the president requests one and if Congress enacts a law approving the request.
A major promoter of the bill is Caleb Rossiter, director of the Project on Democracy and Demilitarization. Each year, Rossiter compares where U.S. arms exports are going to State Department records of which countries it considers to have free and fairly elected governments. “Year after year, far more than 50 percent of U.S. arms transfers to the Third World go to undemocratic countries, as defined by the State Department,” he says.
Lumpe, who helped draft the bill, says Hatfield will hold hearings on it this year and a vote is likely in this Congress. Though she says the Clinton administration is “noncommittal to hostile” about the bill, seeing it as an intrusion on executive power, she remains hopeful that grassroots support could attract serious congressional consideration.
For an unusually drawn-out seven-month period, the State Department has been reviewing an application by a U.S. munitions company to sell deadly cluster bombs to Turkey, a close U.S. ally that has developed quite a resume of human rights abuses in its 10-year war against Kurdish guerrillas.
The ethnic separatist Kurdistan Worker’s Party first launched isolated guerrilla attacks in rural southeastern Turkey in 1984. In the ensuing fighting, more than 13,000 people have been killed, 1,000 villages have been depopulated and about 2 million civilians have been displaced. More than half of these killings and evacuations have occurred since early 1993, primarily at the hands of government security forces. Prime Minister Tansu Ciller has committed herself to exterminating the guerrillas. Her ruling True Path Party (DYP) ran in March 1994 elections on the slogan, “A vote for the DYP is a bullet to the PKK.”
“In an effort to deprive the PKK of its logistic base of support, security forces forcibly evict villagers from their villages,” an October 1994 Human Rights Watch report says. “Torture and arbitrary detention often accompany such evictions. Security forces especially target those villagers who refuse to enter the village guard system or those that give food or shelter to PKK fighters, or are suspected of doing so.”
For their part, PKK guerrillas target villagers whom they suspect of helping the military, particularly the 45,000 people who have been recruited into the paramilitary village guard system. Civilian Kurdish villagers are trapped between 5,000 to 20,000 PKK guerrillas and 315,000 U.S.-supplied Turkish troops who were equipped to protect NATO’s southern flank from a Soviet invasion.
In perhaps the most telling evidence of severe repression, some 12,000 to 14,000 Kurds have abandoned Turkey — seeking refuge in comparatively tranquil Northern Iraq. Even there, however, they have been subject to Turkish bomber raids with U.S.-made F-16s.
Turkey’s use of U.S.-supplied aircraft to prosecute its war against the PKK has been well documented, including the use of F-16 and F-4 warplanes and Sikorsky and Cobra helicopters. In January 1994, the Turkish air force made 52 sorties over the Zaleh PKK camp in northern Iraq, dropping 132 bombs. Iraq claimed that nine civilians were killed and 19 were wounded. Seven subsequent Turkish air force strikes have been reported with a death toll of about 700 people.
U.S. aiding and abetting
A fellow NATO ally, the United States is Turkey’s closest military partner. Between 1987 and 1991, 77 percent of all arms deliveries to Turkey came from the United States, according to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
For fiscal years 1986-1995, Congress has appropriated $5.1 billion in military aid for Turkey, making it the third-largest recipient after Israel and Egypt. In terms of commercial sales, Turkey is the fifth-largest consumer of U.S. arms after Saudi Arabia, Japan, Taiwan and Egypt. Turkey bought $9.4 billion in U.S. arms during fiscal years 1984-1993. In 1994 alone, Turkey’s counterinsurgency campaign cost an estimated $6.5 billion.
A centerpiece of U.S.-Turkey military cooperation is the “Peace Onyx” F-16 co-production project, under which 240 of the fighter planes are being built in Turkey in agreement with Lockheed Corp. Most of the $7.6 billion cost of this program is being financed by U.S. taxpayer-assisted military aid.
Top Clinton administration officials have said that they recognize Turkey’s right to combat PKK terrorism but that it must respect human rights. “We recognize that some of these [human rights] problems have arisen in the context of Turkey’s legitimate struggle against terrorist acts and that violations of human rights are also being committed by terrorists,” Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor John Shattuck said in a July 1994 visit to Turkey. “Nevertheless, basic human rights must not be abandoned in the fight against terrorism.”
The Clinton administration proposed loaning $450 million to Turkey in fiscal year 1995. Congress initially trimmed this request back to $364 million. Subsequently, Congress passed a bill that withholds 10 percent of this total until the administration demonstrates that Turkey has improved its human rights record and made progress in its negotiations with Greece over hostilities in Cyprus. Clinton signed the bill into law on August 23, 1994. His report on human rights in Turkey is expected in March.
Human Rights Watch’s Arms Project revealed in December 1994 that the U.S. government is weighing a Turkish request to buy almost 500 U.S.-made CBU-87 Combined Effects Munitions (CEMs), or cluster bombs.
