In the last two years, American arms manufacturers have profited massively from increased tension between Gulf states and Iran, thanks in large part to repeated threats of war emanating from Israel.
The New York Times reports: Weapons sales by the United States tripled in 2011 to a record high, driven by major arms sales to Persian Gulf allies concerned about Iran’s regional ambitions, according to a new study for Congress.
Overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion last year, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals.
The American weapons sales total was an “extraordinary increase” over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of United States arms exports. The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totaled nearly $31 billion.
A worldwide economic decline had suppressed arms sales over recent years. But increasing tensions with Iran drove a set of Persian Gulf nations — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman — to purchase American weapons at record levels. [Continue reading...]
Amy Goodman writes: What is more heavily regulated, global trade of bananas or battleships? In late June, activists gathered in New York’s Times Square to make the absurd point that, unbelievably, “there are more rules governing your ability to trade a banana from one country to the next than governing your ability to trade an AK-47 or a military helicopter”. So said Amnesty International USA’s Suzanne Nossel at the protest, just before the start of the UN conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which ran from 2 July to 27 July. Thanks to a last-minute declaration by the United States that it “needed more time” to review the short, 11-page treaty text, the conference ended last week in failure.
There isn’t much that could be considered controversial in the treaty. Signatory governments agree not to export weapons to countries that are under an arms embargo, or to export weapons that would facilitate “the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes” or other violations of international humanitarian law. Exports of arms are banned if they will facilitate “gender-based violence or violence against children” or be used for “transnational organised crime”. Why does the US need more time than the more than 90 other countries that had sufficient time to read and approve the text? The answer lies in the power of the gun lobby, the arms industry and the apparent inability of Barack Obama to do the right thing, especially if it contradicts a cold, political calculation.
The Obama administration torpedoed the treaty exactly one week after the massacre in Aurora, Colorado. In Colorado, Obama offered promises of “prayer and reflection”. As New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said, commenting on Obama and Mitt Romney both avoiding a discussion of gun control: “Soothing words are nice, but maybe it’s time the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it.” Gun violence is a massive problem in the US, and it only seems to pierce the public consciousness when there is a massacre. Gun-rights advocates attack people who suggest more gun control is needed, accusing them of politicising the massacre. Yet some elected officials are taking a stand. Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois is seeking a ban on assault weapons, much like the ones in place in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. [Continue reading...]
Zach Toombs and Jeffrey Smith write: Every May and June, different branches of the State Department paint contrasting portraits of how Washington views dozens of strategically significant countries around the world, in seemingly rivalrous reports by its Human Rights and Political-Military Affairs bureaus.
The former routinely criticizes other nations for a lack of fealty to democratic principles, citing abuses of the right to expression, assembly, speech, and political choice. The latter tallies the government’s latest successes in the export of American weaponry, often to the same countries criticized by the former.
This year was no different. The State Department’s Military Assistance Report on June 8 stated that it approved $44.28 billion in arms shipments to 173 nations in the last fiscal year, including some that struggled with human rights problems. These nations include the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Israel, Djibouti, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain.
Three nations with records of suppressing democratic dissent in the last year — Algeria, Egypt, and Peru — are listed in the report as recently receiving U.S. firearms, armored vehicles, and items from a category that includes chemical and riot control agents like tear gas. The State Department confirmed that U.S. tear gas was delivered to Egypt up to the end of November, but has declined to confirm it was also sent to Algeria and Peru.
The export of American arms to countries around the world — what the State Department calls a tangible expression of American “partnership” — is in fact booming. The commercial arms sales reviewed by the State Department reached $44.28 billion in fiscal year 2011, a $10 billion sales increase since 2010. Next year should see another increase of 70 percent, the department says. [Continue reading...]
Justin Elliot reports: A top executive at Lockheed Martin recently worked with lobbyists for Bahrain to place an Op-Ed defending the nation’s embattled regime in the Washington Times — but the newspaper did not reveal the role of the regime’s lobbyists to its readers. Hence they did not know that the pro-Bahrain opinion column they were reading was published at the behest of … Bahrain, an oil-rich kingdom of 1.2 million people that has been rocked by popular protests since early 2011.
