The New York Times’ Thom Shanker cites a new Congressional Research Service report to make the startling claim that “weapons sales by the United States tripled in 2011 to a record high” of $66.3 billion, an “extraordinary increase” from 2010’s total of $21.4 billion and one that represents “three-quarters of the global arms market.” The full report, by Richard Grimmett and Paul Kerr, is available here. While the dollar figures that Shanker cites are accurate, the context he provides is not.
First, the CRS report is based on calendar year data, whereas most U.S. figures are based on the Federal Year. The difference this makes in calculating percentage changes is astonishing, because the data are dominated by a few large sales, especially a $29 billion deal with the Saudis. Thus, if measured from FY 2010 to FY 2011, the increase is about nine percent, not three hundred percent.
Colum Lynch had an interesting feature on China’s arms exports to sub-Saharan Africa in the Washington Post this weekend. His premise was that, while China does all it can to prevent this trade from becoming public knowledge, it is conducted without the approval of China’s diplomats. This may in some cases be true: the Chinese Foreign Ministry may not know about China’s exports of incendiary cartridges. But that just sums up the problem, which is that China is not a nation governed by law. Expecting it to have regular, lawful processes is quite beside the point.
Lynch quotes one expert as arguing that China’s arms trade is “a case of unbridled capitalism.” This is ridiculous: the Chinese exporters may be making profits, but they are state-owned. They are doing what they are supposed to do, which is to win raw materials contracts and political influence for China by selling arms to governments under UN sanctions at prices few others can match. Chinese diplomats may find this embarrassing, but they do what they are told to do, which is to defend the sales and obstruct investigations. Westerners appear to be congenitally incapable of realizing that most autocracies, unlike Western democracies, have a public and a private face: the public face is on display at the UN, while the private one makes the decisions that actually matter.
President Obama has pinned the United Nations front and center to his administration’s philosophy of foreign policy. Prior to engaging militarily in Libya, Obama sought Turtle Bay’s endorsement, but never bothered to seek that of the U.S. Congress. With his first—and possibly—last term winding down, the Obama team is rushing headlong into a number of UN-sponsored treaties absent much regard to American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests.
The latest case in point could be the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Ted Bromund, my former graduate school colleague and now a Senior Research Fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, and his Heritage colleague Dean Cheng have an important report out looking at how joining the ATT could jeopardize the U.S. ability to help Taiwan defend itself from an increasingly aggressive China.
While China calls Taiwan a renegade province, the fact of the matter is that Taiwan was only under mainland Chinese control during the Qing Dynasty, and even then the Chinese control was tenuous. Taiwan has its own identity—apparent to anyone who travels there–and, unlike China, enjoys democracy and basic individual liberty.
The United States, of course, like much of the world, recognized the Republic of China as the legitimate representative of China until Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with the Peoples’ Republic of China. While the United States and Taiwan no longer maintain formal embassies in each others’ capitals, both house institutes and organizations which act as de facto embassies. Officially, the United States remains committed to Taiwan’s security, although the number of U.S. cabinet-level visits has declined precipitously in recent years, a fault which can be laid at the hands not only of the Obama administration, but the George W. Bush administration as well.