Like other CEMs, CBU-87s are called cluster bombs because — after being dropped from bombers — they break apart during descent, saturating an area the size of a football field with “bomblets.” These bomblets kill in three ways. When a bomblet explodes it disintegrates into hundreds of pieces that can kill people up to 500 feet away. Bomblets also deliver a shaped charge that can penetrate up to five inches of armor. Finally, they contain an incendiary that is designed to ignite surrounding combustible material.
Among the serious deficiencies of cluster bombs is their bad sense of time and place. When dropped from high altitudes, they are apt to stray wildly off target. Moreover, CBU-87s have a high “dud” rate. Bomblets that don’t explode on impact lie fallow until they are disturbed. Soldiers advancing on territory once held by the enemy are prone to becoming “friendly-fire” statistics when they stumble over duds dropped by their own troops. The same danger plagues civilians.
One type of bomb the Turkish air force dropped on Zaleh in January of 1994 was the U.S.-made, Vietnam-era Mk20 Rockeye cluster bomb. This is the only cluster bomb now thought to be in the Turkish arsenal. “Turkey already has [cluster bombs] in its inventory,” says an arms lobbyist, who asks not to be identified. “Human rights shouldn’t be involved. What does [blocking new cluster bombs exports] accomplish?”
CBU-87s are produced by a Honeywell subsidiary, Alliant Techsystems of Hopkins, Minnesota. Alliant signed a contract with the Turkish Ministry of Defense in June 1994 to deliver 493 CBU-87s, provided that the State Department approves an export license. CBU-87s previously have been exported by the Pentagon through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The Turkish sale, with an estimated value of about $7.5 million, would be the first international direct commercial sale of this weapon.
Last year, Alliant, which did not return phone calls from Multinational Monitor, and Aerojet Ordnance were stung by an antitrust suit that charged them with colluding to “dramatically” increase the price of CEMs in a 1992 government contract. The government forced the companies to pay a $4 million fine and accept an $8 million reduction in their $133.6 million 1992 contract.
A Jane’s Defense publication announced in October 1994 a much larger sale of CBU-87s to the Pentagon by Alliant and Olin Ordnance, the St. Petersburg, Florida-based subsidiary of the Olin Corp, which acquired Aerojet after the antitrust suit was filed. Most of these bombs are reportedly destined for Pentagon stockpiles, but several hundred reportedly are destined for export through the FMS program.
Turkey is upset by the license delay since the weapon has been approved for export to all NATO countries and has been sold to non-NATO countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt through FMS.
The State Department receives tens of thousands of commercial weapons sale applications each year, most of which are routinely approved in weeks. But the CBU-87 application has divided administration officials.
Critics of the application argue that Turkey’s abominable human rights record disqualifies it for a license. Supporters caution that license denial would endanger relations with a key ally in a volatile part of the world, according to Stephen Goose, director of the Arms Project’s Washington, D.C. office.
“It would be particularly objectionable to approve the cluster bomb sale at a time when Turkey’s human rights record is deteriorating and its military campaign against the PKK is escalating,” Goose wrote in a December 1994 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. “We are deeply concerned that Turkey will use these cluster bombs indiscriminately in its conflict with Kurdish rebels, with devastating effects on the civilian population.”
“I might even decide not to sell the Turks cluster bombs,” says a defense industry lobbyist who asked not to be identified, “unless I could somehow ensure that they weren’t going to use them on the Kurds.”
Though the Cold War hatchet was buried, so were 100 million landmines that are still waiting to be triggered in countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, El Salvador, Iraq, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia. Worldwide, landmines claim 150 to 300 victims a week, according to data from the American Red Cross and the U.S. State Department. Even today, many more landmines are being produced and planted than cleared away. Perverse economics bear part of the blame: mines cost between $300 to $1000 to clear but just $3 to $30 to produce.
It has long been recognized that — even in war — restraints are needed for some kinds of weaponry. Weapons that have been proscribed from use by international agreements include chemical and biological weapons, exploding bullets and weapons producing fragments that elude medical x-ray detection.
A modest first step toward international restraints on landmines was taken when 41 countries signed the 1980 UN. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Under its landmine protocol, signatories agreed to refrain from only the most egregious uses of landmines.
“The landmine protocol has been virtually worthless to date,” says Stephen Goose, Washington, D.C. director of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Project. To be effective, Goose says the convention would have to require signatories to control or ban the production, transfer and stockpiling of these weapons.
Parties to the convention will attend a UN Review Conference in September that is intended to expand the agreement. The Arms Project has drafted protocols to implement the steps Goose outlined. But he expects only incremental gains to be made at the Review Conference. A likely outcome will be an agreement that new mines must contain a minimal amount of metal. Many new models are made of plastic, making them virtually impossible to detect — until they explode.
More than 50 countries have produced 200 million landmines over the past 25 years. Though the United States was a leading exporter, it has been eclipsed by China, Italy and the former Soviet states, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a coalition of worldwide groups coordinated by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation.