The episode is a glimpse into the usually hidden world of how Washington’s Op-Ed pages, which are prized real estate for those with interests before the U.S. government, are shaped. It also shows how Lockheed gave an assist to a major client — Bahrain has bought hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons from the company over the years – as it faces widespread criticism for human rights abuses against pro-democracy protesters.
As Ken Silverstein reported in Salon last month, the kingdom is stepping up its Washington lobbying efforts. Here’s the latest example, as far as I can piece together from lobbying disclosures filed by Bahrain’s “strategic communications” firm, D.C.-based Sanitas International.
On Nov. 30, the Washington Times published an Op-Ed under the headline “Bahrain, a vital U.S. ally: Backing protesters would betray a friend and harm American security.” It was written by Vice Adm. Charles Moore (retired). Moore was formerly commander of the Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet. From 1998 to 2002, Moore notes in his Op-Ed, he “had the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s leader, as well as many senior officials in his government.” Moore passed through the revolving door and is now regional president for Lockheed Martin for the Middle East and Africa.
Global arms suppliers must halt the transfer of small arms, ammunition and other repressive equipment to the Egyptian military and security forces, Amnesty International said today after the army again violently dispersed protests in Cairo.
The organization condemned the excessive use of force against protesters and called for a cessation of all transfers of small arms, light weapons and related munitions and equipment to Egypt, as well as a halt to all internal security equipment that could be used to violently suppress human rights, such as tear gas, rubber and plastic bullets and armoured vehicles.
“It can no longer be considered acceptable to supply the Egyptian army with the types of weaponry, munitions and other equipment that are being used to help carry out the brutal acts we have seen used against protesters,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“It is clear that either the military police has been given orders to disperse demonstrators at any cost, or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces does not control the army and security forces. Either scenario is equally worrying.”
The Guardian reports: A coalition of countries including Britain on Friday defeated an attempt by the US, Russia, China and Israel to get an international agreement approving the continued use of cluster bombs. The weapons, which have been used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon scatter “bomblets” over a wide area, maiming and killing civilians, notably children, long after they have been dropped and are banned under a 2008 convention which was adopted by the UK and in more than 100 countries. The US, refused to sign and in negotiations in Geneva, over the past two weeks pressed for a protocol to be added to a UN convention to provide legal cover for the continuing use of cluster munitions. But smaller countries, supported by agencies including Amnesty and Oxfam, refused to give way.
Thomas Nash, director of Article 36, a group which coordinated opposition to cluster munitions, said: “The rejection of this attempt to set up a weaker standard on cluster bombs shows that states can act on the basis of humanitarian imperatives and can prevail in the face of cynical pressure from other states”.
He added: “It shows that it is not only the US and other so called major powers that call the shots in international affairs, but that when small and medium sized countries work together with civil society and international organisations we can set the agenda and get results”.
The US was supported in the Geneva talks by other cluster bomb manufacturers – including Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan.
They were backed by countries which had signed the 2008 convention, including France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Australia, conference observers said.
The Guardian reports: Egyptian security forces are believed to be using a powerful incapacitating gas against civilian protesters in Tahrir Square following multiple cases of unconsciousness and epileptic-like convulsions among those exposed.
The Guardian has collected video footage as well as witness accounts from doctors and victims who have offered strong evidence that at least two other crowd control gases have been used on demonstrators in addition to CS gas.
Suspicion has fallen on two other agents: CN gas, which was the crowd control gas used by the US before CS was brought into use; and CR gas.
Al Jazeera reports: Earlier this year, as mass popular uprisings spread through the Middle East and audiences across the world sat transfixed by images of unarmed citizens confronting iron-fisted security forces in the streets of Arab capitals, powerful governments from Russia to the United States were forced to begin accounting for the weapons they had for decades sold to the very rulers they now found themselves abandoning.
In Egypt and Bahrain, protesters held up tear gas canisters stamped “Made in USA”, giving longstanding US support for autocratic Arab regimes a painful physical manifestation.
But the United States has not been the only culprit. Egyptian riot police fired shotgun shells made in Italy, and Libyan special forces wielded Belgian assault rifles. Bulgaria has led weapons sales to Yemen, and Russia likely supplies a huge amount of Syria’s armoury.
