7.4.6.4 The Impact of Arms Sales to Other Countries

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/7464.htm)

If a country has its own arms industry, exports are economically attractive.  Governments can also use arms sales as a tool of foreign policy:

“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.”

One obvious disadvantage of the arms trade is that it can pour fuel on the flames of conflict.  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.

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