The Impact of Arms Sales to Other Countries

Arms sales to other countries are economically attractive for a defence manufacturing country, and they can be a tool of foreign policy.

 Individual countries can pursue their own policy objectives by making arms sales:

●  They can strengthen friendly governments by supplying arms. For example, in May 2019, Secretary Mike Pompeo authorised an Emergency Notification of Arms Sales to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia:

“totaling approximately $8.1 billion to deter Iranian aggression and build partner self-defense capacity. These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

●  Some sales of arms are made with the specific purpose of weakening an enemy. For example, Iran was reported as sending arms to the Hamas terrorists in Gaza – in a BBC article, Israel seizes Egypt-bound ship ‘with weapons for Gaza‘.  In another BBC article, Iran’s illegal arms trade: ‘Hypocritical and dangerous’, the Taliban in Afghanistan was being helped to inflict damage upon Britain and America.

Arms sales to other countries can pour fuel on the flames of conflict though.  It is possible to counteract this by applying international sanctions against the sales of arms to countries which present a security risk to their neighbours, though it is hard to police such sanctions effectively – as was illustrated by the ‘Iran-Contra’ affair (7.4.4).

Another disadvantage of the trade is the risk of unintended consequences.  In a Parliamentary debate on 18 March 2003, before the invasion of Iraq, Sir Teddy Taylor described how America had supplied Saddam Hussein with anthrax and other materials for his biological weapons of mass-destruction (WMD) in the 1980s (see column 853 of the official Hansard transcript).  The Bush Administration later cited fear of the resulting threat as a reason for the 2003 invasion to topple his regime.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/7464.htm.