It has often been said that the business of America is business - and just as often the caveat has been added that the business of America is the arms business.
Since 1990, the U.S. has exported over $152 billion worth of weapons to states around the world. That accounts for two thirds of all arms exports and is double what the entire European Union has managed. Under Reagan, Bush I , Clinton and Bush II, arms sales have climbed steeply and have pushed the big three - Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, the three top arms-producing companies in the world - into the upper reaches of every single index of top companies. Fuelling this has been defense industry lobbying estimated at $49.5 million in 1997 alone and at least $14 million in campaign contributions in each election cycle. The returns are huge - although foreign military sales account for less than 5% of each company's revenue, the total sales figure of around $2.7 billion is not to be sneezed at. Nor, of course, is the quid-pro-quo that the arms companies get from politicians who use arms sales as diplomatic leverage or rewards. Altogether, the value of US military sales, production and contracts, both foreign and domestic, in the post-cold war era (1992-present) has averaged $94.1 billion a year.
Not surprising, then, that U.S. arms manufacturers have long been anxious to capture their lion's share of the money available from the Indian sub-continent, where a long-standing hostility between nuclear powers India and neighbouring Pakistan has erupted into full-scale war four times since the partition of Pakistan from India in 1947. India also has another local nuclear nation to watch out for - China, who fought a short border war with India in 1962 over the disputed Himalayan district of Aksai Chin. Indian opinion often sees these two threats as working hand-in-hand together to India's detriment. Witness this op-ed from today's Indian Express:
Furthermore, we should not forget even for a moment the fact of China’s collusion with Pakistan on all fronts — political, military, strategic and, above all, in the nuclear/missile fields. It is good to remind ourselves that Pakistan gave away thousands of square kilometres of “Indian” territory to the then acknowledged enemy state of China, which enabled the latter to build the Aksai Chin highway connecting Tibet and its own territory to the north and east of Ladakh. This has facilitated China’s reign of repression in Tibet. As a quid pro quo, Pakistan was accorded a special place in the Chinese scheme of fishing in the troubled waters of South Asia.
The writer, an adjunct professor at the School of Public Policy in Hyderabad, goes on to accuse China of being the direction behind Pakistan's long history, via the nuclear scientist, Dr. A.Q Khan, of nuclear proliferation by secret channels to, among others, Iran, Lybia, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. One can easily see that Indians, proud inheritors of four milleniums of civilisation, have long memories with which to nurture their grudges.
Given this kind of rhetoric, you can assume that Indians are not best pleased with today's announcement that Pakistan and China are to hold joint naval exercises later this month. This will be the first time ever that Chinese naval units have participated in military drills outwith their home waters. This unusual co-operation is also evidenced by China providing four F-22P advanced quality frigates to Pakistan by 2013. Of these, three will be manufactured in China, while one frigate will be built in Pakistan. Nor are they pleased that Pakistan is backing China to become a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The meeting yesterday ended with tough words and a chill settling over the recent moves towards a peace process. “There is clearly a trust deficit between the two countries,” Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told reporters as the meeting drew to a close.
American arms companies and the Bush administration have not been slow to cash in on the long-standing tensions between Pakistan and India - flying in the face of accepted diplomatic wisdom. In 2003, a discussion panel staffed by various D.C. think-tanks heard about the dangers of selling arms to both nations:
Most noteworthy would be an arms race, unintended use, i.e., these weapons could be used against populations they weren't supposed to be used against, or harm, contribute to fighting or escalation of fighting in the region, as well as the ever present danger of blow-back; that is that we'll have these weapons used against the U.S. and its allies in the future.
Undeterred by such a warning, the Bush administration set up, firstly, a sale of F-16 fighter-bombers to Pakistan which India promptly protested. The Bush administration's answer was to immediately offer India whatever military hardware it wanted too.
Let us backstep a moment to that 2003 panel discussion and the words of Husain Haqqani from the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace:
the fact remains that all weapons transfers to South Asia without a sustained peace process in the region are likely only to enhance the conflict and drive it further, a conflict that so far does not seem to be moving in any direction of resolution.
