With its military sales, the United States reverses Isaiah, turning plowshares into swords

America buys oil from Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.  We buy cars from Japan, South Korea and Europe.  And from China, we buy clothes, appliances, plastic goods, toys, shoes and medical equipment.

But for what goods and services are we the dominant world seller (that is, besides Spiderman movies and Lady Gaga)?

The answer is weapons.

According to a Congressional report released a few days ago, the United States dominates the world’s weapons market, selling almost 53% of the $40.4 billion in total world trade in arms in 2010.  In second place, with a mere 19.3% of world arms trade, was Russia.  And while the recession sent arms sales into a nose dive in 2010, going from $65.2 billion to $40.4 billion in the prior year, the U.S. percentage of total sales has been rising steadily. According to a Congressional report from a year ago, from 2006-2009, the United States had made only 38.6% of all agreements to sell weapons to other countries.  

And who is buying all of these bombs, guns, bullets, tanks and anti-aircraft systems? It turns out it’s the developing world, where governments tend to be less stable.  Of total arms sales last year, developing countries bought 76.2% of all implements of war, with the America supplying 48.6%—almost half—of all weapons of that total. 

Here’s the list of developing countries that bought the most bombs and bullets in 2010.  You tell me how many of these countries you want to have more weapons:

  1. India
  2. Taiwan
  3. Saudi Arabia
  4. Egypt
  5. Israel
  6. Algeria
  7. Syria
  8. South Korea
  9. Singapore
  10. Jordan

We’re perverting the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah.  Instead of turning swords into plowshares, we’re turning plowshares into swords, by arming to the teeth some of the most unstable countries or countries in some of the most unstable areas of the world. 

The weapons we sell are sophisticated, high-tech stuff that help countries perfect the art of mass killing: For example, The New York Times reported over the weekend that the Obama administration has supplied Israel with bombs capable of destroying buried targets.  My rhetorical question on this bit of news: will these bombs guide Israel towards a peaceful resolution with the Palestinians and a rapprochement with the Arab world, or will it embolden Israel to stoke the flames of Middle Eastern violence?

And even as the U.S. cash register for arms sales sounds a steady ka-ching ka-ching, we continue to develop more and more sophisticated arms like drone planes that turn war into a video game.  For a good overview of our drone program and other robotic weapons we are developing, check out Christian Caryl’s review of two books on the subject in the latest New York Review of Books.  This new generation of weapons makes it easier for aggressors to launch attacks that inflict maximum damage on the enemy and its innocent citizens with minimal damage to the soldiers of the attacking nation. 

One of our lesser presidents, Calvin Coolidge, once said that “the chief business of the American people is business.” Perhaps we should update his statement and say that the chief business of the American people has become war.


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