Post #97: Arming Dictators: An American Tradition

Last week the Obama administration announced another military aid package for Pakistan: eight F-16 fighter jets.  Once again considerations of human rights and democratic values have been sacrificed to strategic calculations (  Recall, in my previous post #86 (“With Friends Like These”), the robust figures for US military assistance to Pakistan: over $20 billion in weapons, training, and other activities between FY2002 and FY2015, making Pakistan the sixteenth ranking recipient of US arms.  And that amount does not include drone strikes.

The contrast between Obama the engager and Obama the warrior is striking.  US arms exports to authoritarian regimes such as Pakistan’s, just one element of military aid, continue to rise even as we celebrate the President’s initiatives with Iran and Cuba.  From 2009 to 2014, I count $12.5 billion in arms exports to eight other authoritarian regimes: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.  That figure is nearly a quarter of all US military exports in those years, which total $50.7 billion. (Figures are from the authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, at­_values.php.)

There is no evidence that those weapons, or military assistance as a whole, have moved authoritarian governments toward greater respect for human rights, social justice, accountable government, or environmental protection. Even their support of US policy on terrorism has been tentative, and in Pakistan’s case, two-faced, since its government accepts US drone strikes while its intelligence apparatus coddles al-Qaeda and the Taliban. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that military aid has abetted repression, official corruption, and strong-arm rule.  Pakistan has thumbed its nose at US aid even more, expanding its nuclear-weapon arsenal to well over 100—an arsenal that heightens tension with India and, because it now consists of tactical nukes, is especially vulnerable to theft by terrorist groups. On top of that, we now have word that Pakistan has its own drones, probably built with Chinese help (, adding to South Asia’s instability.

Needless to say, the US is not the only democracy on the arms export list; it merely tops it.  Nine of the twelve arms-exporting countries are democracies, starting with Germany and ending with Sweden (

So the next time we think about a liberal in the White House, or some other house, we might want to remember that it’s always a mixed blessing, and that while a liberal administration may pursue progressive policies domestically, it may act in the opposite direction internationally.

Footnote on Syria (see Post #91, “Rethinking Syria,” and Post #96, “Truth and Consequences”): I have been promoting the idea that a political settlement in Syria must have at least two elements if it is to have any chance of gaining Russia’s support: a place for Bashar al-Assad in a transition to a new, broad-based government, and the participation of Iran in crafting an agreement.  Jimmy Carter has weighed in with an excellent op-ed that says exactly the same thing I’ve been saying:

I have also presented the idea that positive fallout from the nuclear deal with Iran might be further US-Iran contact on Middle East issues, such as Syria.  Until late yesterday (October 28), the Obama administration had not accepted either of these elements, but now it has agreed to invite Iran to talks on Syria. And the ayatollah has accepted, despite his repeated insistence that no further talks with the US would take place beyond the nuclear agreement.  Iran’s participation is an important endorsement of the engagement strategy.


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  1. Dear Mel,

    Hope all’s well with you and the family. All’s well on our side. I thought you might be interested in the following confession of the truth by Musharaff. When serving in Afghanistan and Pakistan (1988-1992), I used to warn all concerned at the highest levels, including the US, to stop supporting the extremists, the so-called fundamentalists, because one day they will come back to haunt them. The put it mildly, the chickens have come home to roost. They never learn any lessons. They keep repeating the mistakes.

    Warm personal regards, Benon

    Pervez Musharraf owns up to Pakistan’s role in terrorism; calls Osama Bin Laden a ‘hero’

    Wednesday, 28 October 2015 – 7:10am IST | Agency: dna webdesk

    Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf made these startling claims while speaking on a Pakistan news channel Dunya TV.

    * File Photo AFP photo

    In a startling revelation, former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has reportedly admitted that it was Pakistan who trained Taliban, Osama Bin Laden, Haqqani Network and Hafiz Saeed. Musharraf made these claims reportedly during an interview with Pakistani news channel Dunya TV.

    He reportedly also added that whoever came from Jammu and Kashmir were treated as ‘heroes’. He further said that Pakistan trained Lashkar for attacks in Kashmir and Taliban was trained to counter Soviet Union.

    Musharraf also said that Osama bin Laden, Haqqani and Ayman al-Zawahiri were their heroes, reported India Today .

    “We introduced ‘religious militancy’ to flush out Soviets. We brought Mujahideens from all all over the world. We trained Taliban, gave them weapon and sent them for war and they (militants) were our heroes. Osama bin Laden and Haqqani were our heroes,” quotes India Today as him saying.

    Musharraf also said that a Lashkar terrorist was given a heroic welcome, and Pakistan trained and supported them. He praised the militants to have fought well in Kashmir.

    Towards the end of the interview, Musharraf reportedly said that the same terrorists who were once supported by Pakistan, have now become a threat to Pakistan itself.

  2. Mel, thanks again for your great posts. I’m passing this one on to our new graduate students, and encouraging them to subscribe to your blog. Again, sorry to have missed you when you met with Tom. Let me know when you are visiting Portland, so I can buy you a cup of coffee.Best Regards, Rob Robert Gould PhD, Graduate Program Coordinator, Conflict Resolution, Portland State University Communication Policy: Feel free to call or text me! Cell Phone: 503.675.0982. Date: Thu, 29 Oct 2015 14:17:59 +0000 To:

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