According to a report released on Wednesday by London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International, in the five years preceding the Arab Spring, a host of at least 20 governments – including Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Serbia, Switzerland and South Korea – sold more than $2.4 billion worth of small arms, tear gas, armoured vehicles and other security equipment to the the five countries that have faced – and violently combated – popular uprisings: Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
Al Jazeera reports: The US has said that it will consider a special investigation of alleged human rights abuses in Bahrain before moving ahead with a $53m arms deal to the Gulf kingdom.
In a letter to Ron Wyden, a US Democratic senator, and in public statement, the state department said on Tuesday that it shared congressional misgivings about Bahrain’s treatment of protesters and would await the results of a special inquiry established by the king.
The commission’s report to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is due on October 30.
“That’s something we would look at closely,” Mark Toner, the State Department spokesman, said, speaking about the commission’s report.
“We’re going to continue to take human rights considerations into account as we move toward the finalization of this deal.”
He added that several procedural steps remain before the US could deliver the weapons to Bahrain and noted the sale pertained to equipment for Bahrain’s “external defence purposes”.
Wyden and Jim McGovern, a US Democratic representative, have introduced a resolution to block the arms sale to Bahrain, which includes Humvee combat vehicles and missiles.
Der Spiegel reports:
The revolutions in the Arab world caught British Prime Minister David Cameron off guard. For some time, diplomats had been planning a trip for Cameron that would take him to several countries in the Middle East. In fact, it was meant to be more of a trade mission, with Cameron’s delegation consisting largely of high-level executives from Great Britain’s weapons industry.
But then came the revolutions in Arab countries and the fighting in Libya. Ignoring them was impossible, and Cameron added a six hour stopover in Cairo to his already tight schedule. It was almost exactly a month ago that he visited Tahrir Square in the center of the city, the focal point of mass demonstration which ultimately forced Egypt’s aging leader, Hosni Mubarak, out of office.
“Meeting the young people and the representatives of the groups in Tahrir Square was genuinely inspiring,” Cameron said. “These are people who have risked a huge amount for what they believe in.”
From Egypt, Cameron flew on to Kuwait, where he got down to the real purpose of his trip: selling weapons to Arab autocrats. When members of parliament back home attacked him for this lack of tact, the prime minister insisted there was nothing wrong with such business transactions and that, in any case, his government made weapons buyers pledge to not use them to violate human rights under any circumstances. Great Britain, he said, has “nothing to be ashamed of.”
Britain, though, has exported over €100 million ($142 million) in weapons to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in the last two years alone. Included in those shipments are sniper rifles that may currently be in use against the Libyan opposition. Furthermore, Gadhafi’s terror police are British-trained. Indeed, British officials were forced to hastily revoke 50 arms export licenses to Libya and Bahrain.
Cameron now finds himself in a tight spot shared by many Western politicians. Policies that seemed fine prior to the revolutions are now questionable. Regional paradigms are shifting and, at a time when populations are throwing off the yoke of oppression, Realpolitik is a poor guide to Western policy.
The photograph shows a French Rafale warplane at the Mitiga air base outside Tripoli. A small crowd of men, women and children mill around the fighter, its tail fin lit up by the North African sun.
Taken at an air show in October 2009, the picture is one of several grabbed by military aviation photographers from Dutch website scramble.nl that highlight one of the ironies in the West’s enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya. To take out Muammar Gaddafi’s air defenses, western powers such as France and Italy are using the very aircraft and weapons that only months ago they were showing off to the Libyan leader. French Rafales like those on show in 2009 flew the western alliance’s very first missions over Libya just over two weeks ago. One of the Rafale’s theoretical targets: Libya’s French-built Mirage jets which Paris had recently agreed to repair.
The Libyan operation also marks the combat debut for the Eurofighter Typhoon, a competitor to the Dassault Rafale built by Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain. An Italian Air Force version of that plane was snapped at the 2009 show hosted by Libyan generals. Two weeks ago, that base – to which arms firms including Dassault returned last November – was attacked by western bombs.
Times change, allegiances shift, but weapons companies will always find takers for their goods. Libya won’t be buying new kit any time soon. But the no-fly zone has become a prime showcase for other potential weapons customers, underlining the power of western combat jets and smart bombs, or reminding potential buyers of the defensive systems needed to repel them.
