Why Send Good Armaments After Bad? : Arms Sales: The weapons we poured into the Persian Gulf states didn’t restrain Iraq. Worse, what we sold to Kuwait is now Saddam Hussein’s.


The Bush Administration recently announced new, large and expedited arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries allied with the United States against Iraq. Like its predecessors, this Administration appears bent on selling arms for the sake of “doing something,” without thought to the consequences.

For years, bipartisan conventional wisdom in Washington has held that the solution to every problem is to throw money at it. And if there is a foreign policy problem, throw arms sales at it.

A review of Persian Gulf history shows the folly of such a policy.

Before the overthrow of the shah in 1979, Iran had some of the most sophisticated U.S. weapons money could buy. When the shah fell, much of our most sophisticated radar and aircraft technology, located at bases in northern Iran, near Azerbaijan, found its way into Soviet hands. The rest, of course, was the at the disposal of the Ayatollah.


Proponents of the sales argue that we must show solidarity with our Arab allies and give them the weapons necessary to defend themselves. But do they really need what they say they need, and, can they really defend themselves? The evidence suggests not.

Since 1979, Saudi Arabia has purchased more than $40 billion in arms from the United States alone, and over the last dozen years has averaged more than $15 billion per year in foreign military purchases. Saudi purchases from the United States include AWACS planes, F-15’s, M-1 tanks, armored vehicles, Maverick and TOW anti-tank missiles, and Stinger shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.

Over the same period, Kuwait bought more than $2 billion worth of arms here and an equal amount elsewhere.

What has it bought them? Security? Deterrence? No. Kuwait was taken over as fast as most Americans get from home to work in the morning. And, of course, the Kuwaiti array of Western arms, including Hawk anti-aircraft missiles, is now in the hands of Saddam Hussein.

Moreover, had the United States and the Arab League not acted, the Saudis, too, would have been humbled before Hussein. More important, Hussein would not even have had to invade Saudi Arabia to ensure victory. His mere presence in Kuwait and his army poised menacingly on the border would have been sufficient to bend the Saudis to Iraqi oil pricing policy.

The Saudis have military hardware second to none in the region, except perhaps Israel. But only once in recent history have the Saudis used any of their weapons--in 1984, they shot down a U.S.-supplied Iranian F-4 that had penetrated their air-space. The Saudis and the other Gulf states, though tied to Kuwait by defense treaty, did not and could not use their vast arsenal to stop the Iraqi invasion.


What, then, is the purpose of new arms sales? To prop up a defense industry facing layoffs due to the decline in tension in Europe? Maybe. To show solidarity with our allies in the beleaguered Gulf states? But sending in troops is an ample show of solidarity and a better way to secure our interests and Saudi interests. Because if we don’t sell arms, others will? The two wrongs make a right theory has never been a good justification for policy. Or, because when we don’t know what else to do, we throw arms at the problem? Bingo.

The defense of the Persian Gulf is crucial to America, the West, Japan and the Third World. But willy-nilly arm sales will not defend the gulf.

If the Administration were using these sales as leverage to acquire U.S. bases in the gulf, and if the weapons were required by terms of the sale to remain under the control of U.S. forces, a legitimate defense purpose would be served. But that is not the message heard in Washington.

Now that we have committed ground troops to Saudi Arabia, let us hope that the Administration will learn the lesson it should have learned with Iran and Kuwait. Sending large amounts of top-of-the-line weaponry to countries unable to absorb or use them or to countries with unstable or potentially unstable governments may be good for the defense industry but it does little for the defense of those countries, the defense of Western and world interests or the defense of the United States.