The United States, which signed the 1980 UN Convention but has not ratified it, has gone beyond its landmine provisions. A one-year U.S. moratorium on landmine exports proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Representative Lane Evans, D-Illinois, was enacted in 1992 and extended for another three years in 1993. Subsequently, other countries have passed moratoria, including Argentina, Belgium, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Leading U.S. landmine producers, such as Honeywell subsidiary Alliant Techsystems of Hopkins, Minnesota, and the Morton Thiokol munitions plant in Shreveport, Louisiana, can supply just the domestic market — the Pentagon — under the moratorium. Alliant produces Selectable Lightweight Attack Munitions (SLAMs). Thiokol produces the M18A1. Both companies produce the M86 Pursuit Deterrent Munition, according to trade publications.
Though the United States took the lead in halting landmine exports, it has blocked a proposed protocol governing a new generation of laser weapons that blind their victims. Not surprisingly, U.S. corporations are leaders in this technology.
Blinded by the fight
Laser technology, which realized significant advances through its application to opthalmological surgery that can restore sight, has been field tested by the U.S. Army in laser rifles that blind their victims — often permanently. Large-scale manufacture and deployment of these arms could be imminent.
Laser guns should be covered by a new protocol under the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons for several reasons, argues Peter Herby, a legal adviser to the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
First, they are indiscriminate. Laser weapons, which are likely to be relatively inexpensive and light-weight, can be mounted on assault rifles and used to scan the field in front of the attacker. At a distance of one kilometer, which is within the weapon’s range, the invisible beam will spread to a width of at least 50 centimeters. Anyone within that range who glances at the beam, be it a soldier, a journalist a nurse or a civilian, will be blinded instantly.
A further concern about laser weapons is that there is no practical defense. A British specialist who tried to develop defensive goggles eventually gave up, says Joost Hiltermann, who tracks laser guns for the Arms Project. Goggles good enough to screen out the laser beam blind the wearer.
Through its Cobra research program, the U.S. Army has been developing laser technology for years that can blind people or optically based enemy weaponry. A 1993 article in Defense Electronics reported that the Army has field-tested 1,100 Cobra laser rifles, a weapon that has been reclassified into the Defense Department’s black, or secret, budget.
Military trade publications reported that the laser weapons field-tested by the Army include a Cobra laser gun developed by McDonnell Douglas Electronic Systems Co. of McLean, Virginia, and the Dazer developed by Allied-Signal Aerospace Company of Torrance, California. But spokespeople for Allied said they didn’t know about the Dazer or any other laser weapons produced by the company. McDonnell Douglas sources did not return calls.
A spokesman for Nashua, New Hampshire-based Lockheed Sanders, a Lockheed operating company, confirmed that his company is working on the AN-PLQ-5, a hand-held laser weapon. But he referred all questions about this system to an Army spokesperson, who did not return calls.
Another system, Stingray laser weapons, have been developed and deployed on M3 Bradley armored reconnaissance vehicles. The Stingray reportedly can disable optical weapons and can blind personnel looking through common optics, such as periscopes.
Sweden and the ICRC both have made similar proposals for a new protocol to prohibit human targeting with laser weapons. Neither would prohibit using laser or anti-sensor arms to locate, blind or destroy optical weapons deployed by the enemy.
The United States has so far opposed any efforts to put any controls on laser weapons, Hiltermann says, arguing that the weapon is superior to many alternatives because it is nonlethal. State Department officials did not return calls from Multinational Monitor.
Administration opposition to the protocol prompted a Dec. 23, 1994 protest letter to President Clinton from Leahy, Evans and Representative Ronald Dellums, D-California. “Not only would blinding weapons cause permanent disability, there would be great potential for abuse of antipersonnel lasers against civilians by armed forces, terrorists or criminals,” said the letter, which urged Clinton to back the protocol proposals.
Because of their portability and low-cost, the weapons are likely to proliferate widely if they go into mass production, reaching terrorists and street gangs. One attraction of laser guns to criminals, according to the ICRC, is that they are silent, invisible and leave no ballistic evidence behind.
Concern about proliferation of the weapon, particularly to the Irish Republican Army, has persuaded the British government to reverse itself and support a laser protocol, according to a source involved in the international negotiations. The British have developed anti-aircraft lasers designed to blind pilots.
At recent preparatory meetings for the September Review Conference, support for a laser protocol also was voiced by representatives of Australia, Cuba, Cyprus, Germany, Iran, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Public outrage at the use of poison gases such as phosgene, which blinded soldiers in World War I, led to the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use of chemical weapons. Well-targeted public outrage 70 years later could result in a new protocol this year that would prohibit the use of blinding lasers before they are ever deployed.
Uncle Sam's List of Arms Pariahs
The 1994 $13.8 billion U.S. foreign aid appropriation bill bars military aid to Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Serbia, Sudan, and Syria.
The Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, whereby the Pentagon buys arms from U.S. producers and resells them abroad, is closed to: Guatemala, Liberia, Peru, Sudan, and Zaire.
Two countries are barred from FMF until the Secretary of State certifies that the bulk of the arms will be used for drug interdiction: Bolivia and Colombia.
Source: Arms Sales Monitor