“This is turning into the best shop window for competing aircraft for years. More even than in Iraq in 2003,” says Francis Tusa, editor of UK-based Defense Analysis. “You are seeing for the first time on an operation the Typhoon and the Rafale up against each other, and both countries want to place an emphasis on exports. France is particularly desperate to sell the Rafale.”
Almost every modern conflict from the Spanish Civil War to Kosovo has served as a test of air power. But the Libyan operation to enforce UN resolution 1973 coincides with a new arms race –a surge of demand in the $60 billion a year global fighter market and the arrival of a new generation of equipment in the air and at sea. For the countries and companies behind those planes and weapons, there’s no better sales tool than real combat. For air forces facing cuts, it is a strike for the value of air power itself.
“As soon as an aircraft or weapon is used on operational deployment, that instantly becomes a major marketing ploy; it becomes ‘proven in combat’,” says a former defense export official with a NATO country, speaking on condition of anonymity about the sensitive subject.
The Daily Telegraph reports:
Facing budget cuts at home, western arms firms are desperate for a share of the lucrative Middle East market. “The post-financial crisis reality,” said Herve Guillou, president of Cassidian Systems, a subsidiary of European aviation defence group EADS, “is that today it is clearly the Middle East that is seeing the biggest growth.” Iran’s growing military power has pushed Gulf states into their largest-ever military build up, making purchases worth £76 billion from the US alone in 2010. The largest acquisitions were made by Saudi Arabia, which is spending £41 billion on F-15 fighter jets and upgrades for its naval fleet.
The six Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait – along with Jordan will spend another £41 billion on defence in 2011, according to Frost and Sullivan, a research firm.
Libya and Egypt are among the states which have representatives at IDEX [the International Defence Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi]. Global Industrial and Defence Solutions, a Pakistani exhibitor, lists Libya as being among the “key customers of our products.” Renault also issued a press release before the exhibition, saying it had contracted to supply military trucks to Egypt. Libya’s al-Musallah magazine, which covers arms-trade related issues in the country, is also among the exhibitors.
Simon Jenkins writes:
I must be missing something. The present British government, like its predecessor, claims to pursue a policy of “liberal interventionism”, seeking the downfall of undemocratic regimes round the globe, notably in the Muslim world. The same British government, again like its predecessor, sends these undemocratic regimes copious weapons to suppress the only plausible means of the said downfall, popular insurrection. The contradiction is glaring.
Downing Street is clearly embarrassed by Egypt, Bahrain and Libya having had the impertinence to rebel just as David Cameron was embarking on an important arms-sales trip to the Gulf, not an area much addicted to democracy. Fifty British arms makers were present at last year’s sickening Libyan arms fair, while the resulting weapons are reportedly prominent in gunning down this week’s rioters. Cameron reads from the Foreign Office script, claiming that all guns, tanks, armoured vehicles, stun grenades, tear gas and riot-control equipment are “covered by assurances that they would not be used in human rights repression”. He must know this is absurd.
What did the FO think Colonel Gaddafi meant to do with sniper rifles and tear-gas grenades – go mole hunting? Britain has tried to cover its publicity flank by “revoking 52 export licences” to Bahrain and Libya for weapons used against demonstrators, in effect admitting its guilt. This merely locks the moral stable after the horse has fled, while also being a poor advertisement for British after-sales service. What is the point of selling someone a gun and telling him not to use it?
Gaddafi turns US and British guns on his own people
Amy Goodman writes:
Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid for decades, after Israel (not counting the funds expended on the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan). Mubarak’s regime has received roughly $2 billion per year since coming to power, overwhelmingly for the military.
Where has the money gone? Mostly to U.S. corporations. I asked William Hartung of the New America Foundation to explain:
“It’s a form of corporate welfare for companies like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, because it goes to Egypt, then it comes back for F-16 aircraft, for M-1 tanks, for aircraft engines, for all kinds of missiles, for guns, for tear-gas canisters [from] a company called Combined Systems International, which actually has its name on the side of the canisters that have been found on the streets there.”
