The defense strategy articulated in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) places a great deal of emphasis on enhancing the relationships between the United States and its friends and allies. Building the security capacity of partner states is identified as a key U.S. defense objective. This objective primarily focuses on states facing the threat of insurgency, terrorism and/or internal instability. The QDR also recognizes the importance of allies in deterring regional conflicts and even nuclear wars. The document proposes to use what are called “new, tailored, regional deterrence architectures” to reinforce U.S. commitments to major friends and allies in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia.
For more than fifty years, the United States has used international arms sales to reinforce its commitments to friends and allies, build their self defense capacities and enhance regional deterrence. When countries acquire U.S. equipment there are increased opportunities for collaboration on everything from training and education to maintenance and support. Obviously, such sales also help America’s balance of payments and provide for highly-skilled, well-paying jobs in the United States.
One example of the power of U.S. international arms sales is the F-16 program. With around 4,000 aircraft produced, this is the single largest military aircraft program in history. The 25 countries that fly the F-16 reflect the full array of U.S. global relationships: Bahrain, Belgium, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. During the Cold War, the fleets of F-16s deployed by allies in Europe and Northeast Asia helped to deter the Soviet Union. Recent sales of advanced F-16 variants are helping to keep the peace and augment the deployment of U.S. airpower overseas.
International arms sales can enhance regional stability. The United States provided the means to completely re-equip the Egyptian military in the aftermath of the peace treaty between that country and Israel. Sales to Saudi Arabia and the sates of the Persian Gulf helped to offset the military threats posed, first by Iraq, and now by Iran. The sale of conventional arms is one tool by which the United States has sought to counter the temptation that some states might have to pursue weapons of mass destruction.
International sales of the next generation of U.S. weapon systems have the clear potential to enhance the security of friends and allies and support a number of U.S. security objectives. The F-35 consortium, consisting of Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway, is the most far-reaching international arms cooperation arrangement ever. Over the next several decades, sales of the F-35 could exceed those of the F-16. U.S. allies have acquired the C-17 to fill the capabilities gap created by the long-delayed A400M. Systems such as the Stryker combat vehicle, Littoral Combat Ship, and the V-22 tiltrotor among others are likely to be very attractive to friends and allies. U.S. plans for tailored regional deterrence architectures rests heavily on foreign sales of such systems as a land-based variant of the Standard Missile 3 and the Theater High Altitude Area Defense.
The Obama Administration needs to craft a comprehensive strategy for international arms sales. As this country struggles to address a growing range of security challenges and the need to bring its own budgetary house in order, international sales of U.S. weapons systems could have an increasingly important place in our national security strategy.
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