WASHINGTON, D.C. – Working in conjunction with American weapons manufacturers such as Colt firearms and Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Department of State, which oversees and approves weapons and munitions shipments destined for allied countries including Saudi Arabia, aims to triple its worldwide arms exports by 2020, State Department spokesperson John Kirby announced on Thursday.
The announcement comes weeks after an independent study conducted by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that the United States leads the world in weapons trafficking and is responsible for nearly 33% of all global arms exports. “We don’t view this as a victory,” Kirby told reporters on Thursday, continuing, “Our goal is to triple that number within the next four years. We want to be able to say with absolute confidence that the United States is responsible for 100% of the global arms trade.”
In order to pull it off, the United States will have to effectively crush its competition as it has done in the past with individual weapons dealers such as Viktor Bout. Extradited to the United States in 2010, the former Soviet soldier is serving a twenty-five year sentence for allegedly conspiring to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization while working to facilitate the transport of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC).
According to the United States, Bout also provided weapons to a number of African and Middle Eastern countries that were engaged in bloody conflict throughout the 1990’s. For its part, the U.S. has contributed its fair share of deadly weapons to armed conflict. For example, from 1979 to 1989, the CIA furnished Afghan mujaheddin with weaponry to fight the Soviet Union as part of Operation Cyclone.
The difference, according to retired three-star army general Michael A. Brenner, is the U.S. has been consistently “arming the good guys.” It should be noted that the weapons provided to the mujaheddin courtesy of the United States, which include shoulder-fired Stinger missile launchers, have also been used to kill U.S. forces hunting al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Aside from independent weapons traffickers, the U.S. has to contend with Russia, its main competitor in the arms trade. Fortunately, only about fifteen nations including Syria, Uganda, and Malaysia exclusively purchase weapons from Moscow. “The reason being that Soviet Arms are dirt cheap,” explained Rich Brogan. “On top of that, they’re unreliable and prone to jamming.”
A PR rep for a major U.S. weapons manufacturer, Brogan said that while the AK-47 Kalashnikov may be the most widely distributed rifle on earth, the AR-15 rifle platform is the preferred choice. “Whether you’re military or police; a hunter or just trying to protect your family, the AR-15 is going to provide you the advantage of unparalleled power, hands down. We’re talking about a highly versatile multi-caliber weapon that can fire eight hundred rounds a minute without a hitch.”
Currently, the United States facilitates the sale of weaponry or – at the expense of American taxpayers – provides it in the form of military aid to seventy-four nations including Australia ($1.4b), Bahrain ($117m), Pakistan ($647m), Romania ($17m), and South Africa ($16m). In addition the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command provides a steady supply of arms to nearly one hundred and fifty countries and in 2015 reported an increase of roughly $20.5 billion in new sales, with sales for the year totaling $172 billion.
With over forty percent of U.S. arms shipments – including machine guns, Hellfire missiles, and attack helicopters – destined for the Middle East, it’s hard to imagine many of those weapons don’t inadvertently end up in the wrong hands. By its own admission, the U.S. government does not keep track of arms shipments after they reach their destination. For instance, in Iraq, which receives more than $1 billion in arms from the U.S., an innumerable amount weapons ranging from small arms such as M-16’s to armored Humvees with turret-mounted grenade launchers, have fallen into the hands of the Islamic State.
While the United States touts its message of democracy and freedom abroad, repressive regimes such as Yemen and Bahrain use American made weapons to eliminate political opposition and suppress free speech. Meanwhile, Turkey, which received over $2.2 billion in arms from the United States in 2015, routinely uses those very weapons to fight U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels who, in turn, are on the front lines of the war against the Islamic State.