Hartung just published a book, “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.” He went on: “Lockheed Martin has been the leader in deals worth $3.8 billion over that period of the last 10 years; General Dynamics, $2.5 billion for tanks; Boeing, $1.7 billion for missiles, for helicopters; Raytheon for all manner of missiles for the armed forces. So, basically, this is a key element in propping up the regime, but a lot of the money is basically recycled. Taxpayers could just as easily be giving it directly to Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics.”
Likewise, Egypt’s Internet and cell phone “kill switch” was enabled only through collaboration with corporations. U.K.-based Vodafone, a global cellular-phone giant (which owns 45 percent of Verizon Wireless in the U.S.) attempted to justify its actions in a press release: “It has been clear to us that there were no legal or practical options open to Vodafone … but to comply with the demands of the authorities.”
Narus, a U.S. subsidiary of Boeing Corp., sold Egypt equipment to allow “deep packet inspection,” according to Tim Karr of the media policy group Free Press. Karr said the Narus technology “allows the Egyptian telecommunications companies … to look at texting via cell phones, and to identify the sort of dissident voices that are out there. … It also gives them the technology to geographically locate them and track them down.”
Yahoo Tech Ticker reports:
Too big to fail?
That’s been the key question asked of Wall Street’s biggest banks since the September 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, which sent shock waves through the global financial system and led to the worst recession this country has seen since the Great Depression.
But, there is another firm far from the circles of Wall Street for which that same question should be asked, says William Hartung, author of the new book Prophets of War. The subtitle of his book says it all: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.
With $40 billion in annual revenue, Lockheed Martin is the single largest recipient of U.S. tax dollars. The company receives about $36 billion in government contracts per year. In 2008, $29 billion of that was for U.S. military contracts – a dollar figure 25% higher than its competitors Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman.
What does that mean for you, the U.S. taxpayer? According to Hartung, each taxpaying household contributes $260 to Lockheed’s coffers each year!
When corruption has become systemic, it no longer gets called corruption.
When America’s decorated military elite believe that retirement means that it is now their turn to line their pockets by profiting from the United States’ profligate arms spending, we are witnessing what the Boston Globe refers to with the blandest of euphemisms: a routine fact of life.
When a country is in dire economic condition, it’s government running a massive deficit and yet it still expands its military spending, we are witnessing the effect of the “disastrous rise of misplaced power” possessed by the military-industrial complex — a danger about which Dwight D. Eisenhower cautioned America, yet his warning went unheeded.
An hour after the official ceremony marking the end of his 35-year career in the Air Force, General Gregory “Speedy’’ Martin returned to his quarters to swap his dress uniform for golf attire. He was ready for his first tee time as a retired four-star general.
But almost as soon as he closed the door that day in 2005 his phone rang. It was an executive at Northrop Grumman, asking if he was interested in working for the manufacturer of the B-2 stealth bomber as a paid consultant. A few weeks later, Martin received another call. This time it was the Pentagon, asking him to join a top-secret Air Force panel studying the future of stealth aircraft technology.
Martin was understandably in demand, having been the general in charge of all Air Force weapons programs, including the B-2, for the previous four years.
He said yes to both offers.
In almost any other realm it would seem a clear conflict of interest — pitting his duty to the US military against the interests of his employer — not to mention a revolving-door sprint from uniformed responsibilities to private paid advocacy.
But this is the Pentagon where, a Globe review has found, such apparent conflicts are a routine fact of life at the lucrative nexus between the defense procurement system, which spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year, and the industry that feasts on those riches. And almost nothing is ever done about it.
The Globe analyzed the career paths of 750 of the highest ranking generals and admirals who retired during the last two decades and found that, for most, moving into what many in Washington call the “rent-a-general’’ business is all but irresistible.
From 2004 through 2008, 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star officers went to work as consultants or defense executives, according to the Globe analysis. That compares with less than 50 percent who followed that path a decade earlier, from 1994 to 1998.
In some years, the move from general staff to industry is a virtual clean sweep. Thirty-four out of 39 three- and four-star generals and admirals who retired in 2007 are now working in defense roles — nearly 90 percent.
And in many cases there is nothing subtle about what the generals have to sell — Martin’s firm is called The Four Star Group, for example. The revolving-door culture of Capitol Hill — where former lawmakers and staffers commonly market their insider knowledge to lobbying firms — is now pervasive at the senior rungs of the military leadership. [Continue reading.]