There's also another pattern that I would like to share with you all and that does not have directly to do with U.S. weapons transfers, but it has to do with weapons transfers from other sources. Pakistan purchased battle tanks from the Ukraine soon after India purchased T90 tanks from Russia. So basically, every time one side gets a particular weapons system, the other side feels inclined towards going for a similar or a competitive weapons system. [Emphasis mine]
It looks very like the Bush administration and U.S. arms companies have taken this, not as a warning, but as an invitation and a modus operandi. Lockheed are telling the world that it's F-16 is a frontrunner for a current search to provide 126 combat jets to India in competition against France's Mirage 2000, Sweden's JAS-39 Gripen, Russia's MiG-29 - and Boeing's F-18 which has been put forward unilaterally for the competition by the U.S. government! The aircraft would likely be produced under license in India and would also put India on the fast-track to obtaining Lockheed's F-35 advanced stealth fighter at a later date.
Indeed, Lockheed expect to offer India a virtual conucopia of advanced equipment - 30 submarine hunter helicopters, 80 medium-lift helicopters, tactical battlefield missiles, its C-130J Hercules, Javelin anti-tank shoulder fired missiles and maintenance and product support if the Indian Navy goes ahead with a plan to acquire used P3C Orion reconnaissance aircraft from the US Navy. No wonder Royce Caplinger, managing director of Lockheed Martin says "I'm telling my colleagues in the US that there's a new opportunity here almost every day."
The firm also makes the missiles used in the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile defence system that the US has offered to India. Pakistan has already protested the sale, saying that it will trigger an arms race in the region and threaten the ongoing peace process. Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan said any plans to sell Patriots to India would be counter-productive:
This would erode deterrence...this would send the entire region into a crisis mode...You will have an arms race, an unintended arms race here which nobody wants and finally it would induce higher risk-taking. This we think is not in sync with goals of peace and security that we have in this region.
In response, and covering the move as being due to the need for recovery efforts due to the recent Kashmir earthquake, Pakistan is now looking to Belgium, where it can get six old F-16s for the price of each of the 75 it intended buying from the U.S. It can then upgrade those airframes with new avionics and engines purchased from various nations such as Russia, China, France or the U.S. for a fraction of the cost. How do I know the "earthquake" story is a cover? Well, there's this which strongly suggests that money for earthquake relief is not highest on the agenda:
Mounting media and public pressure notwithstanding, Pakistan will go ahead with the purchase of six SAAB early warning system aircraft from Sweden, a Defence Ministry source told Daily Times on Friday. The $1 billion deal for the aircraft was signed with Swedish companies SAAB and Ericsson on October 19, roughly two weeks after the October 8 earthquake that struck northern Pakistan.
...“India has recently acquired Mirage and Sukhoi aircraft and the Israeli Phalcon airborne surveillance system and is poised to get a large number of F-16s from the US. Therefore, our air force requirements become more pressing,” the source said.
And even if Pakistan isn't buying F-16's direct from the U.S.A., the Bush administration has seen to it that they have plenty of money to buy other stuff:
The United States Congress on Friday (Nov. 11th) approved financial assistance of $698 million for Pakistan in its Foreign Appropriations Bill for the next fiscal year 2006. The amount had earlier been proposed by the US administration.
It includes $300 million for military financing, and $300 million in economic support fund, as part of the $3 billion five-year assistance package announced by President Bush in Camp David in June 2003.
I am certain the Bush administration expects much of that $3 billion of taxpayer's money to come back to the U.S.A. in the form of payments to American weapons manufacturers. But while they are paving the way for arms profits from these to nations which have a long history of belligerence, they should perhaps try to remember the words of Dr. Jo Husbands of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, also speaking at that think-tank discussion back in 2003:
I at least would argue that the question of the potential risks of major arms transfers relations with India and Pakistan deserve a great deal more debate and consideration than they have yet received. And certainly, it is a place where, since we're on Capitol Hill, there's a major congressional interest and role in any future progress...what I'd really like to do in the time available is to talk about what I think are some of the key issues that make arms transfers relationships to this region something worth real debate and discussion.
And the first one is simply the thuddingly obvious point that we are... now engaged in arming both sides of a situation where there have been major conflicts in the past and major recent crises that threatened serious violence and conflict. And that's a situation of which we should be very much aware and very sensitive.